18 May 2016

Chamber urges Chch council 'to be brave'

7:07 pm on 18 May 2016

Christchurch's leading business group is criticising city council plans to slow down its earthquake rebuild programme.

Christchurch construction.

Christchurch, Rebuild, Building, Workers, Migrants, Immigration Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The council's draft annual plan proposes the move as a way to reduce rates rises. It would also reduce the amount of money it needs to raise from asset sales - down from $750 million to $600m.

In its submission on the plan, Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce said any reduction in momentum would lead to a loss of confidence among potential investors.

The council needed to keep its foot firmly on the pedal, said the chamber's chief executive Peter Townsend.

"We think this is a time for the council to be staunch, to be brave, to increase capacity, if capacity is required to be increased in the context of their long-term plan.

"We don't want to see slippage against that plan."

The city was only half way through rebuilding critical infrastructure and facilities and the sooner that work was done, the better, he said.

Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend.

Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend. Photo: thebuildingintelligencegroup.co.nz

"We also wanted to see the council realise more funds through the strategic sale of certain assets and they're now back-pedalling on that.

"We don't think that's a good idea because we think the council does have the capacity to keep a very firm hand on the tiller."

Mr Townsend also sits on the board of Otakaro, the government agency in charge of delivering the long overdue anchor projects.

He denied it was hypocritical of him to be criticising the council for taking longer to deliver on its share of the rebuild.

"It's my job to deliver projects the Crown has responsibility for. We will work constructively with the council as the Chamber of Commerce to see that our objectives are achieved.

"It's a completely separate issue, my governance with Otakaro."

But the head of another business group, Ernest Duval from the City Owners Rebuild Entity, is pointing the finger at the anchor project for slowing the momentum of the rebuild, not the council.

Ernest Duval of City Owners Rebuild Entity

Ernest Duval of City Owners Rebuild Entity Photo: Supplied

"The big factors that are holding up rebuild in the city are, in fact, the anchor projects.

"So you tally those up, you're talking billions of dollars worth of capital investment right in the centre of the city."

The council had only so much money to go around and it made sense for it to stage projects over a longer period, he said.

Christchurch city councillor Yani Johanson said part of the reason the council was having to cut its cloth was that it had been locked into a cost-sharing agreement with the government, which was forcing it to spend money on lavish central city projects at the expense of the rebuild of the wider city.

"If I give you an example - Victoria Street, which is proposed to cost $8m, that's roughly four years of footpath repairs in our suburbs.

"So for the sake of one project, we're forgoing four years of fixing our footpaths."

Meanwhile, Keep Our Assets Canterbury spokesman Murray Horton said investor uncertainty was just a smokescreen invented by the Chamber of Commerce to put pressure on the council to stick with its original programme of asset sales.

Keep Our Assets Canterbury spokesman Murray Horton

Keep Our Assets Canterbury spokesman Murray Horton Photo: Supplied

"This whole thing is driven by politics and ideology, not by money. They believe that private ownership is good and public ownership is bad and the less public ownership there is the better."

The council has now finished consulting on its annual plan, which is due to be adopted by the end of June.