Libraries  |  13 Dec 2023

A motorway through Hagley Park, a 167m high tower in Victoria Square and a canal from the Estuary up to a new port near Lancaster Park.

These are just some of the wild, wacky and wonderful ideas that never quite got off the ground here in Ōtautahi Christchurch .

They're explored in Unfinished Business, a new exhibition opening at Tūranga today which delves into these and other grandiose proposals ultimately destined for the bonfire.

They include a Christchurch City Council commissioned tram carriage to act as a hearse for funerals of tram-travelling mourners, and a concrete rock built in the sea off New Brighton Beach to rival the tourist appeal of Sumner’s Cave Rock.

For co-curator and Christchurch City Libraries Local History Librarian Glenn Coster, the tower idea is his personal favourite. “I frequently walk around Victoria Square, so this proposal feels very close to home!”

Pitched by a group of businessmen in 1987, the Victoria Square Tower would have been three times the height of the Christ Church Cathedral spire.

Drawings of the tower show a café and tourist amenities at the base below a narrow shaft rising to a bubble with a revolving restaurant and observation gallery.

The Council of the time agreed to the idea in principle, but the proposal was rejected by independent planning commissioners (pictured above) in April 1988 following fiery opposition from many residents.

Adds co-curator Annette Williams: “As those who know and love our city will understand, any new projects inevitably attract controversy - and the tower certainly drew some vociferous opposition."

Aerial photograph of North Hagley Park showing the proposed motorway route through the park. CCL-StarP-04873A

The previous decade, a project to build a motorway through the hallowed grounds of Hagley Park made it as far as early excavation work, which started in March 1970.

Days later work was halted, after advice that the Council was acting outside the law and needed the permission of the Minister of Lands. It was suggested the dumped motorway project cost Mayor Ron Guthrey his job the following year.

“In our roles as Librarians we often stumble upon interesting local history stories and sometimes these evolve into ideas for exhibitions or events," say Ms Williams and Mr Coster. 

“The Christchurch Canal was the thing that initially stoked our interest in this topic but once we started looking into it with our colleagues, we uncovered many other plans that never materialised.”

These projects and more will be on show in the Unfinished Business exhibition, on Tuakiri|Identity Floor, Level 2 of Tūranga, from Wednesday 13 December until Sunday 14 January 2024.

Main image: Victoria Square tower planning commissioners stood on Victoria Street looking north west from the central city. Pictured from left, Dame Ann Hercus, Ken Nairn and Clinton Roper with tower architect Sir Miles Warren (front). CCL-StarP-03140A