Touring Christchurch

June 19th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A couple of Fridays ago, I (and around 14 other media) spent a day touring as guests of .  I found the day quite fascinating as the scale of the issues is daunting. I’m going to blog some photos and commentary, and also at the end my overall thoughts on .

The tour started with an amusing incident as we passed the new McDonalds. said that sadly it was not yet open, as the Council had yet to approve its consent. This caused some amusement, and I wondered if Gerry had considered using his special powers to consent it himself :-)

We started off looking at areas such as Kaiapoi, where in some areas house after house is noticeably damaged and of course abandoned. But we also saw the areas where new sub-divisions are planned, and construction about to start. I believe Ngai Tahu is planning what will almost be a small township of 2,500 on some of their land.

We headed into the Cashel Container Mall, where we met some of the CERA executives such as and Warwick Isaacs. Sutton is a very quirky personality, who was telling us how the amount of milk he has to drink to cycle to the Port Hills, is equal to the amount of petrol a car would need – in terms of energy. This factoid is new to us, but not new to Gerry and the other CERA people who I gather hear such factoids on a daily basis.

A profile of Sutton in The Press has he has calculated it takes 7 grams of chocolate to run up the 11 floors of HSBC house.

Putting aside the quirkiness, both Sutton and Isaacs impressed with their plans. There were lots of questions from media types, and I found their replies to be realistic. They are well aware that they can not force investors back into the central city, and that the CBD will be smaller. However they are doing what they can to make investment occur, such as working with the former large tenants such as the financial institutions, the law firms, the Government sector to confirm they will relocate back to the CBD if the rental cost is similar to what it was.

I’ll come back to the investment challenge, but will note that some of the property investors in Christchurch are very “loyal” and keen to invest if it can make sense for them. The Cashel Container Mall came about because four of the major property owners got together and arranged for all the owners to temporarily donate their land into a trust which charges peppercorn rentals to the current retailers.

We headed into the restricted zone, and saw first hand the deconstructions occurring.

Large areas of the CBD are now clear. CERA believes that within 12 months all the deconstruction will have occured, which suggests that by then the construction plans will be known and pretty finalised.

There is an opportunity here for Christchurch to get a city centre which is an improvement on the old one. Many locals will admit that the sad reality is that the city centre was in decline even before the quakes. One of the reasons for this is because so few people lived in the city centre.

The draft plan for the CBD is to have apartment blocks to allow 30,000 people to live in the inner city. That’s a great plan, and will make a real difference to its vibrancy.

However CERA was quite blunt, that the investment may not happen. The return on residential property is less than on commercial property in city centres. You get less per square metre. We won’t know for some months if there are property investors who will be willing to invest. One of the real problems is that the heightened requirements in the building code, means construction costs will be greater – possibly more than even insurance will cover. So the investment equation may not be there for new residential apartment blocks.

The other thing planned is to have some sort of logical sectors within the city. For example the courts, the police and the law firms will probably all be located next to each other. I quipped it was nice that prisoners would have shorter distances to travel :-)

Part of the Cathedral. I am not an Architect, but having seen its exterior, I reckon anyone who thinks it is safe to preserve it is barking mad. It’s fucked.

The CERA Chief Geologist took us to Redcliffs. Those houses had such stunning views, but are now obviously unsafe to live in.

That’s a mighty big load of rocks that have come down.

Further along, they have this temporary solution of containers, to prevent further rock falls spreading onto the road. A simple but effective idea. Who knew containers had so many uses – prison cells, retail shops and rock guards!

You have to be careful emerging from between the containers as you are straight onto the road. I remarked to Beck Eleven from The Press that it would be bad to get run over here, as all the other media would get to report your being hit by a car or truck. Beck agreed, but said what would really gut her is that she has no camera with her to take photos of my body after being whacked by a vehicle. We agreed that she could take my iPhone from my body, and use it to take and send in photos of the scene :-)

A bit hard to see through the window, but yes that is a large rock in the middle of that bedroom.

What happened is the rock landed here and bounced literally through the wall in the background into the bedroom.

We were told the rocks fall at around 90 km/hr but when they land and splinter, a shard can travel a several hundred kms/hr. So even a small shard can be fatal.

This rock had a cow underneath it. No it did not land on the cow, it caught it on the way down and splattered it at the bottom. I observed that if it landed on a human, you’d probably not even know there was a body underneath it.

Somehow a discussion eventuated about what would have happened if someone was, umm, being intimate with the cow when the rock struck it. The consensus was they would be very dead, or in great pain.

We ended the tour by going to the headquarters of SCIRT, the Stronger Canterbury Infrastructure Rebuild Team. They are the group rebuilding the roads, fresh water supply, waste water and storm water networks. It is an alliance of CERA, the CCC  and NZTA on the government side and Citycare, Downer, Fletcher, Fulton Hogan and McConnell Dowell on the construction side.

The scale of the work they have on is staggering. Off hand I think their budget is $2.5 billion. but instead of that being one big $2,5b project, this is around 500+ individual projects. Over the next few years I think 40% of the sewers will be replaced or upgraded. When they dig up roads, they are notifying utility companies, so one bright thing has been a lot of fibre or duct for fibre is being laid for little cost.

We finished the day watching the Crusaders play the Highlanders at the AMI stadium. The stadium is superb – you feel very close to the rugby. For a “temporary” stadium, they’ve done a great job. We were hosted by the stadium trust, in their box. At one stage the Highlanders scored a try and as a good former Dunedin resident I jumped out of my seat clapping and cheering. I then noticed that I was the only person in our area doing so, and the Mayor who was seated next to me gave me a very strange glare. I explained I went to Otago University and one has to stay loyal.

Overall it was a very enjoyable and interesting day. I think all the media found it so. The Press has a story online about some of their impressions. There is a lot happening, but the future is of course still unknown. The plan for the CBD is around half way through the 100 day formulation period, and it remains unknown how willing the large property owners and investors will be to build in the new CBD. However there are some confirmed tenancies which will help those decisions.

There were two things which struck me during the day. The first was how much time and energy is spent “fixing” things with the Council. Many many stories were told about issues where they have had to hurry or help the Council do something. Without exception these stories were told with respect for the Council. People often said that it is not their fault – the Council simply is not geared up to rebuild an entire city. They are staffed and structured for business as normal. They simply don’t have the staff, the experience, the flexibility and the funding to do much more than their core competencies.

Some politicians have called for the Council to be given a much larger role in the rebuild. I think this view is woefully misguided, and would be a disaster. I doubt the Council itself even has this view. They simply are not structured in a way where they could perform much more than what they currently do. This is not a criticism of them, just a reality.

The other thing that struck me was the intimate detailed knowledge CERA Minister Gerry Brownlee had on the city and the issues. Over six or more hours on the bus, he was peppered by questions, and could answer pretty much them all. At almost every location he could tell you what had happened, what issues had arisen, and what probably will happen. There were many stories about ministerial interventions to stop something bad happening by some entity. We’re not talking about use of official powers, but persuasion and yes diplomacy. With a rebuild of this size, it is not surprising that so many issues arise.

Now again some politicians have called for there to be a Board for CERA, and have the CEO report to the Board and the Board to the Minister. In my opinion that is also a very misguided and potentially disastrous idea. Apart from the fact there is no other Govt Dept that has such a setup, lets look at what would happen. The Minister would be a remote figure mainly based in Wellington deciding on recommendations from the board. The board would be a group of part-time directors who could only decide things when they formally meet every few weeks. Having a board would be near criminally stupid – it would remove the Minister from an active role, put in place some unelected directors who have no accountability, and slow things down massively. Most of all you would lose the ability of the Minister (and his associate Amy Adams who also showed a high level of knowledge) to perform that all important role of sorting out conflicts and clearing roadblocks.

As I said, the day was very interesting and I learnt a lot. I hope they do another media trip in a year’s time, when fingers crossed buildings in the new city centre will be starting to go up. But ultimately that will depend on if the private sector can get a return on any investment there.

NB – While invited by CERA, like all the other media I paid for my own travel down there.

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18 Responses to “Touring Christchurch”

  1. RRM (9,422 comments) says:

    There is an opportunity here for Christchurch to get a city centre which is an improvement on the old one. Many locals will admit that the sad reality is that the city centre was in decline even before the quakes. One of the reasons for this is because so few people lived in the city centre.

    There were a hell of a lot of shitty old 19th and early 20th century brick merchant’s warehouses and shops with low-rent bohemian hovels upstairs and (once you went east of Manchester Street) many of them had nothing in the ground floor, they were just boarded up and disused. While a lot of heritage has been destroyed, The earthquakes have swept away a lot of rubbish too.

    They should stick with the “garden city” theme, and not be shy about letting belts of green stuff grow in the new spaces around / in between CBD buildings, in my humble opinion. You can always build on them again in the future if demand returns.

    [PS: Do you know the name of the building in photo 1? I didn't realise there were many steel framed multi storey buildings being demolished...]

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  2. BeaB (2,056 comments) says:

    But Lianne Dalziel has the UN job with meetings in Geneva to share her enormous expertise in disasters and forming committees.

    helen certainly looks after her former lackeys.

    In the meantime, Gerry gets lambasted and mocked even though he is doing a brilliant job.

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  3. mavxp (493 comments) says:

    @ RRM, the facade looks like it could be Transport House on Kilmore Street, (between Colombo & Manchester).

    Lots of repeat liquefaction there – I suspect it was dropped for foundation issues rather than shaking damage, but perhaps both contributed.

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  4. GT (44 comments) says:

    DPF – you’ve talked a lot about some of the ‘easier’ issues for CERA to deal with, but what about the hard ones such as all the TC3 properties and owners who are probably in the tougher positions, and insurance, which seems to be increasingly expensive, if possible to obtain. I also understand that banks are now asking for 40% deposits on mortgages for TC3 properties. Was this covered much on the tour, or was it primarily a feel good infrastructure and CDB tour? Very keen to hear your comments about the residential issues and what was shared.

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  5. KH (687 comments) says:

    It used to be demolition. But now it’s deconstruction. ?

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  6. labours a joke (442 comments) says:

    Id like to see Parker and Marryott removed from anything to do with the rebuild. They are both inept and will be gone next year anyway.
    Greasy assholes.

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  7. tristanb (1,133 comments) says:

    Somehow a discussion eventuated about what would have happened if someone was, umm, being intimate with the cow when the rock struck it.

    WTF

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  8. thor42 (901 comments) says:

    I agree with “labour’s a joke” – Parker and Maryatt should go.
    Agree with you too, DPF – the cathedral is utterly munted. The people trying to “save” that pile of ready-to-collapse crap should instead focus on much more **useful** things like getting enough houses built.

    Houses are a darned sight more useful than a munted cathedral.

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  9. Mike Readman (356 comments) says:

    “apart from the fact there is no other Govt Dept that has such a setup”

    ACC? Doesn’t it have this setup?

    [DPF: Not a Department - a crown company]

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  10. voice of reason (491 comments) says:

    DPF – did you visit Bexley, Bromley, Aranui, Dallington?
    A drive east along Avonside Drive – Wainoni Rd – New Brighton Rd and back via Pages road would show how hard some people are doing in CHCH.

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  11. Lindsay Addie (1,129 comments) says:

    Interesting observations DPF.

    There was simply far too much retail in the CBD pre-quakes.

    I attended a speech by Peter Townsend from the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce a couple of weeks ago and he was fascinating to listen to. He observed on July 27 there is going to be bolt of lightning fired that will jolt some people. That’s the day when the plans for the CBD are first unveiled. He talked about Roger Sutton and had a different take on the guy to the common view as outlined by DPF above.

    He also said the real cost of damage in this city is $40 billion all up. Re the Chch Cathedral he was in no doubt its completely stuffed. The funny thing is the idiots like the demented Wizard and that Keown half-wit want to save it but don’t want to pay for it!!!

    I do think it’s going to be critical to get foreign investment in Chch. Without it we could be come a half-dead city that never recovers.

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  12. big bruv (13,210 comments) says:

    I wonder if DPF came across a mad dad ranting about the evil Peter Davis.

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  13. princetipytoe (47 comments) says:

    The 2008 Sichuan earthquake May 12th
    69,195 dead
    18,392 missing
    374,643 injured
    The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless.
    Majority dead are children in school buildings during the earth quake.

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  14. hj (6,336 comments) says:

    We need Chinese to invest in Christchurch as our wankers have taken the money and pissed off?
    what’s so wrong with a blank space anyway provided it isn’t unkempt?

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  15. pq (728 comments) says:

    There is no evidence that previous property owners will reinvest in Central City,
    and there is a lot of evidence from individuals that they won’t.
    And that is not just residential, it is across the board.
    I propose to people.
    You have ten million dollars and you have to spend it on property development in Christchurch, or Brisbane or London.
    Well this is pretend money of course but the punters won’t go near Christchurch

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  16. mavxp (493 comments) says:

    Personally I am not overly worried about Christchurch’s redevelopment.

    There are opportunities here, and that will bring investment by business people. We need to keep it in perspective though:

    1) The city remains the main city for the South Island economy, which has largely been unaffected by the quakes.

    2) The city is small and is positioned at the far edge of the world. It won’t ever be London, Dubai or even Brisbane.

    3) The previous city center (as noted by CERA and restated by DPF) was anemic before the quakes. The malls in the burbs had prevented growth in the CBD retail sector, industrial parks have done the same for CBD offices and small business facilities. Any redevelopment of the CBD needs to be realistic about the scale required.

    I am encouraged by the plans for increased residential living in the city. Let’s see if they can pull it off with well-made, generously proportioned apartments and townhouses.

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  17. Daigotsu (450 comments) says:

    I see the CERA has plenty of money to spend on giving journalists feel good tours where they can talk about the jokes they made with their journo mates while observing the devastation… and they get their money’s worth when the journos suspend their journalistic obligations to talk about what a great quirky bloke Sutton is rather than the real problems of ChCh…

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  18. kiwi in america (2,432 comments) says:

    GT and Daigotsu
    As we all know, with most orange zoned properties classified as red or green, TC 3 or blue/green is now the new choke point. Ditto the white zone comprising mostly hill top suburbs. I have two friends with $1 million+ homes in the white zone. One barely escaped with his life during the total destruction of his Redcliffs hill top home on Feb 22 and the other in Cifton Hill is totally munted. Both are practical realists about the time it will take to adjudicate on the safety or otherwise of the land on which their homes sit/sat. They know that the expertise to analyse the complex issue of rock falls is not commonly found and they must wait in a long queue until these experts can make a judgment call. Future lives are at stake if a wrong decision is made and another quake strikes years down the track.

    TC 3 owners must also wait in a different but equally complex queue – waiting for geotech engineers contracted by EQC to see to what extent repairs to their homes might need additional strengthening to protect their inhabitants due to their land being more unstable. Aside from the obvious issue of where is EQC could go to find extra specialized geotech engineers because this skill set doesn’t grow on trees. Even if Christchurch was able to obtain 50% of the world’s trained experts in this field (an impossibility) it would still take many months to plough through the tests needed on the estimated 10,000 TC 3 properties. What are you proposing to be done? Even if EQC wanted to contract more where would they get them from? David was right to point out the enormity of the problem in Christchurch – the sheer scale of the destruction is unprecedented.

    Finally – at least TC 3 owners can even have this debate. Almost all the inhabitants of San Francisco and Kobe had to suck it up and take the entire loss on the chin. Only 30% of home owners in California can even GET earthquake insurance at any price and not for total replacement. Ditto in Japan. In China and Haiti the destroyed buildings still lie in ruins and there is almost zero government assistance and meanwhile people in Christchurch moan that their new kitchen isn’t reflected in their 2008 GV upon which the government based the red zone remuneration package. Did the governments of California or Japan offer its earthquake affected citizens a buy back package like the NZ government has? We need to put the relief efforts in Christchurch in some perspective. People are fighting over insurance because 97% of Christchurch homes were FULLY covered for earthquake. Eventually in the midst of all these delays almost all insured parties will get a new or repaired home out of this disaster while their contemporaries even in the first world mostly got nada!

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