Christchurch’s long wait for its sports and swimming venue

A concept drawing of the planned Christchurch metro sports facility.

ANALYSIS: A decade is a long time for a city to wait for sporting facilities.

By the time the metro sports facility opens in 2021, a generation of Christchurch sportspeople will have come of age without the amenities many modern cities take for granted.

The new facility is to replace QEII Park lost in the 2011 earthquakes, and cater for everyday and high-performance use, both wet and dry. The Canterbury Earthquake Rebuild Authority first promised “a world-class venue and centre of sporting excellence, accessible to people of all ages, abilities and sporting skills” to open in early 2016.

The new Government has now pushed out the expected completion date again. Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods has blamed a $75 million budget blowout to a new total of about $300m, and its burden on the taxpayer.

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* No start date or contractor confirmed for Christchurch’s metro sports facility

She has ordered a review of the plan, suggesting some aspects could be incorporated into the city’s planned new stadium, due to be built by the mid-2020s.

Plans for the metro sports facility include a 50 metre pool and a diving pool.


Plans for the metro sports facility include a 50 metre pool and a diving pool.

Woods has sent the chosen early contractor for Christchurch’s new metro sports facility packing.  The Crown will now complete the detailed design work itself, and will then look for a contractor for construction only.

Under the 2013 cost-sharing agreement, the Crown agreed to put $70.3m (mostly for land costs) into the project and the council $147m (partly from insurance payouts for QEII Park). Costs at this stage were unknown and the source of the rest of the money undecided.

The Crown took the responsibility of getting the project done, allowing council design approval. The agreement stated that council would run the completed facility, which it would own jointly with a private party.

The site of the project.


The site of the project.

Sports groups including swimming and basketball have again expressed their disappointment at yet another delay. For them, there will be up to four more years of squeezing into temporary venues, restricting numbers for training and competitions, missing out on top events, bussing teams to other cities and paying motel bills, and seeing top competitors move north.

Christchurch residents have yet another blow to their morale, already sapped by a slow rebuild. Citing commercial considerations, the public and private parties to the metro sports plans have negotiated behind closed doors. Taxpayers and ratepayers funding the facility have received updates only when details of another delay, change in plans, or cost escalation were announced or leaked.

As with the convention centre, which is now under construction, the metro sports facility planning was a joint public-private effort until the Crown realised it wasn’t working and it needed to go it alone.

Observers have noted several friction points in the process.

The central city location made the land for the metro sports facility expensive to buy. Its geology means it requires remediation.

Sporting groups see the centre as a much-needed functional facility replacing the lost QEII Park. The authorities see it as a central city showpiece with leisure facilities to help attract business investment and apartment dwellers.

The site of the metro sports facility, bordered by St Asaph and Antigua streets and Moorhouse Ave, in central Christchurch.


The site of the metro sports facility, bordered by St Asaph and Antigua streets and Moorhouse Ave, in central Christchurch.

The construction sector has talked of the financial risks the public sector wants it to shoulder on such projects. Construction companies say such risks are beyond their control and threaten their viability, so must be priced into contracts.

In the meantime, the Government has been trying to control costs to the taxpayer while construction prices rise.

The earthquakes began over six years ago. The blueprint is over five years old. The latest completion date for the metro sports facility is three-and-a-half years away.

The planned exterior of the new facility.


The planned exterior of the new facility.


February 2011 – Sports and recreation venues including QEII Park wrecked by earthquakes.

August 2012 – Rebuild blueprint sets out location for new metro sports facility, with an early 2016 completion date.

June 2013 – Crown-council cost sharing agreement released.

September 2013 – Two-thirds of land for centre now owned by Crown.

December 2013 – Construction analyst Rider Levett Bucknall forecasts Christchurch construction prices will rises 6.6 per cent in the next year.

Mid-2014: Progress on planning metro sports facility nine months behind schedule. Canterbury District Health Board leases site for car parking.

May 2015: Canterbury Earthquake Rebuild Authority puts business case for metro sports facility before cabinet. It is sent back because of cost blow-outs.

August 2015: Sporting groups and the public have their input on what the venue needs. Government promises extra cash as total cost rises from $217m to $300m. Completion date given as 2020.

December 2015 – Architects and engineers announced. Four construction contractors asked for proposals.

September 2016: Preliminary design images released for a 3.4 hectare facility. Work cleaning up the site begins.

November 2017: New Government announces it will finish the design alone and find a new contractor for a 2021 finish.