Editorial: Another delay in a Christchurch rebuild that has seemed both rushed and tardy

Prime Minister Bill English and Amy Adams officially opened the Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct on ...
DAVID WALKER/STUFF

Prime Minister Bill English and Amy Adams officially opened the Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct on Tuesday.

OPINION: The official opening of Christchurch's new justice and emergency services precinct this week seemed emblematic of the generally slow progress of the city centre rebuild.

Government ministers were keen to talk up the "fantastic" building and declare it open, especially during the election season, but the complex is late, unfinished, and will not be fit for purpose for several weeks yet.

Justice Minister Amy Adams and Prime Minister Bill English went ahead with the opening while construction workers who were still working on the incomplete parts of the precinct were huddled out of sight.

Workers will still be seen on site even though the official opening of the Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services ...
DAVID WALKER/STUFF

Workers will still be seen on site even though the official opening of the Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct was held on Tuesday.

The project was supposed to have been handed over by Fletcher Construction on March 31, then June 30. In July, Adams said the building would open in August. Finally, it "opened" on Monday.

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Christchurch Regeneration Minister Nicky Wagner says the delays will cost Fletcher $100 million.

Christchurch people have got used to delays in the anchor projects which were supposed to secure the broader central city rebuild.

They were promulgated in the so-called central city 100-day blueprint. The 100 days referred to how long it took to draw up the plan, which was then allowed to drift. The fifth anniversary of the blueprint's release went mostly unremarked on July 30.

That means we have been waiting for many of the anchor projects for 1865 days since their announcement.

The metro sports building was originally scheduled to open last March. Expect to see it in 2020.

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The convention centre was also supposed to be opening about now, and a large medical conference was booked for early next year. It is also now due in the first quarter of 2020.

The future of the stadium is anyone's guess.

In fairness, we should note that the Margaret Mahy Playground, the bus interchange, the earthquake memorial and the Hagley Oval have helped reinvigorate the city centre. Progress is being made right across the city.

But some of the other standout rebuilds and new developments have had very little to do with central and local government agencies, or grandstanding politicians. The Isaac Theatre Royal and the staged reopening of the Arts Centre are obvious examples.

Looking back, it is hard to imagine why the blueprint had to be drawn up within 100 days – why there was such a compelling need to crack on with the job. Especially as there is now a lingering sense that an opportunity to create the city we really wanted has somehow been squandered.

To turn to a non-anchor project example, if we had known that it would take seven years to decide the fate of Christ Church Cathedral and probably another 10 years to rebuild it, we could have got used to the fact that fixing the damage would be an inter-generational task.

Thirteen-hundred buildings were destroyed within the four avenues. Simple maths tells us that even if they could be replaced at the average of one a week, putting the city back together would be a 25-year endeavour.

On that scale, the justice precinct is indeed a significant step in the rebuild, but only one of many that needed to be taken. But the courts, the police, Civil Defence now have a new home. The city has a substantial new asset.

And it is better late than never.

Ric Stevens is an editorial writer for Stuff. This opinion piece ran as an editorial in The Press on September 14.

 - Stuff

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