Hague plugs UK role in rebuild

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has raised the possibility of substantial British involvement in Christchurch's rebuild.

Hague met Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday as part of his two-day visit to New Zealand.

"I'm very conscious of the devastation caused by the earthquake. We wanted to help at the time and sent out search and rescue teams, and we want to work together for the future as well," Hague said.

"There's a lot of British expertise in the relevant sectors. We had our own experience in constructing the Olympic stadium."

The potential for British construction companies to get involved in the rebuild was not discussed in great detail, said Parker, but Hague was "actively engaged in promoting opportunities in Christchurch" to Britain.

"Certainly there are a number of companies who are here either in a consulting capacity or directly engaged in the rebuild," Parker said.

There was potential for different partnerships forming between British and New Zealand companies in the rebuild, Parker said. "I would imagine he [Hague] would go back and be positively encouraging people, including trade officials, to get out here and be fully engaged."

A visit by someone such as Hague would also send a positive message to people overseas that Christchurch was safe and open for business, he said.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce business capability manager Richard Holstein said at a luncheon with Hague yesterday the foreign secretary had outlined potential involvement from British businesspeople in the rebuild.

Public-private partnerships, needed to encourage some of the bigger projects, could see participation by experts from Britain.

"They [the British] would see it as an opportunity for their high-end, specialist skills, specialist construction guys . . . senior engineering, senior project management-type roles in collaboration with local companies," Holstein said.

Engineering designers and urban planners could also be involved, about 40 luncheon attendees were told.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, who was not at the luncheon, said Vicki Treadell, the British High Commissioner to New Zealand, had been a regular presence in Christchurch since the February 22, 2011, earthquake. She had been developing contacts between Christchurch and Britain.

"There are some quite strong relationships with the various Christchurch companies and the UK . . . [though] in direct relation with the rebuild, I'm not sure that has actually cranked up yet."

Some of those invited to the luncheon would be starting to develop those collaborative relationships, not only in the business sector but also in the health and education sectors, Townsend said.

Hague also had a central city red-zone coach tour before the luncheon.

"It does bring home the extent of the destruction and the catastrophic event it was for people here," Hague said.