'Disgraceful bickering' stalling CBD rebuild

MARTA STEEMAN
Last updated 12:01 15/06/2013

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Contenders to design and build the Christchurch Convention Centre are "in the dark" about the stalled process, after being shortlisted six months ago.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) shortlisted five groups in December last year, but would not reveal who they were at the time, after receiving expressions of interest from more than 23 parties.

Members of the groups said there had been little communication with Cera and its unit, Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU), since, apart from a phone call about two weeks ago to say "something might happen soon".

In January and February some members of the shortlisted groups confirmed their interest.

These were Ngai Tahu, two building companies - Fletcher Building and Naylor Love-Hutchinson Builders - and Populous, a global design and planning consultancy. But they wouldn't reveal their partners.

Others understood to be in the five groups include New Zealand infrastructure investor Morrison and Co, and Melbourne company Plenary, an investor and developer of public infrastructure.

One of the companies from outside Christchurch said yesterday nothing had happened since the shortlisting. The parties will only talk off the record.

The "disgraceful bickering" in Christchurch when there was so much to be done was "depressing".

"This is a Christchurch-centred failure of procurement," one said.

The worry was that the energy and optimism generated by the CBD blueprint was being drained away from the CBD to the periphery, where developers and builders were getting on with building.

The longer authorities left decision-making on the CBD and anchor projects, the harder it would become to populate the city centre.

His impression was that deals were frequently done in Christchurch between friends and people they had known for years, which could deter investors from outside without contacts. Potential investors from afar needed to see tangible progress.

There were some signs now the authorities had realised they had dropped the ball, and they were in the process of fixing it.

Another said Cera's target had been to have the convention centre completed by March 2017, but that looked almost unachievable. It was frustrating for contractors and consultancy firms who had geared up to rebuild a city.

He suggested perhaps a convention centre and stadium should be parked for a few years, and instead the rebuild of the retail and justice precincts started first. It was also worth continuing work on the Metro Sport facility project.

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He had expected CCDU to sit down with each group and discuss capability, and then put together a more detailed document on what it wanted for a convention centre.

Lots of international investors were interested and had a fair idea who were in the shortlisted groups, even though that had not been officially revealed. The company he worked for received a lot of calls from parties interested in supplying goods and services. Investors had come and gone from the city "still none the wiser".

An example was the China Development Bank, in Christchurch last week. It visited the Christchurch City Council and Cera looking for opportunities.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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