Vacant land provides a unique opportunity to positively contribute to the city experience, for residents, workers, visitors, and investors.

A site is activated with wooden archways and planters

The Council has created a vacant sites programme to support owners of vacant sites to take steps towards permanent development, and improve site appearance in the interim.

Our work aims to support the ongoing regeneration of our Central City and suburban centres, boosting vitality and local pride, and strengthening their roles as commercial, cultural and entertainment hubs that will attract more people and improve investor confidence.

Following the earthquakes, over 1000 Central City buildings were demolished. While a good number of developments have occurred, there are still gaps that have yet to be refilled. Vacant sites may remain a feature of the Central City for many years to come. This is due to a combination of the more efficient redevelopment of some land and the loss of some businesses to other locations around the city.

Despite providing opportunities for future growth needs, vacant sites pose ongoing challenges, including:

  • Large gaps break up the continuity of activity and impact on perceptions of safety after dark.
  • Neglect and poor upkeep of sites create environmental issues including litter, weeds, dust and stormwater run-off, and can attract graffiti.
  • Poor visual appearance reinforces views that the city remains ‘broken’ which dissuades visitors, undermines investment confidence, and deters potential homebuyers and commercial tenants.
  • Unconsented use of land for temporary car parking is often poorly maintained and undermines investment made in new/planned parking buildings.

The Vacant Sites Programme aims to speed up the move to permanent redevelopment of this land and, in the interim, improve amenity of these sites. A range of tools is currently being considered to support landowner action. For the purposes of the Programme, a vacant site is defined as land that has been cleared and may be in temporary use as a stepping stone to permanent development. 

In January 2020, there were over 450 vacant sites across the Central City. This amounts to 68.6 hectares or 19% of the total area within the Four Avenues. View a map of these sites [PDF, 310 KB].

The use of vacant land in January 2020 is shown in the adjacent graphic.

  • Temporary car parking contributes around 7000 parking spaces.
  • Temporary open space is concentrated on public land within the Avon Loop and on sites that will eventually be developed within the One Central residential area adjacent to Manchester Street
  • Other temporary uses include a variety of activities including commercial uses, community gardens and activation projects.

The goals of the Vacant Sites Programme are to encourage and support owners to:

  • Proceed with plans for permanent development, as economic feasibility allows.
  • Where permanent development is not expected in the short term:
    • Achieve a level of site amenity that positively contributes to the experience of the Central City (or other centres and neighbourhoods)
    • Embrace interim uses and public activation of land in high profile locations.

The type of support given to landowners will depend on their intended development timeframes and the prominence or physical state of each site.

Our priorities

The programme will initially prioritise the Central City where the impact of vacant land on the city environment is most visible.  Negative perceptions arising from vacant land are most prominent around the city’s Commercial Core which is a key employment and business centre, and a destination for retail, entertainment, and cultural and tourism activities.

Given the number of vacant sites within and adjacent to the Commercial Core in this area, we have used a range of criteria to identify priority areas.  These criteria reflect the public profile of sites, proximity to ‘destinations’ and areas where major new investment is in the pipeline.  These areas (shown on this map [PDF, 685 KB]) are:

  • the Retail Precinct and Cathedral Square
  • adjacent to new facilities like Te Pae
  • adjacent to the East Frame/One Central residential development
  • mid-High Street towards the SALT District
  • significant large sites  - Former Women's Hospital, Madras Square, Former Convention Centre and CDHB land at Hagley Avenue/St Asaph Street

While most energy will be directed towards these areas, sites which significantly detract from the city experience or prominent sites which offer really great opportunities for activation projects/uses will also receive attention.

In the surrounding residential communities of the Central City, the Central City Residential Programme - Project 8011 will use its neighbourhood planning workstream and tools in this programme to support development and prioritise any site improvement.

Outside of the Central City vacant land is less prevalent, but hotspots in some suburban centres exist including Lyttelton, Linwood Village and Sydenham.

Information for owners of vacant sites

We will be getting in touch with site owners from December 2020 onwards. From there we can discuss with you your intentions for the site, and how we can support you.

Reaching out to every owner is going to take some time. Our intention is to make contact with all Central City site owners by the middle of 2021.

If you are an owner who would like an informal discussion, email us at  We would be glad to hear from you if you are ready to talk.

The Council provides a range of services and support to developers, including

  • Pre-application advice for requirements for resource consents and building consents. Early advice can help build understanding around the various rules and requirements for development projects, reducing risk of running into issues further in the process.
  • Free Urban Design advice to promote attractive and good quality design. View our online guides for tips on best practice.
  • Case management support through our Partnership Approvals team. A case manager provides one point of contact to guide property owners and contractors through the development process, gaining approvals from various parts of the Council.
  • The Council also offers incentives for certain types of development that are seen to benefit the wider community.

Find out more information on how we can help you through the development process.

If you are an owner of vacant land and do not have immediate intentions for permanent development, there are options to temporarily activate or improve your site in the interim to add to the city experience. 

If you would like to improve your site appearance, contact us using the details at the bottom of the page. We can provide advice and helpful tips to design an attractive and safe site.

Improving amenity

Grassing is a simple way to transform perceptions of a vacant site and positively contribute to Christchurch’s appearance and reputation as the Garden City. In most cases, we will be encouraging landowners to improve the visual appeal of their sites by remediating uneven surfacing and adding grass.

We can also recommend a range of optional boundary treatments, from low fencings such as wood picket or post and chain, to landscaping, such as shrubs or rain gardens.

View our creating safer communities [PDF, 3.8 MB] guide for tips on how to design enjoyable and safe outdoor spaces.

Activation projects

Sites in popular destination areas like the retail precinct provide great opportunities for activation and community projects, such as creative installations, gardens, outdoor games, or food trucks, which encourage public interaction and provide places to sit and enjoy the city. Activations can help to make Christchurch interesting, welcoming and engaging.  

If you are a landowner and wish to make your land available for temporary activation, we can connect you with Life in Vacant Spaces(external link) who match sites with suitable projects. You may also be eligible for a small rates incentive.

Check out more examples of previous activation projects for some inspiration.

Contact us

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss opportunities to improve or develop your site, contact us at or by using the form below. We will respond to all enquiries within 5 working days.

I would like to:
Would you like us to arrange an informal discussion with you? This is a free no-obligation meeting with one of our team to help put you in touch with the right people to get things moving.
Any information provided will remain confidential and be used to determine how we can best offer support.