Some facts about the 181 High Street McKenzie & Willis building development

Posted 05 Jul 2016 by Swiggs Featured Popular

Good stuff is happening at the top end of High Street area.

C1 and Alice have been open for a while. Smash Palace and the Dux provide an enjoyable place for a drink or a bite to eat. The EPIC centre and Greenhouse provide spaces for innovators spark new ideas. Office staff have moved into the new Vodafone and Kathmandu buildings. To top this off the work on the McKenzie and Willis site feels like it's starting to get down to the business end of proceedings bringing an end to 5 years of massive steel beams protruding onto the street holding up the historic building façade and more life returning to a new normal in this great part of the city.  


The work taking place in the McKenzie and Willis site encompasses 6 retail spaces designed for boutique small owner operator type business, a cool interactive food court space, laneways, outdoor people space and office space with the Anchor Tennant being Wynyard Group, a market leader in high consequence crime fighting and security software.

What is most exciting is this project has the potential to activate the rest of High Street. This block is the only part of the central city that has not been opened since the Earthquakes due to the historic buildings being left after the Government purchased them. These buildings and the street form a rich part of Christchurch’s history and people who wish to regenerate this area should be supported. With the McKenzie project, the really good laneway and public realm work that Otakaro are doing and people returning to work in the area there is hope.   

A great place to listen and see the stories of High Street is here:

Unfortunately in the media (linked here) reported a few weeks ago that a group of Christchurch's most powerful development figures have joined forces to mount a legal challenge against the city council and the company behind the McKenzie and Willis redevelopment. They are seeking a review of resource consents granted on the basis they were granted for in areas that were not intended to be used for retail, but which had been approved for it.

The statements that have been made in the media haven’t told the full side of the story which are:

1.) The development is consistent with the Blueprint and City Plan. 

2.) Retail is a permitted activity in the Innovation Precinct which is inside the South and East Frame.

3.) There are 7 retail stores (not 55)181 high street glass window.jpg


1. The development is consistent with the Blueprint and City Plan. 

The perception is that retail shoping was not intended to be in the Innovation Precinct and tby doing so is not fair for those who are percieved to follow the Blueprint guidelines in developing retail in the Retail Precinct. However, the Central City plan or Blueprint states what is envisaged for High Street. It refers to High Street as the "creative corridor", which is to be achieved by "curating a range of street frontage food and beverage, fashion, art and design activities that provide opportunities and synergies for creative enterprise". 

According to an addendum for the city's plan which was triggered by the Central City Plan (The Blueprint), land in the area was to be enhanced by allowing "boutique retail environments" along Colombo and High streets to support the development of the frame and the innovation precinct and to "recognise the historic importance of these retail streets to the Central City".


2. Retail is a permitted activity in the Innovation Precinct which is inside the South and East Frame.

Some of the comments made have been saying that people invested into the innovation precinct to be around innovative businesses and not retail shops. The innovation Precinct does not exist as a thing in the appendix to the Blueprint which is what triggered the addendum to the city plan creating the precincts and what activity was to be permitted where. Instead the concept of the Innovation Precinct is added onto the end of the south and east frame which falls under the South Frame Planning Framework and in the Innovation Precinct Website  itself they make mention of this and state permitted building activity as Office, Retail, Hospitality or apartment. Remember also this area is going to have a lot of people once the East Frame Residential developments start.

The high level land designations are below:

181 high street 1.jpg


The central city was also categorised into different business zones as per below:181 high street 2.jpg



High Street and Mckenzie and Willis development fit into the Central City Mixed Use Zone which has the purpose of as per the blueprint of:181 high street 3.jpg


This then as also stated in the Innovation Precinct website says the permitted activities are:

181 high street 4.jpg


The CCC Policy 12.5a.1 states “enabling retailing along Colombo and High Street, with a limited tenancy size to create boutique retail environments to support development of the Innovation Precinct and redevelopment of the wider South Frame and to recognise the historic importance of these retail streets to the central city.”

Basically retail is a permitted activity in the Innovation Precinct on Sites with frontage to High Street to a maximum tenancy size of 150sqm.


3. There are 7 retail stores (not 55)

The Resource Consent granted to Mckenzie and Willis development allows retail (as permitted) and there will be 7 boutique retail stores as planned. There is food and hospitality that is also a permitted activity. Where the confusion comes from with the media reporting is that a broader Master Plan has been circulated that shows significantly more retail.

This document has been described as showing the “approved resource consent” when in reality it represents nothing more than a concept of how the whole block could work together in the future. It was prepared in collaboration with the other High Street land owners, to show again how retail could work in this area going forward. This Master Plan is not part of the Resource Consent.

The plan for the McKenzie Willis development is below:

181 high street 5.jpg


What this action does highlight is an issue that was highlighted in 2012 which the government took no action on. The business community then raised concern at the cost to return to the central city with developers having to spend big money on improved designs which translates to higher costs of leases. The research showed that many business owners would not return to the city with the high price point costs. At the time it was proposed that a commercial tenancy contribution fund be put aside to support new businesses back into the city over the first few years.

Unfortunately, what we are seeing now is predictable and you only need to walk down the central city streets to see the ever increasing amount of buildings with empty spaces and for lease signs in the door. The court action by CCCL is a symptom of the struggle to attract tenants into the higher priced settings and the threat cheaper rental alternatives are to those developers. This is not about the land designations.

There are solutions that can be found and they were expressed to those who could have prevented this from happening four years ago. Court action against developers is not going to work and we must encourage those who have initiated this action to pull back. It is sending all sorts of bad signals to the rest of NZ and to the world's investors that this is a closed shop. For us to thrive as a City in a 21st Century world we all need to support each other's initiatives.

An album of images of the project can be found on our Facebook page and seen below:


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