Roger Sutton to be new quake tsar

05:46, May 12 2011
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Orion chief Roger Sutton been named as the most powerful bureaucrat in post-quake Christchurch.

The chief executive of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) was named at 1pm by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee at a press conference in Papanui.

Sutton replaces Deputy State Services Commissioner John Ombler, who has been the interim chief executive since Cera's inception.

Roger Sutton
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee named Orion chief Roger Sutton as head of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority

Sutton is presently chief executive of Canterbury electricity lines company Orion Networks.

Brownlee congratulated Sutton on his appointment.

"Roger has been an outstanding leader as Orion Networks' chief executive, and he has a very keen appreciation of the extent of damage from the earthquakes and need for recovery here in the city.


"I'm sure Roger's appointment will speed the recovery process,'' said Brownlee.

"I think all Cantabrians, and particularly the residents of Christchurch city, can be confident we have found a chief executive who is more than up to the job."

Sutton will start in mid-June.


Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said Sutton's appointment was "great news for Christchurch and Canterbury'' and would be very popular.

"It is so reassuring for our city and region that Roger who understands the local issues so well and has the respect of all sectors of our community, has been appointed to this key role. I am looking forward to working closely with him."

Parker also thanked Sutton for his "tremendous'' contribution to the city as Orion Networks chief.

"He has been simply outstanding in this role."


Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend also welcomed today's announcement, saying it was the "most important Government appointment of the year".

"It is critical that the right person be appointed for this role. The fact that that Roger Sutton has all the right attributes is welcomed. That he knows and is based in Christchurch and knows the region well is an important and vital bonus.

Townsend said the "stakes are high and the need great" for Christchurch's earthquake recovery and he believed Sutton's experience, leadership qualities and "general empathy with this community" made him a good choice for the role.

"I have worked with Roger on various issues over the years and I have a high regard for his skills, his integrity and his concern for community wellbeing."

Townsend also thanked interim chief executive John Ombler for his work since CERA's inception and said he looked forward to working with Sutton to "recreate a strong future for Christchurch".


Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale said Sutton was "down-to-earth" and had been "proven" to work hard for Christchurch.

"We've seen what Roger has done for the city through three earthquakes now. He's obviously very pragmatic."

However, it was important Sutton made sure the Restart 29.10.11 project - opening parts of the city's central business district before Cup and Show Week in November - was realised, Lonsdale said.

Christchurch's recovery depended on having a "strong, clear direction", with "one person behind making sure that happens".

"He needs to take care of those tall buildings, get them down quick. We can't allow them to hold us to ransom."


CanCERN chairman Tom McBrearty said he was "delighted" with the appointment.

"He brings two key ingredients - leadership around business and emphatic values around the community."

McBrearty said Sutton had engaged well with the public at community meetings organised by CanCERN following the February earthquake.

"People understand the language and direction he talked about, so ... those skills, of that calibre, it's a good choice."

Sutton recognised the divide between business, politics and the community and CanCERN was looking forward to working with him, McBrearty said.

Action for Christchurch East organiser Angela Wasley said Sutton's experience in Christchurch as Orion's chief executive was "definitely a bonus", but hoped he would work with community groups on a ground-level in his new role.

"Time will tell how things move in then ext six months or so, but we need something to happen soon."

Wasley said she was frustrated about "months and months" of waiting for news on her own home and business, and she hoped today's announcement meant something would start happening soon.

"Hopefully he'll now have the power to make something happen," she said.

'12 out of 10'

Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson said she was not only pleased with today's announcement, but "relieved" as well.

"I'm really, really delighted. I think that he's the perfect choice. I'd give him a 12 out of 10."

Sutton was a "passionate Cantab", who had a strong vision for Christchurch and a "good strategic brain", she said.

"He gets people. In his job as CEO of Orion he's shown an amazing ability to keep people informed. He took that message out to people, he didn't expect people to find the answers, which is great.

"Given what we need to do to recover strongly he's just perfectly positioned."

However, she said the transition between Civil Defence and Cera had not been smooth and it was important now for people to have clarity over what each group was responsible for and a timeline showing when important decisions would be made.

"What people most need is a clear timeframe of decisions being made. People get really frustrated and angry because they can't find when things are going to be decided. Even if recovery is five years away, we need to know, then people can go on with planning their lives."


Sutton refused to consider the role when his name was first mooted in early March as the ideal person to lead the city's rebuild.

Wigram MP Jim Anderton and former mayor Garry Moore said Sutton had the track record and skills to drive what was the city's most challenging role.

Sutton had already won praise about his handling of staff working long hours to restore electricity to the city, his honest remarks, and his communication skills.

Anderton said the person leading the rebuilding work needed to be well-known, respected, able to get community "buy-in" and have a proven track record in management and administration.

"If anyone can do it, he can do it," said Anderton. "He would have the grunt to pull people together."

Moore said it was important the rebuilding leader was someone who was fair, had sound ethics and a sound knowledge of the city.

"Roger is a highly competent CEO and we will need someone like him to drive us forward as the new Christchurch rises phoenix-like from the ashes," he said.

However, at the time Sutton said he had enough on his plate.


Speaking this afternoon, Brownlee also congratulated Ombler for doing "an outstanding job'' over the past six weeks.

"I'd like to thank John for the very professional way in which he's gone about the establishment of CERA.

"I know that what he leaves behind will give Roger a very sound base to build upon."

The new earthquake tsar will have unprecedented powers to direct post-quake Christchurch, including directing or denying any local government decision deemed to impede the city's recovery.

Sutton will also have the power to forcibly acquire land, order demolitions and demand information from any source for recovery work.

The appointment of the permanent Cera chief has been fraught.

Customs chief Martyn Dunne was reported as the first choice for the job in March, before pulling out.

Ombler was installed as a temporary measure to give the Government more time to find a suitable candidate.

Sutton will be paid between $495,000 to $555,000 a year.

The Press