Sir Bob Parker and Chinese investors back $70m building in Christchurch health precinct

John Key (centre right) breaks ground for the HREF building along with (from left) Ara chairwoman Jenn Bestwick, CDHB ...
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

John Key (centre right) breaks ground for the HREF building along with (from left) Ara chairwoman Jenn Bestwick, CDHB chief executive David Meates, CDHB chairman Murray Cleverely, NewUrban Group partner Jianping Wang, and Sir Bob Parker.

Sir Bob Parker and Chinese investors are behind a new health research facility in Christchurch.

Ground was broken on Thursday for the construction of the Health Research Education Facility (HREF).

The $70 million building will be the first private sector building to be constructed in Christchurch's health precinct, which occupies a block bordered by Oxford Tce, Montreal St, St Asaph St and Hagley Ave.

Developer NewUrban Group is a joint venture between Chinese and New Zealand investors John Fairhall and Bert Govan. The company is involved in several other smaller projects in Christchurch, including the Port Hills bike park. 

Parker is the chairman of the board and an investor in the company.

Huadu is a large family-run property and construction company based in Beijing. Its founder, Zhiguo Wang, first visited Christchurch in the mid-2000s and his son, Jianping, has spearheaded the Christchurch investments. 

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB), Ara Institute of Canterbury, and University of Canterbury will lease space in the seven-storey building.

One floor is yet to be leased but Parker said he was "confident" the company would find tenants for the free space before it completed the building.

Parker said Chinese investment company Huadu International had been looking for projects in New Zealand since the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2008.

"It's been a long, long process to get here."

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He said the building was a good commercial opportunity for the company.

The HREF building will be home for more than 2000 Ara nursing, midwifery and medical imaging students, as well as for CDHB education and development staff.

CDHB chief executive David Meates said collaborative work undertaken in the building could lead to "novel approaches" to rising health problems.

"The trends are indisputable. We have an ageing population and ageing workforce and we need to find innovative ways to address these issues," he said.

"I'm confident it will grow to become Canterbury's centre of health innovation, research and education.

"This will also help reduce fragmentation among services, create a more integrated inter-professional approach to training, and reduce costs through more effective utilisation of resources."

The HREF building will be close to Christchurch Hospital, which will allow duty staff attending research or education sessions to quickly return to the hospital if needed.

Canterbury University's representative on the Health Precinct Advisory Council and pro vice chancellor, Professor Gail Gillon, said the HREF would enhance the university's collaborative research and teaching initiatives with the CDHB, Ara, Otago University and Ngai Tahu.

"In particular, we are looking to advance initiatives in postgraduate health sciences, leadership and management and postgraduate nursing through the central city health precinct location," she said.

"Our University Council has approved the strategic business case for our presence in the new building and we are now working through costing details."

Professor David Murdoch – dean of the University of Otago, Christchurch, which has its own facilities next to Christchurch Hospital – said the HREF building would lead to stronger partnerships and better outcomes for the university.

The partner organisations will be able to share IT platforms, common quality and audit processes, and workforce data collection.

WHERE ARE THE BILLIONS FROM CHINESE CONGLOMERATE?

A year ago, representatives from Guoxin International Development Company (GID) came to Christchurch with promises of raising a US$2 billion fund for investment opportunities in the city.

With much fanfare they signed a non-binding "Letter of Co-operation and Friendship" with the Christchurch City Council.

A year later, no money has been invested and nothing appears to be on the drawing board.

Steve Clarke, director of investment with council-owned Development Christchurch, could not be reached but last month told Radio New Zealand the company had looked at some deals but nothing suitable had been found.

He said the company was still interested but finding an investment of the right scale was difficult.

Local developer Fred Rahme, who was assisting Guoxin, has left his role in the company and a company he registered called Guoxin NZ has been voluntarily removed from the company register. It did not trade.

 - Stuff

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