Rebuild chief Warwick Isaacs quits for Stonewood Homes role gallery video

Dean Kozanic/Fairfax NZ

Warwick Isaacs, the director of the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU), is leaving to take up a new job as chief executive of home-building company Stonewood Homes.

The man in charge of Christchurch's city centre rebuild is quitting.

Warwick Isaacs, the director of the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU), is leaving to take up a new job as chief executive of home-building company Stonewood Homes.

He leaves at the end of March.

Don Scott John Kirk-Anderson KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ John Kirk-Anderson Iain McGregor

ANCHOR PROJECT: The redevelopment of the Avon River has been the first Blueprint project to take shape.

DEMOLITION: Warwick Isaacs was initially in charge of demolition.

TRANSFORMED CITY: Hundreds of central city buildings have had to be demolished due to quake damage.

REBUILD TSAR: Warwick Isaacs oversaw the central city rebuild as head of the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU).

PARTNERSHIP: Warwick Isaacs, left, worked closely with then Cera chief executive Roger Sutton.

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His resignation comes just two months after the shock departure of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) chief executive Roger Sutton. He joins another high-profile Christchurch leader, former airport chief executive Jim Boult, who has also moved to Stonewood Homes.

Isaacs said he had turned down numerous job offers over the past four years because the timing was wrong, but now felt sufficient progress had been made in the rebuild that he could walk away with his head held high.

The residential red zone demolition programme was well advanced, the horizontal infrastructure rebuild programme was past its halfway mark, and the central city blueprint was starting to come to life, with construction or planning underway on most of the anchor projects.

"I've decided to go now because it is a good time to go for me personally, but also when I look at the areas for which I'm responsible they are all sufficiently advanced that . . . my going isn't going to impact on that aspect of the recovery," Isaacs said.

The former chief executive of the Timaru District Council has been working with Cera since its inception and was initially responsible for co-ordinating all the demolition work within the central city.

In April 2012, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee assigned him a new task, as director of the CCDU - the unit charged with developing a blueprint for the central city rebuild.

The blueprint Isaacs and his team came up with relied on getting buy-in from the private sector and when that was slow to eventuate and people started talking about Christchurch as a "doughnut city" - a city with an empty hole in the middle - Isaacs did succumb to a moment of doubt about the blueprint, but that doubt quickly passed.

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"That myth [of a doughnut city] has well and truly been debunked now with the private sector really taking up the challenge to reinvest and invigorate the central city," he said. 

Isaacs said he was very happy with progress in the central city. "The first year after the February earthquake was really lost because the ground was still shaking so we've had three years to do the task that was set for us.

"When I look out the window now and see the reconstruction that is going on, I'm very happy with the progress."

There was no question Christchurch would be one of the best cities in Australasia, he said. "I will enjoy bringing my grandkids through here."

CERA acting chief executive John Ombler said Isaacs departure would be a huge loss for the organisation. "There are few people who have been so intrinsically involved in the rebuild of this city."

"Warwick was here from February 23, 2011 in a Civil Defence capacity, and essentially never returned to his normal Timaru life.

"He joined CERA as a deputy chief executive, and then took on the mammoth task of leading the Christchurch Central Development Unit.

"He went from being Mr Emergency to Mr Demolition to Mr Rebuild, and for the past two years has been overseeing a $4 billion work programme - that's a huge commitment to this city over the past four years."

Ombler said Isaac had also had great support from his family as the hours had been "exceptionally long" and demanding.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said Isaacs had made a significant contribution to the city's recovery.

"He came here on loan from the Timaru District Council a few years ago and has ended up playing one of the most significant roles as far as the central city goes," Dalziel said.

"I think Warwick can feel very proud of his achievements."


Deciding the fate of quake-damaged heritage buildings had been the hardest part of his job, said Isaacs.

As the man charged with overseeing the post-quake demolition programme it was Isaacs who had to decide which buildings in the city would be issued with section 38 demolition notices because they were deemed unsafe by engineers.

It was Isaacs who controversially signed the section 38 notices for Christ Church Cathedral and the Majestic Theatre in Manchester St.

He said he not regret any of the calls he had made but had found dealing with the heritage issues challenging.

"It's been the hardest part of my job, having to make those decisions knowing they are not going to please everybody.

"But nevertheless I've had to make those decisions so we could move on with the recovery of the central city," he said.

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 - The Press


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