Rebuild friction rises to surface

WANTING ANSWERS: Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.
WANTING ANSWERS: Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Private landowners and developers have created the "biggest mess on our plate" in one of Christchurch's key recovery projects, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

Ongoing tensions between the private sector and the Government bubbled to the surface yesterday after the release of a report criticising the "painstakingly slow" central-city recovery.

The research, carried out by the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID), shows major banks, construction companies and engineering firms believe the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) and Christchurch City Council are holding back the rebuild.

The procurement and prioritisation of anchor projects and investment strategy were among the most heavily criticised aspects in the report.

Brownlee dismissed claims the CCDU was slowing down the pace of the rebuild, saying there was a "gross lack of understanding" about the procurement processes that needed to be adhered to.

"If at times [those processes] make things look disconnected that would, of course, cause a degree of frustration but I am comfortable that we're working well together."

Those who felt key rebuild aspects were weak were those who were "feeling outside the process or, for one reason or another, haven't got themselves engaged", he said.

Brownlee challenged comments about lack of flexibility and partnership with the private sector, citing the lack of progress on the retail precinct as one of the key issues stalling the city's recovery.

"That project is entirely in the hands of the private sector and it's the biggest mess on our plate."

The Government had been forced to step in and help facilitate development after private owners had been unable to reach agreements, he said.

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

The biggest criticism was the alignment between central and local Government, which 40 per cent described as very weak and about 35 per cent as weak. Visible evidence of progress also attracted a poor reception with just under 75 per cent describing it as weak or very weak.

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, the majority said Canterbury needed a single authority to move forward and only 7 per cent wanted to see the existing post-quake structure continue.

Members of NZCID include major construction companies Fletcher, Hawkins and Fulton Hogan, as well as engineering firm Beca, international consultancy firm Opus, legal firms and major banks.

Brownlee said the Government was "never going to walk away from a half-finished Christchurch without having huge confidence that those left to pick up the work are capable of doing that".

One industry source close to the rebuild, who did not wish to be named, said the procurement process used by the CCDU for anchor projects was marred by missed deadlines and a lack of information and transparency.

"The CCDU is politically driven and it's poisoned the rest of the organisation, which is a shame because there are some great people working there."

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel was hopeful agencies could develop a single point of entry for investors that would cover procurement and project delivery. There was room for improvement when it came to how council and Government plans fitted together, she said.

Dalziel was in Wellington this week where council representatives met with Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority officials, the State Services Commission, the Prime Minister's office and Treasury and "started the discussion" about changing the working relationship between Christchurch and Wellington.

"I'll be blunt, the current working arrangements weren't working . . . this willingness to sit down with all agencies was a very positive beginning," she said.


New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development member views on the Christchurch rebuild:

"To muddle along the way we are is cringeworthy."

"At the beginning, I was really excited about the new buildings, money and ideas. As time goes on however, this excitement is fading."

"We need to be working with a commercial board, not a minister."

"The recovery that is happening has nothing to do with the Government. It's happening in spite of Cera."

"There is a lot of activity under way – just not sure if it's going in the right direction."

"I don't have a lot of faith in CCC. There are some good people but . . . some people have been there forever and are not up to the task."

"It's going to be a great city . . . We just have to be patient." 

The Press