'Officials ignore local investors'

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 05:00 16/04/2014

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Overseas developers would be "stupid" to invest in Christchurch because Government officials do not engage with locals wanting a piece of the multibillion-dollar rebuild, a frustrated city developer claims.

Richard Peebles, who has more than 20 developments across the city, said officials had never tried to "woo" local investors because they were too busy unsuccessfully chasing international money.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) denies those claims and says it works closely with local developers to encourage central city development.

Peebles said the biggest problem with Cera and the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) was they did not engage enough with local investors.

"They have never sat down with local investors . . . no-one has ever come to me and asked how they could make things easier for me. Shouldn't they be looking in their own backyard first?," he said.

Peebles said the Crown's compulsory buy-up of central city land and planned changes to discourage suburban development sent the wrong message abroad.

"Seriously, as an international investor, you would look at Christchurch and say it appears private property rights don't hold a lot of weight."

Cera and CCDU recently staged a series of investment roadshows around New Zealand. Staff have also travelled to Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States over the last two years with the same objective.

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend and Labour's earthquake recovery spokeswoman, Ruth Dyson, both said the investment arm is not working to its potential.

Townsend said overseas investors should be given "the clearest possible pathway" to invest here but he did not see that working yet.

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Ruth Dyson also said the Government had set no measures or targets so it was impossible to tell if any or enough foreign cash was coming into the region.

Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) director Warwick Isaacs said most investment in the rebuild was local and national. Investment also came in many forms.

"Not just people bringing bags of cash but setting up Christchurch branches for their businesses or providing materials and labour and other support for the rebuild."

Its focus on attracting investment had been on local, national and international investors in that order, Isaacs said.

There had been no international trips by Cera staff aimed solely at encouraging investment.

Any trips were primarily about understanding the lessons learned by others in undertaking large-scale urban regeneration, building relationships and attending earthquake, insurance and other conferences, he said. Staff had travelled to Australia in May 2012, London in October 2012, Washington DC in May 2013, and to Perth earlier this year.

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Isaacs said some existing developments and commercial operations would have international backing that is not generally publicised.

A Cera spokesman said it was surprised to hear Peebles' criticism.

"The truth of the matter is that at least 80 per cent of the CCDU's investment team's work is engaging directly with local developers and investors so we would invite anyone with investment and development plans for the city's recovery who feel they haven't been listened to or heard to contact the CCDU team as soon as possible to discuss their plans. C

"CDU strongly rejects any claim that it has failed to engage with local Canterbury investors."

He said CCDU ran 21 meetings targeting landowners, developers and investors over a three-month period last year.

These meetings focused on dividing the city's geographical area into blocks to ensure that as many investor/developer voices were included and feedback gained.

It had has also run a series of breakfast meetings and evening sessions throughout 2013 to talk to investors. The meetings had been well attended.

The CCDU would average about 50 one-on-one contacts with local investors/developers per week, including telephone and email contact with them.

- The Press

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