Rebuild top of priority list for PM
Prime Minister John Key has put the Christchurch rebuild at the top of his priority list for the next three years, warning that the Government will use its special powers to remove any stumbling blocks.
In his state of the economy address in Auckland yesterday, Key said 2011 had been about "dealing with the damage" caused by the Canterbury earthquakes. This year was about "starting to rebuild a vibrant, strong city".
The Government was committed to the reconstruction of Canterbury, he said.
"That's why we put aside $5.5 billion in last year's Budget and created a whole new government department to lead the recovery effort,'' he said.
"I can assure you that we won't hesitate to use the powers we have to clear blockages in the system."
He said it was easy to underestimate the scale of the undertaking.
"Rebuilding Christchurch and its surrounding areas is an unprecedented project – without doubt the biggest economic undertaking in New Zealand's history. It is also at risk of delays from more seismic activity," he said.
A National Bank report last year showed economic activity in Canterbury was growing faster than anywhere else in the country.
The Re:Start shopping area in the City Mall was drawing people back to the heart of the city, Key said.
"And we have seen large companies show their faith in the city by announcing new investment in Christchurch,'' he said.
"Nearly 70 per cent of the 1357 buildings approved for partial or full demolition in greater Christchurch have been demolished, and early next week the first suburban demolition by Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] begins in the residential red zone in Bexley."
The Government had made changes to the regional policy statement for the greater Christchurch area, which could pave the way for more than 45,000 new houses.
"The challenge now is for local authorities to use these powers to free up new land. The residential red-zone settlement process is progressing well,'' Key said.
"There are around 6500 properties in the residential red zone in Canterbury, and around 90 per cent of those homeowners have now returned their consent forms to Cera so they can receive an offer from the Government."
About 46 per cent had accepted the Government's offers to buy their property, he said.
"The commercial redevelopment of Christchurch is well under way, and from February, residential housing reconstruction should move up a gear, subject again to seismic activity."
Plans by employers to hire more permanent staff in Canterbury were at an eight-year high, and as the rebuilding grew, the demand for workers and materials in Christchurch would be huge, he said.
"Finally, for Canterbury's passionate sporting fans, of which there are many, the good news is that big-match rugby returns to Christchurch on March 24 when the Crusaders play the Cheetahs at the new 17,000-seat stadium in Addington," he said.