Tourism boss calls on Govt expedite convention centre negotiations
Canterbury's tourism boss says the Government should consider other private sector partners to develop Christchurch's convention centre.
Tim Hunter's call comes after Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee attacked Treasury officials and called them "dopey" after Treasury released a scathing report claiming parts of Christchurch's rebuild appeared unachievable.
Brownlee dismissed the report, which questioned the viability of Christchurch's central city blueprint, as unhelpful and disrespectful.
Suggestions big-ticket items, such as the metro sports facility and convention centre, might need reassessing were "utter tripe", he said.
The report gave the stalled convention centre project a red flag rating.
It said Treasury forecast financial pressures for the convention centre. The apparent funding gap was redacted.
There was "significant financial risk" with the project and the deadline for the business case to be presented to Cabinet had been missed and a new date for this to happen had not yet been set.
Brownlee said the report was outdated and said funding was "largely in place" for all anchor projects.
He said he expected a "positive announcement" about the project, for which there is no known total cost, in the near future.
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Canterbury and Christchurch Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said without some concrete news about the convention centre the city would be in for "major problems".
The Treasury report had knocked investor confidence. It was concerning to see a Government department and a senior Government minister at such odds with each other, Hunter said.
Discussions about the project had been ongoing for three years and said the deal had been "shrouded in secrecy", he said.
"Is it because the Government has lost confidence in confidence or doesn't want to spend the money?
"Is it because Bill English wants to balance the books? We do not know."
Hunter said the Government entered the procurement phase with only one company – the Carter Group, Ngai Tahu Property and Plenary Group consortium – which was announced as the preferred developers in August last year.
"There was no way it was going to have a happy ending."
Hunter said he was aware of "long running" discussions about downsizing the convention centre, but said even if the project had been re-scoped, it should still not be taking this amount of time.
The "entire visitor sector" was running out of patience and growing increasingly frustrated, he said.
"Perhaps they should consider opening it up again to other private sector [partners]."
Brownlee was visibly angry on Paul Henry on Wednesday, saying he was annoyed the report suggested the whole of the central city plan may need to be rethought and "may never be achieved".
"When you're involved in three very sensitive commercial negotiations, which does involve land and a price on that land and you've got these dopey people coming out and saying the land is overpriced and we should take less for it, I cannot understand that attitude.
"If you're going to take a pessimistic view like that then don't go anywhere near public office would be my view," he said.
The Treasury report, called Managing Government Investment Projects, was the first of its kind. Delivered on Monday, it said the "overall viability" of the anchor projects in Christchurch might need to be reassessed.
"Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable," the rating's description said.
The Christchurch Central Delivery Programme, which includes Government-led anchor projects, was given a red rating, implying "major issues" with project definition, budget and benefits.
Brownlee said Treasury's prime job was to give advice about the country's finances, but instead it was becoming an increasingly "political body commenting more and more on Government policy".
"These people are servants of the state, they're not elected and they don't make decisions on the go or no-go of projects, particularly around the anchor projects," he said.
"These guys are supposed to give us good advice on the state of the country's finances. Frankly, it gives me little confidence if they can make up such a huge blue as this."
Brownlee described the report as "absolutely appalling" and said despite his officials pointing out problems with the report six months ago the exact same report was "dumped on the table" on completion.
Following his "dopey" attack on Treasury, Brownlee did apologise for the comment, which he said was a "Paul Henry-ism" and "just a little too descriptive".
Treasury did not respond to questions about whether Brownlee's comments were fair or if they were becoming too much of a political body commenting on policy.