A city of opportunity.
That’s how outgoing Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend has described Christchurch as it continues to rebuild.
He was the guest speaker at the Star Media breakfast series held at The Atrium in the Park.
Mr Townsend, who also sits on the board of Otakaro, the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum Trust Board, Pegasus Health and the Hillary Institute of Leadership, will step down from the chamber next month after 21 years.
He said after 11,000 aftershocks, 53 of which were over five on the Richter scale, Christchurch now had the opportunity to become the country’s city of choice.
Currently, $83 million was being spent rebuilding the city every week, he told the crowd. Once complete, the total cost was estimated to be between $40 billion-$50 billion.
By the end of the calendar year, 75 per cent of the housing stock would have been repaired and rebuilt, he said, while 70 per cent of commercial buildings would also be finished.
EQC insurance proceeds had accounted for about $11 billion in the rebuild, with private insurance contributing another $20 billion, Mr Townsend
“There is nowhere in the world where around $30 billion of insurance proceeds have been applied to the rebuild of a city of 400,000 people.”
The Government had injected about $8.5 billion, he said.
Mr Townsend said Christchurch would be the safest city in the country, because it was being built to its “seismic future.”
It would also be the most sustainable with better insulation, double-glazed windows, and heat pumps to heat the concrete pads under buildings, he said.
Education options in Christchurch were better by a “country mile” and Canterbury’s health system was regarded as being in the top six in the world, Mr Townsend said.
“We take it all for granted.”
Infrastructure was another drawcard, he said, with projects such as the northern corridor and the southern motorway making Christchurch more accessible.
He said we did not yet have the population to support light rail.
But he said at some stage the city’s population needed to grow perhaps by another “couple hundred thousand,” and at that point, light rail would work.
“If we want to achieve our economic growth and employment projections, we need five times the historic long-term average of migrants coming to live in our region.”
He said the unemployment rate in Christchurch was only 4.9 per cent.
“We are an ageing population, if we don’t bring young people in to continue to grow this economy sustainably then we’re in trouble as a city.”
Developer Ernest Duval said he was optimistic, but with the way technology was moving forward, the city’s infrastructure and buildings were only part of that.
He said nowadays people could work anywhere in the world, so Christchurch needed vibrancy, innovation, affordable housing and had to be adjustable to change.
“We have a city that is now more fit for purpose than what it’s been in the past, but it’s still got a way to go yet,” he said.
“We’ve got to make this city attractive for young talent to come here and bring their ideas.”
Mr Duval said unlike the rebuild of the city’s infrastructure, time lines could not be imposed on making that happen.
He believed the city’s population was always going to grow with both New Zealanders and migrants moving here.
“It will grow because we’ve got space, affordable housing and good amenities, and we’re the capital of the South Island.”
Mr Townsend said Christchurch was the only city in the world with less than a million people that had a daily Airbus 380 service – the largest passenger airliner.
Meanwhile, the region was offering more than just dairy.
“Canterbury grows 68 per cent of the world’s radish seeds, and 34 per cent of the world’s carrot seeds.”
Mr Townsend said with the restoration of the Christ Church Cathedral to take about seven to 10 years, it should be turned into an attraction.
“Why not put glass panelling around the outside of it? Why not put a couple of grandstands in the square so people can look into the rebuild? Why not make the rebuild of the Christ Church Cathedral a positive experience for tourists?”
Minister supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration Nicky Wagner said that was an “excellent idea” and would be considered as part of the work.
“Forty-five per cent of our tourists come to see the Cathedral.”
Ms Wagner said there were more opportunities post-earthquake, with new facilities such as the Innovation and Health Precincts.
She said more tourism, businesses and people in the central city would add to that.
Mr Townsend said the perception the residential red zone land was a “wasteland” was wrong, and it was a critical part of the city’s regeneration.
“It’s just land that shouldn’t have been built on the way it was.”
He said people needed to hear about the city’s positive story.
“We are still perceived externally as a city that’s whingeing about its earthquake that was exemplified by a broken Cathedral, and we all need to move on from that.”