City marks positive milestones

By Alexander Speirs

Roger Sutton, chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. Photo / Simon Baker
Roger Sutton, chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. Photo / Simon Baker

Since the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the centre of Christchurch and the CBD has been the area most under the spotlight. As cordons remained up in the central city long after development of the surrounding areas got under way, concern grew at the doughnut redevelopment of Christchurch and the increasing irrelevance of the CBD.

But says Roger Sutton, CEO of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority that's set to change.

"I think we'll start seeing a CBD that people associate with when the Government anchor projects really starting taking shape over the next few years."

"We've done a cost-sharing agreement with the council which talks about the split for projects like the convention centre, the stadium and the sports complex. That is done now so we can really get on with the detail work around those."

The bill for the anchor projects is set to top $4.8 billion, with $2.9 billion funded by the Government and the remaining $1.9 billion to come from the Christchurch City Council. The cost-sharing agreement had been a long time coming. When the funding split was announced in late June, the Prime Minister called it a milestone.

"For those anchor projects where the Government has the primary responsibility such as the hospital redevelopment, justice and emergency precinct and education facilities, we will get on and get them done for the good of the city," John Key said in a statement.

"The biggest issue so far has been getting the cost sharing sorted because until you know who's paying for what, it's hard to move forward overly fast."

The first of the major anchor projects is set to get under way later this year, with the justice and emergency services precinct the first cab off the rank. The precinct will be a significant multi-agency facility, which will house the Ministry of Justice, Department of Corrections, fire and police, St John and civil defence functions of the Department of Internal Affairs, the Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury.

The Anthony Gough-led redevelopment of The Strip was another central city project where significant progress has been made. The $100 million development will be renamed The Terrace and be a significant step towards reinvigorating the city with an entertainment precinct featuring more than 20 new bars and restaurants. Due to open by Show Week in October next year, Sutton called the project another "milestone" for Christchurch.

"I feel really optimistic about it," says Sutton. "I think honestly that the city prior to the earthquake was in a state of general decline, but we are going to see a much more interesting Christchurch marks positive milestones CBD than we had before."

Though there have been delays with getting projects moving due to consenting issues, a permanent Crown manager has been put in place to work through concerns and streamline processes.

"Everything takes time. You've got to work through specifying what you need, finding the right bunch of professionals. There is nothing in particular that has made this overly difficult though," reassures Sutton.

Collaboration between the different organisations and developers is a crucial step in making sure that the commercial rebuild is able to keep pace with the residential phase which Sutton says has been ramping up in recent months.

"The pace by which the private insurers are spending money on the residential rebuild is now four times what it was compared with one year ago - that is a significant increase in pace."

On the commercial front, $800 million worth of commercial consents have been issued within the CBD and more than 1000 of the 1100 earthquake damaged buildings have been demolished.

Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee says that, "This reinforces the Christchurch CBD is moving out of the demolition phase and the construction phase is gearing up, with tonnes of concrete being poured in the CBD each week."

As the construction work increases within the bounds of the CBD, the importance of co-ordination with the other major parties involved in the rebuild is apparent.

"We try to get the sequencing sorted early so that it happens in a logical fashion with all of the commercial developments," explains Sutton.

The most crucial part is getting the underground infrastructure built so that construction is able to take place on top of it.

As the construction work in the central city ramps up, labour supply has become a potential issue and one major players are "looking hard at". With current migration to Christchurch at 25 people a day - a number no doubt inflated by workers coming down specifically to work on the rebuild - the task is to attract further human resources to keep pace.

"Over the next five to 10 years there is going to be a massive amount of capital spent here, to the magnitude of $40 billion," says Sutton.

"For people who are creative, people looking at hard issues, there's a hell of a lot for them to do."

Sutton concedes that attracting people to Christchurch at this stage of the rebuild is not always an easy proposition. He remains optimistic however. New building standards that developers are building to "well in excess of", should give residents the confidence of their ability to stand up.

"I think Christchurch is now one of New Zealand's safest and most resilient cities. The buildings that are going to come down have come down and infrastructure in places where it has been subject to damage is being replaced."

Roger Sutton - in his own words

I enjoy the role here, I feel very privileged to have the position. It can be frustrating, but it is also rewarding when you start seeing physical signs of progress being made. I'm really excited to be here. I feel very lucky.

I have a very good team of people working around me.

This morning I had a session with all the people who have been involved, making people leave the red zone vicinity. We have offered to buy 7800 properties and we've now entered into contracts with over 90 per cent of them."

That is a project that started from nothing two years ago. So I sat with all the lawyers and all of the people that helped us run that process. But it is very satisfying. We've allowed a bunch of people whose lives were very difficult to move on. I get tired, I ride a bike to work to try to relax and all that sort of stuff.

While there are some politics between the players, Christchurch is still a city where all the key people know each other and trust each other and really want to make this work. Auckland I always think of as being such a big city and I imagine it is hard for all the key people to know each other. But in this little city all the key people have each other's cell phone numbers and do talk to each other and fundamentally share the same set of values.

I think some days when I am reminded by issues that I haven't made progress on and that's gone on for weeks and weeks and weeks, I do find that frustrating whether that's buildings that haven't been fixed or whatever. But you just have to see all of the progress that's been made at the same time. You need to be careful you don't just get yourself in a negative thought space.

Because an event like this with so much destruction there's still plenty of negative images out there if you want to go looking for them and there's also negative people. But overall the city is actually a really positive place.

- NZ Herald

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