31 Jan 2016

Slowly but carefully in Christchurch

From Insight, 8:12 am on 31 January 2016

It's almost five years since the Canterbury earthquake that claimed 185 lives and caused widespread damage throughout the region. How far along is the rebuild?

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend says 2016 will be the year Christchurch exceeds 50 percent of the reconstruction of the city.  

Mr Townsend said $100 million a week will continue to be spent in the city for some years to come but acknowledged people are getting frustrated that the rebuild is taking a long time. He believes, however, that people are beginning to understand the complexities involved.

"I don't know anywhere in the world where $40 to $45 billion is being tipped into a population of 360,000 to rebuild a city.''

Click on the tiles below to see the progress being made in Christchurch:

Insight - Christchurch 5 Years On

Mr Townsend thinks Christchurch will go down in history as being hopelessly optimisitic about rebuild timeframes in the early days after the earthquake.

Infrastructure repairs in the area are still being carried out by the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team but the agency has completed 85 percent of its work programme, including 97 percent of repairs in the central city.

Christchurch Central Business Association manager Lisa Goodman, said accessibility has been one of the key problems for people in the central city and now as the city begins to take shape, car parking is an issue.  

"In the next 12 to 18 months we'll have 20,000 coming into work in the central city and that will make a tremendous difference, not just during the week but when they're at home they know what's on offer in town.''

She said businesses need certainty over the Christchurch Cathedral and the convention centre to create development in the square.

Lisa Goodman stands in road with construction behind

 Christchurch Central Business Association manager Lisa Goodman Photo: ( RNZ / Belinda McCammon )

Labour's Canterbury Earthquake spokesperson and Wigram MP Megan Woods said while there are positive things happening in the city she describes the anchor project sites in the city as wastelands.

"We can look to what has been achieved in other places in the CBD where the government isn't in control. It's private enterprise that has just got on and done it.  I think the government wanted to come up with something quickly with the blueprint [the recovery plan] and we've seen delay after delay after delay.''

In December the $3 million Margaret Mahy Family Playground in Christchurch's central city opened, one of the few completed anchor projects in the city.

The playground was one of more than 100,000 suggestions that came out of the Share an Idea campaign run by the Christchurch City Council soon after the earthquakes.  

The ideas were a starting point for the council's central city plan but they were superceded by the government's recovery blueprint, which was intended to be a framework for businesses and green spaces around the city.

The blueprint, which laid out where the anchor projects like the justice precinct, convention centre and sports facility would be, was intended to give developers, investors and residents certainty as the city continued to reel with aftershocks.

Last year the council voted to go ahead with selling $750m worth of council-owned assets and voted to raise rates over the next four years by more than 27 percent.

In December, the Council finally settled it's quake insurance claim for $635 million. The settlement, due to be paid in full next month, will give the council flexibility on its own repair programme.    

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel describes the council as being back in the drivers seat but there are still challenges ahead this year, including a refresh of the blueprint and producing an annual plan that is deliverable.

Lianne Dalziel,stands across the road with newly re-opened Art Gallery behind

 Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel Photo: ( RNZ / Belinda McCammon )

Minister of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee says initial advice about the recovery of the city was bleak and he is pleased with how the city has recovered.

He describes a Treasury report, released in November which said the government's central city recovery plan was unachievable, as ill considered and backward looking.    

He also dismisses suggestions that 2016 is the midway point of the rebuild.  

"I've always been a skeptic about timelines and I think when you start talking about `are we this far through?' it becomes slightly academic and it depends on what your estimate was of the damage in the first place.''

As Minister of the Earthquake Commission (EQC), Mr Brownlee has frequently found himself defending the work of the Commission's staff as they continue to handle home owner claims.  

Almost 70,000 houses needed repair after the earthquakes, about 5500 homes are being reinspected by EQC for second rounds of repairs because of poor workmanship, failed or incorrect repair strategies, and new damage, with about 2300 underfloor repairs needing reinspection or fixing.

Press play to see an aerial video showing the progress at various anchor project sites:

Head of the Earthquake Commission Ian Simpson apologises for those mistakes and says they will be put right.

Mr Simpson said from a housing point of view Christchurch has recovered far more quickly than other world cities that had faced comparable events. The Commission has paid out more than $8.9b in claims and repairs he said. 

The home repair programme has cost over $3b, the Commission is now dealing with the last 12 or 1200 or 1300 homes, with 700 already under repair and 500 people the Commission is trying to settle agreements with so they can start work.  

Mr Simpson said this year the Commission needs to push hard to make sure anyone waiting for the EQC to do something, gets it done.

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