How (and where) will Christchurch be rebuilt? CERA boss answers readers' questions

We asked readers to supply their questions for Roger Sutton, head of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. Here's ten which summarise the most popular.
CERA CEO Roger Sutton. Photo / NZ Herald
CERA CEO Roger Sutton. Photo / NZ Herald


Jane: Are you where you thought you would be in the rebuild process one year on?

Roger Sutton: A year ago it was difficult to appreciate what the extent of the damage was. And those continuing aftershocks that we really didn't want also make a difference to the level of progress. But overall we as a city are doing really well. In the CBD almost 1000 buildings have been taken down and that is making way for new construction, which is already underway. It will be a long process, but as my colleague Warwick Isaacs puts it, we have come through the autumn into spring and new life is popping up all over the city. The first year was probably always going to be the hardest with the emotional toll. The Feb 22 anniversary is a good time to take a deep breath and move forward.

Gary: Can I ask you honestly - what's the biggest problem in the process of rebuilding Christchurch? What actually keeps you awake at night?

Roger Sutton: It's the people I worry about.

The decisions on land use are so hard and complex and take so long that the people waiting are understandably in a horrible limbo land. I go to the community meetings to personally talk to as many people as possible and where we can, we make sure there is additional support for those who need it. I see the frustration and despair in their eyes, and I know they are living under a huge cloud of uncertainty. And people remain nervous, the quakes haven't stopped and they can be so terrifying. If I could stop the quakes, I would. If I could fix things in an instant, I would. But I can't. So all I can do, all we can do at CERA, is make sure we know who needs additional social support and make that happen until there is a decision and some final answers for people that will let them move on. So your question, what's the biggest problem in the process of rebuilding - well, we need our people here and we need them to be feeling safe and secure. If we don't have people, we don't have a rebuild and so we need to keep our people at the absolute forefront of our minds.

Stan: How much of an impact do the continued aftershocks - like the one that hit just before Christmas - actually have on the work being done?

Roger Sutton: Quite a bit. We have had to go back and check buildings that were already damaged and that takes time. The engineers are now 6 weeks behind schedule. But that's not really a problem - we can't do anything other than put safety first. So we just accept things will take longer than we had hoped, and get on with the job.

Diane: How innovative is the rebuild process and are the developers being encouraged to invest in infrastructure for the city's future?

Roger Sutton: Absolutely. The City Council's city plan is full of innovative and exciting ideas, and perhaps the Mayor would be a good person to talk about that. As for developers, we are certainly keen to talk with them about their ongoing commitment to the city and we have a team devoted to the Economic Recovery which is tapped into the various city networks to discuss how that recovery will be shaped.

Joshua: What assurance do you have that the slushy earth underneath Christchurch is stable enough to warrant a "rebuild"?

Roger Sutton: We contracted a company, Tonkin and Taylor, to do extensive tests on the land under the CBD and late last year that report was released. They have the knowledge and expertise to make those decisions and we are happy to accept their professional assessments.

Yatharth asks: I want to ask whether AMI stadium will be re-built? Can we see rugby and cricket being played there again? If another stadium is to be built, what is the timeline and cost - and where ?

Roger Sutton: AMI Stadium is owned by the City Council and it has to decide what it will do with its property. So that question is not one I can answer.

Imogen asks: Why does no-one suggest raising a general tax to pay for the rebuilding of infrastructure in Christchurch?

Roger Sutton: Hard to answer that one! But in terms of what is being done, CERA and the City Council have a partnership called SCIRT that has the job to rebuild the infrastructure. You can read more about it here.

Chris asks: How will building owners be encouraged to actually spend all this money constructing new - eco-friendly commercial buildings in the Christchurch CBD? The rents they previously enjoyed from multi-storied buildings will be nothing like what they will be able to earn from low-rise commercial buildings. With the increased costs of construction in Christchurch surely they will be more likely to invest elsewhere in NZ or overseas?

Roger Sutton: There is a lot of discussion within our Economic Recovery team about a range of ideas, including making sure developers are happy to rebuild here. This is a big issue that the city council and Chamber of Commerce are also actively involved in. What we know so far is that around 60 percent of the property investors already in Christchurch say they intend to stay, and the other 40 percent are a mix of people deciding to move out of the market and those who are as yet undecided. So there is an excellent base to start from of people ready and willing to rebuild here, no matter what.

Paul asks: Is there any update on the future of the city's iconic heritage buildings?

Roger Sutton: Depends which ones. The Arts Centre rebuild has had a lot of publicity, its insurance cover means its repair is underway. The Anglican Church said this week it was close to announcing its decision on its ChristChurch Cathedral. Probably best to ask the owners of the buildings themselves for more detailed information on what they are doing.

Anne: So many people have left Christchurch - how do you propose to entice them back?

Roger Sutton: People's choice to leave a city that has been through so much is theirs alone. Many people have very genuine reasons for not wanting to live here with ongoing earthquakes, so really not anyone's business to try to pressure anyone to come back when they are frightened or have lost their homes and/or their business.
But as for attracting people to Christchurch in the future, the rebuild will need a workforce of 30,000 - we anticipate many of those will decide to stay and enjoy what an exciting and vibrant new city we are creating. Many already have - including CERA staff. Our GM Operations, Warwick Isaacs, is one of many who have relocated his family here.
And in time we know the quake risk will have reduced and former Christchurch people will want to return to their city. We look forward to having them back.


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