Editorial: Christchurch's rebuild is driving the national economy

Work continues as the light fades on Antony Gough's Terrace development in central Christchurch.
DEAN KOZANIC/FAIRFAX NZ

Work continues as the light fades on Antony Gough's Terrace development in central Christchurch.

EDITORIAL: At a cursory glance, the dusty streets, empty sections and graffitied, half-demolished buildings of the central city can give the impression of a lack of progress in Christchurch more than five years since the first earthquake struck. Such notions, however, are superficial and belie the true nature of how the Christchurch rebuild is advancing.

Look again: Half a dozen people are queueing at the ticket machine in the gravelled car-park, a tram packed with happy faces clangs through Cathedral Square in the warm sunshine, the Rebuild Christchurch tour bus trundles past more than half full. There are indeed signs of positive change showing that those who don't actually have to be in the centre of Christchurch are coming into the city anyway and having fun.

And it is not just the plants that are bursting forth at the moment during yet another gorgeous Christchurch spring. There are buildings popping up all over too.

The latest figures this week from Statistics New Zealand show the effects of Christchurch's regeneration are rippling across and out of the region, and having a large impact on the country's economy. The value of building consents nationwide has never been higher.  

When The Press shifted back to the central city in May 2012 it was one of the first businesses to return and to move into a new building, one pretty much ready before the February 2011 quake. The view from the building throughout 2012 and 2013 was a sorry one of widespread destruction and ongoing demolition, and gave little cause for optimism. The change last year and this has been striking.

The figures confirm that much. Nationally, more than $1.5 billion of building work received consents in August. Of the $671 million of non-residential consented work that month, Canterbury had the lion's share of that with $419m, compared with Auckland's $77m.

Christchurch and the rebuild, predictably, accounts for a large percentage of that Canterbury figure, with a staggering $384.4m of non-residential consented work, 57 per cent of the national total. It is worth comparing that with the same parameter in August 2014, of $115.4m, and $51.2m in August 2013.

The Statistics NZ figures for this August largely reflect the progression of projects at the University of Canterbury, hospital developments and office construction. At the university, the first building of the $216m Regional Science and Innovation Centre accounted for $134m of consented work. This centre is a major initiative, supported by the Government, to help further boost the institution as it recovers from the effects on its roll of the earthquakes.

This high level of consents is hugely exciting and reinforces the value of the rebuild to the national economy. But there are still parts of the city that have fallen through the cracks. Cathedral Square is a disgraceful mess and needs a cohesive approach and some urgent action to fix. New Brighton's lack of progress desperately awaits some leadership that will hopefully come from the new Regenerate Christchurch agency.

Different commentators have expressed different views on whether the rebuild was still getting under way, or was plateauing, or had peaked and was slowly starting to drift downwards. It is always easy to be baffled by a plethora of figures but the message from them now seems pretty clear - the rebuild is in full stride. 

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 - Stuff

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