Christchurch rebuild 'hampered by government'

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 11:31 24/04/2014
Christchurch CBDf
Stacy Squires

REBUILD: Work is advanced on the central city's Theatre Royal, but it is surrounded by undeveloped wasteland.

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Key rebuild firms are blaming government bodies for the city's "painstakingly slow" recovery.

The survey by the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) shows major banks, construction companies and engineering firms believe the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) and the Christchurch City Council (CCC) are holding back the rebuild.

Some of those surveyed called for Cera to go and an independent board be set up to replace it.

However, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said he is "broadly pleased" with Christchurch's rebuild.

Brownlee issued a media release in response to the report this morning and said the feedback would be taken on board.

"[It's] a timely and useful qualitative and quantitative snapshot of some of the recovery's major work programmes from a number of people at the coalface of the rebuild," he said.

"There's a range of candid feedback in the report - both positive and critical - about many elements of multi-agency recovery work,'' Brownlee said. 

He said despite the small research pool, officials would be taking all responses on board and ''doing our best to deliver a great outcome for greater Christchurch''.

BETTER COORDINATION NEEDED

NZCID chief executive Stephen Selwood said the research asked senior industry leaders to rate the effectiveness of governance planning, funding and delivery of the rebuild programme to date, and what changes should be planned for the future to speed up progress, deliver better outcomes and drive improved value for money. 

Selwood praised the Government's ongoing commitment to the rebuild and said categories such as pride in the city, optimism for the future and sustained economic performance received solid feedback.

"But coordination across central government agencies, the [council and Cera], and programme governance and procurement, were identified as key areas needing improvement,'' he said. 

Brownlee said while there would always be a range of views on how to approach complex challenges in the rebuild, he was broadly pleased with how the recovery is progressing.

He said there were a number of issues to focus on, including delivery of important anchor projects, and ensuring stakeholders have confidence in how central Government was working with local government.

"But when I look at where we were a year ago, and think of where we'll be in a year from now, I'm heartened that Christchurch's recovery is happening at a reasonably good pace, and work is being delivered to a high standard.''

The interim research results were leaked to The Press after the NZCID presented the findings to its members earlier this month.

PRIORITISATION OF ANCHOR PROJECTS CRITICISED

The procurement and prioritisation of anchor projects, investment strategy and the lack of alignment between the council and the Crown were among the most heavily criticised aspects in the report.

The survey, carried out in February and March, showed the performance of the region's recovery agencies had slumped since a similar survey last year.

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When asked about leadership, just under 80 per cent of respondents described it as weak or very weak.

The biggest criticism was the alignment between central and local Government which 40 per cent of respondents said was very weak and another 35 per cent as weak.

Visible evidence of progress was described by nearly 75 per cent as weak or very weak.

The Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) blueprint attracted a more positive response with 60 per cent describing it as either as good as can be expected, strong or very strong (5 per cent). Only 10 per cent called the plan very weak and 30 per cent said it was weak.

Project prioritisation and investment strategy were weak or very weak, according to more than 70 per cent of respondents.

Respondents said the procurement process for anchor projects showed no innovation, was costly and inefficient.

''Progress is improving but it is still painstakingly slow,'' one person said.

Another said: ''People don't know what they are doing with the procurement. The tender documents are pathetic. Detail is missed out, it ends up in a shambles.''

One respondent said his firm was redirecting its efforts to Auckland and Australia due to ''greater certainty of process''.

Responding to questions about the future, 63 per cent said Canterbury needed a single unitary authority to move forward and only 7 per cent wanted to see the current post-quake structure continue.

The vast majority of respondents (96 per cent) said now was the time for discussion about how the rebuild would be managed beyond Cera's powers.

However, there was mixed response when asked who should replace the CCDU/Cera post-2016 with 55 per cent said it should be a working group made up of representatives from rebuild groups and 35 per cent believing it should be a joint approach between central Government, local government and Environment Canterbury.

The report highlighted immediate priorities and recommendations that included a full risk assessment of the rebuild, publishing an integrated master plan, improved procurement processes and an ''early commitment to an independently governed, market-facing, urban development agency''.

NZCID members include major construction companies Fletcher, Hawkins and Fulton Hogan as well as engineering solutions firm Beca, international consultancy firm Opus, legal firms, major banks, and the Plenary Group, believed to be the frontrunner for the convention centre precinct.

The leaked documents show the research was carried out to see how the rebuild had progressed over the last year and achieve a better understanding of the effectiveness of governance, planning, funding and infrastructure delivery.

The NZCID would use the findings to make recommendations to Government and local councils.

The research included interviews and meetings with NZCID members, companies involved with the rebuild and online surveys.

Of the research participants, 50 per cent lived in Christchurch, 43 per cent in Auckland and 7 per cent in Wellington. However, 65 per cent said they worked primarily in Christchurch.

Respondents worked in a range of industries - from contracting, construction and central Government to engineering and consultancy firms.

The positives highlighted in the research included a strong rural economy, the opportunity to grow business and progress being made in insurance settlements.

- The Press

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