Fran O'Sullivan on business

Business analysis and comment from Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan

Fran O'Sullivan: Inspiring quake-city blueprint a real gem

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The heritage-laden CBD epitomised by Cathedral Square is a thing of the past. Photo / Simon Baker
The heritage-laden CBD epitomised by Cathedral Square is a thing of the past. Photo / Simon Baker

I've really drunk the Kool Aid when it comes to the inspirational blueprint for Christchurch's new CBD. It is a stunner. Compact. Cutting edge. Green. Sustainable.

It was crunched out in just over 100 days; a brilliant demonstration of that old maxim "pressure makes a diamond".

It is also a plan that all New Zealanders need to embrace.

I doubt many of us seriously appreciated that the whole of New Zealand is pretty much a seismic zone until the devastating Canterbury earthquakes hit.

But the latest word out of the seismic boffins is that Christchurch these days is now less of a risk than Wellington, where the ancient faultline that bisects the nation's capital has not had a serious convulsion for many decades.

New Zealand needs to have an adequate spread of civic and commercial hubs, not simply be reliant on the rapidly growing Auckland "city state", which is built on territory beset with dormant volcanoes.

It is just one calendar month away from the anniversary of September 4, 2010 when Canterbury was first rocked by a 7.1 magnitude quake.

Astonishingly, no lives were lost. Canterbury engineers deservedly patted themselves on the back over how well the province's "lifelines" had worked as they quickly restored many essential services.

But I'll never forget the look of abject horror on the faces of the hundreds of people who poured out of the Christchurch CBD after the 6.3 magnitude quake that struck on February 22, 2011 ... or the grim chat I had with Mayor Bob Parker at the Christchurch Art Gallery shortly afterwards when he told me "there has been serious death". Nor will I forget the sincerity of former US Secretary of State Richard Armitage, also in Christchurch when the quake struck, who later that afternoon told me the United States had instantly offered assistance from its own military based in Hawaii.

Many Cantabrians have been to hell and back since these quakes. They have feared death. But the human spirit is indomitable.

Now they have the opportunity to build a new heart in Christchurch.

Not the heritage-laden CBD that was epitomised by Cathedral Square but - as Parker's team said as they came to Auckland this week to seek investment - a CBD that "resonates with the tailwinds" of the time.

This is a remarkable opportunity. International interest is high.

Cabinet Minister Gerry Brownlee had come down with a heavy cold and could not join Parker and businessmen Don Elder and Peter Townsend when they presented to major Auckland companies, bankers and insurers.

But it was clear from Monday's television launch - which Prime Minister John Key also attended - that these at-times warring parties are united in the "go forward".

About $30 billion is earmarked for the overall rebuild.

Insurance is still an issue but as the quakes subside optimism is building that insurers will come to the party in a significant way.

The energy unleashed by this project is also compelling.

More than 106,000 Cantabrians put up ideas for the new CBD plan.

The Christchurch Central Development Unit then locked itself away for a further 103 days and produced the plan for a "new central Christchurch".

Key has now ordered them to get the L-shaped frame of parks which will surround the new CBD in place by the end of 2013. Decisions will be made super fast. Most will bypass the Resource Management Act.

The tempo will be fast.

If anyone doubts just how fast officialdom can work when the whip is cracked just consider the AMI stadium. David McConnell's Hawkins Construction got that up in 11 weeks.

There will be skirmishes.

Key has already dropped a very broad signal that the Christchurch City Council will have to find more cash than the $800 million it currently proposes if it is to achieve its vision for the city.

The Government will get the ball rolling quickly by investing in the health and justice precincts. But the council and private sector will be the major players.

Parker would rather that the PM had not flagged funding options like selling assets, raising rates or going for less ambitious projects.

But it is now in the open.

The brute reality is that before the quakes struck Christchurch was effectively dying. The very compactness of this new city heart will ensure its vibrancy.

What if other New Zealand cities - particularly Auckland - were given the tools so they too could follow Christchurch's example and wipe the barriers that stymie economic growth?

- NZ Herald

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