Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Parker on the roadshow to recovery

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker is taking the case for the Christchurch rebuild on the road. Picture / Simon Baker
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker is taking the case for the Christchurch rebuild on the road. Picture / Simon Baker

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker is a natural optimist who is rapidly sliding into a new role as one of the chief fundraisers for the Christchurch rebuild, writes Fran O'Sullivan

Bob Parker joined Cera boss Roger Sutton and business leaders Don Elder and Peter Townsend in a series of Auckland roadshows earlier this month to spruik the new CBD blueprint.

Private sector investment is critical to the success of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan which will be marketed extensively in international markets.

Says Cabinet Minister Gerry Brownlee, "I would expect Bob to be quite a player in that - he's got a good talent for it."

At a briefing hosted by BusinessNZ's Major Companies Group in Auckland just days after the blueprint was unveiled, Parker road-tested his spiel. It was important to ensure that Christchurch people step into 21st century by building a green and sustainable city. "As a nation we can't afford to put all our eggs in one basket - we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: we've got the energy and some capital," Parker enthused.

Feedback from infrastructure specialists and other prominent business people at the presentation suggests there is strong support from New Zealand's top tier companies. This also came through loud and strong at a subsequent briefing with New Zealand's leading bankers.

At Cera's Christchurch HQ, Sutton stresses the importance of the 80/20 rule. The Government is chipping in 20 per cent of the cost of the rebuild but most of the value will come from private investors who need the confidence to invest.

"A lot of firms signed up medium-term leases after the February event but there's anecdotal evidence a lot want to come back in."

"Great cities have sports facilities and art galleries, but it is important that basics like the transport plan get done."

The first big test will be how CBD anchor projects like the big ticket convention centre is funded. Brownlee is openly championing a PPP structure. He wants the Christchurch City Council to chip in and the Government has strongly signalled that the council should look at selling assets to do so.

But Fletcher Buildings' construction boss Graham Darlow believes the Government should just write a cheque. "I think the Government needs to build real catalyst projects like the convention centre and sports centre and not look at them as business investments.

"It would give confidence and a sense of purpose for the city," he says. "Hoteliers and restaurateurs would have the confidence to stay.

"I'm not one for propping every thing up but on this occasion the city needs a catalyst project."

The Fletcher Construction boss says he doubts stressed ratepayers would want to stump up for such major items.

Darlow appreciates the thinking that has led Christchurch business leaders like Solid Energy's Don Elder to promote the use of offshore capital and supply lines to get Christchurch city rebuilt at speed. There is significant over-capacity in the region which means offshore infrastructure providers can bid at keener prices and the current exchange rates means major procurement is also cheaper.

But Darlow questions whether offshore companies would employ as many New Zealanders; the transportation rates would also be lower if supplies were sourced locally.

"I have a great faith that New Zealand industry can step up to Christchurch," he adds.

Fletchers is running the project management office for the Earthquake Commission but it has not been able to fully deploy all its staff in the city because of ground failure. Darlow says this has been a critical issue. "Nearly every bit of infrastructure has been affected in some form or other.

"What we must remember though is there has been no focus on the CBD until the blueprint was presented. We now need to focus development around the blueprint which I think is a fantastic vision for Christchurch."

At Cera, Warwick Isaacs who is director of the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) stresses the importance of the Government chipping in the land so the overall rebuild can get under way.

What seems certain is that innovative financing structures will evolve.

The Metro Sports Centre may end up under council control but it may could alsohouse a sports mall and rooms for physiotherapists and other professionals to run their businesses from.

Cera's James Hay and Paul Silk are driving the investment focus at an operational level.

The pair initially faced considerable resistance when they pushed Christchurch's case at a Wellington briefing, but that subsided once the business people realised the considerable upside for many New Zealand companies outside of Christchurch.

Supply chain management is an issue but it is expected investors will reach out to firms in other parts of New Zealand who have spare capacity to make materials for the rebuild which can be shipped into Christchurch.

An Invest Christchurch entity is also being set up.

Airport CEO pleased with changes

Christchurch International Airport chief executive Jim Boult is pleased with the speed of the 24/7 airport's redevelopment which has continued apace despite the considerable number of aftershocks.

Remarkably, the airport was up and running again just one and half hours after the February 22 quake. Unlike much of the central city which was built on drained swamp lands or adjacent to the Avon River the airport runway is atop a major shingle bed.

"It acted like a giant shock absorber," says Boult. People camped out in the airport terminal buildings - "it was a haven" - because they needed somewhere safe as aftershocks rattled the city.

Boult believes the new Christchurch will be the envy of similar sized cities throughout the world. "The process behind the plan has been robust and the people working on it have clearly grasped the opportunity to create a new and exciting central city."

He's particularly pleased to see Government commitment to both a convention centre and significant sports stadium in a central city location "The loss of a significant portion of hotel accommodation, the convention centre and much of the sporting infrastructure has reduced the numbers of people visiting here, so we anticipate people returning when the facilities do.

"We believe the very best thing Christchurch International Airport can do is continue to grow aeronautical routes into the South Island. When the city gets hotels and attractions back, it won't be a difficult job to migrate those visitors back in to spend a night or two in the city."

Boult says the airport company is proud to be a backbone of the local economy ."Christchurch Airport is the largest single centre of employment in the South Island," he says. "In 2011, almost 6000 people were employed on the airport campus in full time, part time or casual roles The airport also created employment for 20,300 fulltime equivalents on and off campus. That means Christchurch Airport generated $1.7 billion in regional GDP."

The airport company used to derive 70 per cent of its revenue from aeronautical charges. But revenues from property investment have reduced the dependence on external airlines. NZTA is upgrading State Highway 1 and there will be an iconic new overbridge which will be a new gateway for Christchurch city.

- NZ Herald

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