11 Jun 2015

Convention centre funding requests revealed

6:40 am on 11 June 2015

Official documents revealed delays and apparent funding woes behind Christchurch's planned convention centre, despite the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister dismissing talk of a budget blowout.

A concept image for the Convention Centre Precinct on CCDU's website.

A concept image for the Convention Centre Precinct on CCDU's website. Photo: CCDU

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) has asked for more money to ensure the centre is built, and a Cera spokeswoman said the funding request had been agreed to.

The Prime Minister has publicly acknowledged the rising costs of the convention centre, while the minister, Gerry Brownlee, has dismissed questions about a cost overrun.

But documents released to Radio New Zealand under the Official Information Act showed Mr Brownlee was made aware of the project's financial woes last year.

In November 2014, Cera took two financial requests to Cabinet.

The figures have been redacted in the response, but the documents show Cera wanted the Government to release money from the convention centre fund "to enable the procurement process to be completed and accelerated through to the close of the master planning and development stage".

Cera also wanted Mr Brownlee and the Minister of Finance Bill English to agree to release "up to an additional ... million if required and appropriate" to "enable work to progress from the masterplanning and development stage to the execution phase".

A Cera spokeswoman said the requests were agreed to but were commercially sensitive and subject to ongoing negotiations.

The documents said the extra money would enable Cabinet to make decisions on the final funding proposition for the precinct.

It said the funding would "not supersede Cabinet's ability to decide whether to progress the project".

Labour's earthquake recovery spokeswoman, Ruth Dyson, said the Government was dodging questions about the centre and its cost.

"We don't have any clear understanding of what stage the convention centre is up to...and it seems like from [the OIA response] that it's on the table that we might not even have the convention centre."

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said the Government was committed to delivering the project but said "some resolution" was urgently needed.

He said a lot of other central city development relied on good outcomes from the convention centre and its surrounding precinct.

He expected the financial conditions sought by Cera related to commercial negotiations and said Cabinet had an "absolute right...to play hardball if it needs to".

The convention centre's completion date was recently pushed out a year, from late 2017 to late 2018, and the city's first international convention since the earthquakes is booked for November 2018.

Mr Brownlee declined to comment on the matter. A spokeswoman for the minister said he did not want to "prejudice the ongoing commercial negotiations relating to the convention centre".

The mid-stage review of the convention centre and the appointment of a construction firm to provide early contractor services are both running months behind schedule.

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