End of city cordon a 'turning point'

The cordons are down and demolition work in central Christchurch is now nine-tenths finished. Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) chief executive ROGER SUTTON looks to the future.

The removal of the rebuild zone cordons from Christchurch's central city is a real turning point in the recovery of our city.

After more than two years of the CBD being hidden away behind cordons manned by New Zealand Defence Force personnel, having public access again to the heart of the city shows the world how far we have come since the devastating earthquakes.

While the roads and footpaths have reopened there is, of course, still work to do as visitors will see from the fencing remaining in the central city. But we are now more than 90 per cent through the full and partial demolition of dangerous buildings.

The work going on now is mostly building of the components of an exciting new CBD.

Delivering that new and improved CBD is just one of the key priorities Cera is working on.

Just over two years ago Cera was set up to lead the recovery of Canterbury by bringing all of the relevant agencies together and forging the way forward.

And while that gave us the mandate to do a lot of things on behalf of the Government, it doesn't mean we do it all. There is often some confusion about Cera's tasks, and while we try to be clear about how our role fits in with everyone else, sometimes the message gets confused.

For example, my team has been instrumental in the zoning process by carrying out all of the implementation. That meant organising hundreds of community meetings, answering thousands of phone calls and emails, and making sure the community understood the red zone process.

But we don't run the buses, we don't strike the rates and we don't carry out EQC inspections.

In the central city we have designed a new CBD and we are the lead agency for the design of most of the anchor projects, but we don't tell the private sector where their cafes and bars can go or what specific shops can go where.

Our role in the next six months will have a couple of key strands - getting those anchor projects underway and assisting the last of the affected people out of the residential red zone.

We will also be keeping a close eye on the big issues people face in other areas. We will help the Government implement any more changes made under the Cera Act to ensure there is enough new land for subdivisions.

We want to keep working with the insurance industry to make sure people are being promptly assisted through their claims process and out the other side to a rebuild or repaired home.

Through our Christchurch Central Development Unit, Cera will also be working with the investors who we need to be part of the CBD rebuild.

These are the people who will ensure the city is rebuilt in a vibrant and exciting way and who will lay the foundations for creating a city that is considered a destination in its own right.

We have already seen this enthusiasm from Christchurch developers, including Antony Gough whose project is expected to get under way in July/August, with stage one bars, restaurants and ground floor retail open by November 2014.

Projects like these provide impetus for businesses to develop around them and most importantly give the rest of the community the confidence and courage to carry on with their own visions.

In the coming weeks we will announce the final outcomes of the Port Hills zoning review, marking the end of the residential zoning programmes. Those red-zoned residents will have until the end of January to agree on any offer made to them by the Crown.

On the flat land some residents have been given extensions up until January 31 to leave their properties and they will be the last to go from those very badly damaged land areas.

With those people assisted and their future homes complete or well underway, the emphasis will soon be able to change. The Government can turn its attention on a future use of that damaged land in both the flat and hill areas.

While we don't know what that final decision will be, we know that the land is no longer a place that is a healthy and safe place to live. And that is why the past two years we have worked so hard to help people move on through the Crown offer process.

And we will continue to work hard in our role supporting the key Canterbury organisations, so that they are fully prepared for the city to resume its business as usual once our legislative powers come to an end in April 2016.