Christchurch Rebuild: Crown agencies have mammoth tasks ahead

Albert Brantley says Otakaro is not here to consult.
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Albert Brantley says Otakaro is not here to consult.

Christchurch's two new rebuild agencies have been in business for nearly a year. NICK TRUEBRIDGE sat down with chief executives Albert Brantley and Ivan Iafeta to ask what their organisations have achieved.

Albert Brantley is not one for constantly sitting in meetings.

The Otakaro chief executive says that's just not his style.

The Crown is delivering the "big ticket" convention centre on its own.
SUPPLIED

The Crown is delivering the "big ticket" convention centre on its own.

After spending the best part of a year at the helm of the company charged with delivering our key anchor projects, familiarising Cantabs with this approach has been a challenge, he says.

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"Our real focus is about trying to get things done.

Regenerate Christchurch says 2017 will be a year of activity as it works to develop a regeneration plan for the Avon ...
PETER BALL/SUPPLIED

Regenerate Christchurch says 2017 will be a year of activity as it works to develop a regeneration plan for the Avon River Corridor.

"I used to wonder, when I first started here, if I spend all this time going to meetings to coordinate when am I ever going to be able to get anything done," Brantley says.

"Just getting people to understand that we want to tell you anything and we're quite happy to tell you anything, but I'm just not going to spend all day in meetings telling you about stuff and besides it's not my style."

Brantley sees himself as a doer, so what has Otakaro done?

Regenerate Christchurch chief executive Ivan Iafeta believes the organisation has done "bloody well" in 2016.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Regenerate Christchurch chief executive Ivan Iafeta believes the organisation has done "bloody well" in 2016.

A LOOK BACK AT 2016

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Entering 2016, the new Christchurch Convention Centre, or the "big ticket" as Brantley calls it, remained a lightning rod for public debate.

When would a decision be made? How was it holding back Christchurch's regeneration?

An announcement was finally made on Christchurch east frame in 2016.
SUPPLIED/FLETCHER LIVING

An announcement was finally made on Christchurch east frame in 2016.

In June the Crown finally made the call to do away with its two-year public-private partnership, taking a preliminary design from the process and opting to deliver the development alone.

"There was a decision made to change that procurement model and go to a direct design and build or design and construct-type approach," Brantley recalls.

Preliminary designs will be finalised early in the new year, while budget issues, though "not major", also need tweaking, he says.

Remains of a park bench within the Avonside Loop in the red zone.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Remains of a park bench within the Avonside Loop in the red zone.

In December, we finally caught a glimpse of what the first East Frame homes might look like.

They should be finished by May 2018.

But construction on the central city anchor project was meant to have started in September 2016.

"We spent quite a lot of time reviewing that and [there was] quite a lot interaction between ourselves and Fletcher to make sure that we got the design right, the development sequencing right and looking at doing the scheduling so that we can continue to drive that," Brantley says.

Still, there is plenty of work ahead.

"At the same time we're continuing to finalise the design and commercial issues around the next two superlots . . . Hopefully in the new year we'll be in a position to release the next two."

The South Frame has also produced a few niggles for Otakaro, as private land acquisition negotiations with landowners hold up progress.

"We had some successes and are still working on some.

"We'll hit that pretty hard again [in 2017] and just try to tidy land acquisition up as quickly as we can," Brantley says.

He concedes that Otakaro had not intended to run the finished bus interchange, but it is doing so while a buyer is sought.

The company opted not to start a key section of the Avon River Precinct at the tail end of 2016, Brantley reveals.

"We completed the design on the final stages of the river works up to Margaret Mahy [playground] back towards the Antigua Boatsheds.

"We looked at trying to start the work really late in the year, but it didn't seem sensible because we were going to have to close off Victoria Square over the holidays."

The road cones clogging central city streets while cycleways and greater pedestrian access are created as part of the "accessible city project" have been a bugbear for city business owners. They say the joint Otakaro-Christchurch City Council project is stunting their growth.

"To a large extent we'll be able to get most of this [Durham St] back to double lane pretty shortly [and] work on Manchester's gone reasonably well.

"We're trying to look at trying to tidy all of that stuff up early next year," Brantley says.

Work to clean up the contaminated Metro Sports Facility land is underway, with contractors set to work through Christmas.

In the background, after starting the year with 76 land titles to divest, Otakaro has sold about 25.

NOT HERE TO CONSULT

Brantley makes it clear Otakaro has no mandate to tinker with the city blueprint, instead it is here to deliver what has already been decided.

"We're not doing, sort of, consultation in the typical sense.

"It's been a very difficult message to get people to understand that that's not actually our job.

"I think we can always go back and look at ways that we could've done things a little differently to make people more aware of that," Brantley says.

But his biggest frustration has been what he can't tell us.

"A lot of it has been driven with very sensitive discussions around commercial negotiations.

"You can't put all the information out there."

'THE YEAR OF ACTIVITY'

"We've gone bloody well," Regenerate Christchurch boss Ivan Iafeta declares.

"I've recruited … three-quarters of the organisation, we've developed an interim work programme, we've declared our approach for the Avon River Corridor, for the central city and we're working closely with DCL [Development Christchurch Ltd] in terms of New Brighton.

"We've worked with the council on the Cranford outline, we've tried to be very visible within the community."

So Iafeta and his team have been busy, yet our red zones look the same – derelict and undeveloped.

But 2017 is "the year of activity", he says.

2017: A NEW PLAN

Regenerate Christchurch's old plan to focus on one small piece of the red zone is in the bin.

Instead its draft outline is looking to develop a draft regeneration plan for the entire Avon River Corridor at once.

There is a plan for a plan, in other words.

Residential Red Zone general manager Rob Kerr concedes this may not look like much.

"It's clearly not as tangible as beautiful pictures on a plan, which will be coming later, but it's also really important because it sets out a process by how people can be involved and participate," he says.

We will not see the pretty pictures until at least September. 

As for boots on the ground? They might be seen at the start of 2018.

Iafeta says the focus for Regenerate Christchurch has been two-fold so far.

"One is building the momentum and the other is ensuring that we carefully plan our way into this.

"I think if you ask a lot of people in Christchurch about their experience and observation of plans that have been developed for other reasons since the earthquake there would be observations that perhaps the thinking into the planning wasn't done that well.

"What you end up with is a plan that doesn't achieve the outcome . . . What we don't want to do is repeat those experiences," he says.

WHY THE WAIT?

On Iafeta's first day as chief executive, he started with nothing.

He freely admits there is "no existing plan".

"There are other regeneration or recovery organisations, that have been set up around the same time we were, that were stood up and populated around existing work programmes, scheduled budgets and deliverables.

"My role since when I first joined was to establish an initial work programme, design an organisation structure that would support that and recruit people.

"Cera didn't map out a future use process for Christchurch and when we stood up there was nothing [to hand over]," he says.

The job ahead, Iafeta says, is "massive".

"The challenge for us is here's 530ha of land … figure out how you're going to do this and by the way here's a new piece of legislation.

"So $1.5 billion of Crown investment to purchase the land, significant council infrastructure, remaining property owners, lots of existing ideas."

Iafeta believes Regenerate's job is "exponentially" more complex than some of the work of the other regeneration agencies.

"If we're going to build confidence and credibility with the community and with investors and with stakeholders in general we've got to demonstrate that we have developed a very sensible, credible approach to the work that we've inherited.

"That's why a lot of the focus up until Christmas has been building the organisation, building momentum and getting the planning framework in place," Iafeta says.

"If I'd arrived on day one and said I've got the answer and here it is and this is what we're going to do … there'd also be a backlash from people who are saying 'oh great here's another organisation who's already worked out what they're going to do'."

 - Stuff

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