Brownlee rejects rebuild criticism

JOHN MCCRONE
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2013
Gerry Brownlee
REBUILD BOSS: Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

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Three prominent Christchurch business leaders have written privately to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee complaining about the governance of the central city rebuild.

In a letter obtained under the Official Information Act, the three call for the appointment of a professional property boss, as well as the creation of an independent advisory board.

Bruce Irvine, chairman of council-owned Christchurch City Holdings Ltd and Heartland Bank, Christchurch "rich lister" Humphry Rolleston, and Tony Sewell, chief executive of Ngai Tahu Property, suggest the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) - set up as a government department reporting directly to Brownlee - is seriously underpowered.

Brownlee has already dismissed the letter.

The three businessmen argue the CCDU's ambitious Blueprint plan for the central city is at risk of stalling, unless more commercial experience is brought into the heart of the process, as the recovery moves from broad plans to investment decisions and project implementation.

"Time is of the essence; already too many commercial tenants have voted with their feet and left the city," Brownlee has been told.

A first change should be the formation of an advisory board of five or six people drawn from Christchurch with "real property, management and financial experience" - the trio noted they would be prepared to "serve and contribute".

Then a new chief executive should be recruited to take charge of all property matters and oversee implementation of the Blueprint, including land negotiations, the management of anchor projects such as the convention centre, and "working constructively with private developers".

Sewell said the joint letter was not intended to be confrontational, but it did reflect wide concern about how a government department could continue to run the rebuild.

"This is no disrespect to any of the people who have been doing the job, but we're now in the property development phase and we need to go and look internationally for one of the best property developers in the world to come in and help the Government drive the process."

A board was needed to better engage the views of the community, Sewell said.

Complaints the CCDU lacks commercial nous and that an independent board is needed as a buffer between its staff and the minister have been echoed by other senior Christchurch figures, such as former National MP and cabinet minister Philip Burdon.

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He described confidence in the central city rebuild as dangerously fragile and said the Government's approach had become too bureaucratic.

Brownlee said the letter carried little weight.

"If people think that having a board of directors between the minister, who has the responsibility for the large chunk of Crown expenditure currently committed, would somehow make the process faster, then they're seriously deluded.

"They don't understand how Crown accounting and public probity rules work."

As for the call for greater community input, Brownlee replied: "Where is the lack of local engagement?

"If it's the people who write to me regularly suggesting that we have a new structure - with the clear inference that they should be part of it - then they've got the option of standing at the local elections and putting themselves in the process."

He said the central city had been held up by the need to negotiate with the council over who paid for what for the anchor projects. But now there was clarity on that issue, the CCDU had reorganised to push ahead.

This week, the CCDU announced that chief executive Warwick Isaacs remains at the helm, with former army man Greg Wilson as general manager of project delivery and Christchurch landscape architect Don Miskell as general manager of design and planning.

Two new units will be set up - the Greater Christchurch Investment Strategy and Greater Christchurch Commercial Strategy.

- The Press

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