Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Brownlee 'human bulldozer' master of detail

Gerry Brownlee (here visiting the recovery zone with Prime Minister John Key) is clear the Christchurch investment proposition is not just about the earthquake rebuild.
Gerry Brownlee (here visiting the recovery zone with Prime Minister John Key) is clear the Christchurch investment proposition is not just about the earthquake rebuild.

In his hometown of Christchurch, Gerry Brownlee is warmly referred to as a "human bulldozer". He loses his rag occasionally, most recently when he gave private insurers a verbal slap for coming up with yet another new roadblock just after the Prime Minister unveiled the exciting blueprint for the new Christchurch CBD.

But there is no doubting his mastery of detail when it comes to the CBD blueprint which a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority team refined in just over 100 days, or his passion and commitment to getting the job done.

Take a closer look at the plans for the new Christchurch here.

The CBD rebuild will result in an injection of $30 billion to $35 billion to erect the vital anchor projects and myriad commercial, retail and residential buildings that will fill the space between the Avon River and a new greener boundary frame.

Brownlee is clear that the Christchurch investment proposition is not simply about the earthquake rebuild. There will be a change in the local economy as new centres, such as the innovation and health precincts, spring up.

The Government is placing the South Island hub of the new Advanced Technology Institute within the innovation precinct close to a new hi-tech centre (Epic) which is due to open in October. The health precinct will also be pitched internationally as a prospective medical research centre.

But the big economic driver remains Christchurch's position as New Zealand's second-largest city and urban centre, servicing a rapidly developing rural hinterland.

"Fonterra's new milk-drying plant is the biggest in the world and it is being built in Darfield which was the epicentre of the first earthquake," says Brownlee.

"Plan for a change in economy - but the underlying strength is agriculture and it will be even stronger with the upcoming Land and Water Forum moves and the potential for agriculture closing off the acquirers."

The whole issue of water development is fraught with difficulties. But Brownlee says it's now at the "point of decision time".

"There will be a very quick pay-off and immediate dividends from increased agricultural productivity," he explains. "Canterbury is New Zealand's second-largest home of dairy cows and we can see that becoming more so."

One of the issues weighing on Brownlee is the push by key Christchurch business leaders like Solid Energy's Don Elder and Chamber of Commerce leader Peter Townsend to up lift the tempo for the CBD rebuild.

There has been substantial Chinese interest.

China's fourth-ranked leader Jia Qinqlin toured the quake-damaged centre earlier this year.

Jia, who is chair of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, came here as part of a trip to New Zealand to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Wang Yang, the Communist Party chief of Guangdong province, subsequently visited.

It is understood that the prospect for the China Development Bank to assist with long-term funding for some commercial projects with Chinese firm involvement has been discussed.

"We know that they want to do something," says Brownlee.

"A group came through to start discussions where they might be involved. They are Government-funded organisations that want to participate."

Brownlee is not concerned about the source of potential investment. "We've always had the Australian banks here.

"If you asked people who owned the buildings that used to be in in Christchurch they wouldn't know. But in the end they need to disconnect from the spaces created by investors from the investors themselves.

Brownlee concedes that despite his own stated wish to get the CBD plan implemented by 2017 it could take many years to execute.

"My own view is we should go hard at this and start talking about this with the city council informally. I think we should have a five-year plan and just go and do it, otherwise some of the gains we are making economically at the moment we will lose."

He disputes the notion that the many broken houses should be fixed first before the city is rebuilt - "you can't separate one from another."

Cera's Christchurch City Development Unit (CCDU) has prioritised three anchor projects.

* The Avon River precinct will hug both sides of the river from Christchurch Hospital to the eastern edge of the frame. This is expected to be a pedestrian-friendly and sustainable area and will act as a huge encouragement for the private sector to get underway.

* The convention centre precinct will accommodate several events at a time with space for 2000 in total. The objective is to attract international associations to Christchurch and develop connects with new businesses and markets that will help grow Christchurch's economic base. CCDU director Warwick Issacs says the convention centre will be an important economic catalyst within the central CBD as it will be a magnet for hotel and tourism developments.

* The Frame will be comprised of three areas. The East Frame will retain may existing buildings and structures including historic Latimer Square; it will have walkways and cycleways and a giant urban youth playground and a fanzone to support the nearby sports stadium. The South Frame will provide campus style developments in landscaped environments (education, health, IT and research) flanked by Christchurch hospital and Christchurch polytech. The North Frame will link the Avon River precinct with Victoria square and encourage complementary retail and hospitality businesses. Brownlee says it will be an absolutely vital place and a bit like Dubai - the world's largest construction site - with plenty going on.


Recovery plan features

* CBD bounded by the Avon River and a new Green Frame

* Zoning changes to consolidate the core CBD;

* Building height limits;

* Good-quality urban design;

* Streamlined consenting process

* Enhanced public spaces

* Multiple anchor projects (see illustration)

* Joint Management board on urban design

- NZ Herald

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