Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Christchurch: Pressure makes a diamond

Demolition of the earthquake damaged Water's Edge Apartments on Tidal View Road, Ferrymead. Photo / File
Demolition of the earthquake damaged Water's Edge Apartments on Tidal View Road, Ferrymead. Photo / File

The lesson of the Christchurch recovery effort is that the system can adapt to achieve specific results, Infrastructure Minister Bill English tells Fran O'Sullivan

Finance Minister Bill English wants New Zealand to take key lessons from the Christchurch earthquake recovery and ramp up the pace and scale of infrastructure development.

The Christchurch CBD is poised to be transformed into a 24/7 construction site once the demolition of quake-damaged buildings is finished and the major rebuild gets under way.

English - who has overall Cabinet responsibility for Infrastructure - says there is a "huge opportunity" ahead for the Government. "A feature of what's worked in Christchurch is relying more on judgment and less on process, and a high degree of co-operation with shared responsibility and sophisticated risk-sharing you wouldn't put together under other circumstances."

Reform of the Resource Management Act will be stepped up to remove uncertainties. "One of the things we're been able to do in Christchurch is get projects done significantly cheaper because they haven't had to wait three, five to seven years while each little part of the system makes its decision," he says. "We've got to put ourselves to the test on this. The lesson of Christchurch is that the system can adapt to achieving specific results."

English points to the consent process for reclamation at Lyttelton Harbour which would normally have taken years but was done in months. He wants to adopt a "pretty assertive" approach so Government can move swiftly to deal with issues like housing affordability - a big concern in both Auckland and Christchurch - on a faster timeframe.

Already the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has brought the regional council, developers and agencies together to sign co-operation agreements to ensure new housing developments can go ahead quickly in areas like Kaiapoi. "If we set ourselves the goal of making supply sufficiently flexible to reduce prices I think the system can deliver this," says English.

The Government is talking with Auckland City Council about making more lower-cost housing available for prospective buyers. English says there need to be trade-offs between the council's planned use for its fixed rating income and what is available to help fund infrastructure for further housing.

The Christchurch Central Recovery Plan - known simply as "the blueprint" - was unveiled by the Prime Minister on July 30. Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder believes the plan for the new CBD could be implemented by the middle of 2015 - well ahead of the ambitious 2017 deadline Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has set.

Elder - who heads a group of senior Christchurch business leaders - says if Christchurch makes full use of international infrastructure and capital partners and adopts a "Dubai approach", considerable time could be carved off the 2017 target. "That would be exciting."

English says there has been considerable interest from offshore investors. Herald inquiries confirm this includes the China Development Bank which is understood to be keen to help fund new commercial structures where Chinese companies are part of a consortium.

In Auckland, Jiang Zhaobai - whose company Shanghai Penqxin was the successful bidder for the the Crafar dairy farms - is said to be interested in helping fund a tollway for the Gulf Harbour project which he recently acquired an interest in as part of a joint venture.

The Government is working hard to reduce roadblocks caused by disputes between the Earthquake Commission and private insurers over the apportionment of damage. It is also setting up a new model for the billions of dollars of procurement it needs for the Christchurch rebuild. "We need a range of tools not just the traditional Public Private Partnerships," says English. "The top priority is to beef up its capacity to deal with these issues pretty efficiently because the traditional Government procurement processes are these days very thorough and a bit long-winded."

He says the Crown has to be more innovative to get the job done. But he indicates that when it comes to putting a stake in the ground to get action the Government will move. It plans to buy land which will comprise the "green frame" for the new compact CBD - "we're just going to go and do it".

Blueprint for 21st century green city
•51,000 of Christchurch's 377,000 people worked in the

CBD until the 6.3 earthquake devastated the city on February 22, 2011

•A compact CBD concentrating commercial and retail

developments

•Anchor projects like a new convention centre will be prioritised

•Lack of CBD costs the NZ economy $200m-$400m a year

•Canterbury has 560,000 residents and earns 12 per cent of our national GDP

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 28 Dec 2014 10:11:16 Processing Time: 434ms