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Roger Sutton staying at Cera until the end

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 13/06/2013
Daniel Tobin

Cera boss Roger Sutton talks about how he would like the city to look in five years.

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Earthquake recovery boss Roger Sutton has a surprising ambition once his job in Christchurch is done - he's thinking of heading for the Pacific Islands.

Sutton started as chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) two years ago today and has vowed to stay until it is dissolved in three years.

But after that he may head for the Pacific Islands to help champion renewable energy in the region.

"The only idea I have had so far is working in the Pacific on energy," he said yesterday.

"After the first earthquake, the Pacific Islands came up with $300,000 for Christchurch. They gave us money. I thought that was outrageous.

"Before the second earthquake, I was trying to work out how to give that money back to the Pacific in terms of working with their renewable energy stuff.

"I still like the energy area. So I'm interested in that area - going off and working in the Pacific to help them with their energy issues. They burn lots of diesel in generators and waste a lot of energy.

"Have we got a role there to bring a lot of the players in the energy sector in New Zealand together and help them improve their energy sources? That's the sort of ideas I have. Who knows? There may be other things."

But Sutton was clear he wants to stay on until Cera is due to disband in 2016.

"I see myself here right through. It's quite possible someone better will come along ... and I will go and do something else but I do feel committed.

"I want to be the best for this community and this city. I want to get much more of this city rebuilt and people [feeling] their lives have come back together and people [feeling] they have found new purpose in their life as well."

He admits the job is hard and frustrating, however.

"If you can't persuade a minister that your advice is right, that can be frustrating. I have lots of frustrations in this job.

"Trying to persuade insurance companies or EQC or residents' groups that my way of thinking is the right way. There are lots of times where my view doesn't prevail.

"That's the way it is. This is never as easy as other jobs I have done. It was always going to be hard. The key characteristic is this is going to take time."

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has in the past overruled Cera advice on deadline extensions for red-zoners and settlement deals for people who own vacant red-zone land.

Sutton's former demolition manager, Warwick Isaacs, is increasingly prominent as director of Cera's Christchurch Central Development Unit, which is leading the city blueprint plans.

But Sutton feels he still has the power to do the job and it just takes time to win others around.

"The South Americans, the guys in Chile, they have a saying: 'If you lead in a big disaster, everyone will shout at you. So leaders don't shout at each other'. I think that is one of the best things I have heard in this job.

"It is hard for a lot of people. A lot of people's lives are really difficult. For the leaders, there is no point getting het up with each other.

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"You need to stop and understand why that particular leader or person doesn't get it. Often it is just that they have come from a different place and have different issues. It takes time."

Sutton said his main priority is the residential red zone and rebuilding homes.

"This year, we have to try and work really hard so people feel the residential rebuild has real momentum.

"At the end of this third year, if people don't have a greater sense that it is moving on, it will be much harder."

But he is also brimming with ideas for the city centre rebuild. He wants New Regent St to extend to the Avon River and believes remaining heritage buildings should be showcased.

"What will happen to the remaining heritage stuff? Will the Arts Centre be surrounded by car parks or will we really think carefully about that building? You don't go to the great castles of Europe and find them surrounded by car parks and motley buildings. We really have to show off those special buildings.

"I'm getting carried away here and will probably get in trouble for saying this, but are we going to get a bit of the Botanic Gardens around the back of the Arts Centre and the museum so it feels like a much greener precinct?

"How gutsy are we going to be in this next phase? That's kind of up to us, the wider people of Christchurch. We need courage with a lot of stuff that is still to go."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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