John Bridgman: The new man in the rebuild

FUTURE: John Bridgman has been soaking up the city as he begins his role as Ōtākaro chief executive.

Two weeks ago John Bridgman was in charge of the $12 billion Melbourne Metro Project. Now he’s in Christchurch and has started his new role as head of Crown-led rebuild agency Ōtākaro. He talks to Julia Evans about plans for the future of Christchurch

On the eighth-floor of the HSBC building on Worcester Boulevard, Ōtākaro chief executive John Bridgman’s office looks out over the central city.

To the left is the site of Te Pae the Convention Centre, in the centre is Avon Precinct and on the right is the South Frame.

Mr Bridgman and his family moved to Christchurch on August 1 from Australia, where he was leading the $12 billion Melbourne Metro Project.

Before that, he managed the development of the $2 billion North South Bypass Tunnel in Brisbane and the $1 billion Transmission Gully motorway in Wellington.

But for the last two weeks, Mr Bridgman said he has been a “sponge” soaking up the vibe of the city, it’s people and the progress of the rebuild.

“The organisation has built a lot of momentum and is doing stuff, which has really impressed me just in a couple of weeks here. The board is clear that what they want to do is keep that momentum going,” Mr Bridgman said.

“My bit is getting stuff done. That’s what I’m proud of doing from my other work and I’m keen to do here.”

Mr Bridgman said he had a “few ideas” about what he would like to see done differently.

“But it would be a bit bold of me, two weeks in. I think if I turned up in town and I was pontificating about what the future should be, it would be absolutely nuts.

“At the moment, I’m just taking it all in and fitting the pieces together to see if we can find ways of doing it faster, doing it smarter, doing it cleaner and get some activation of the various precincts.”

One build that particularly piqued his interest from his construction and engineering background was the $475 million Convention Centre.

“Getting it done in a timely manner is critical for us because it flows through into the operator and management so making sure it’s finished on time and to the necessary quality is pretty quality. But it’s one of a number of anchor projects,” Mr Bridgman said.

He said each project was a “piece of a puzzle” within the city’s regeneration and it was his job to make sure everything went smoothly.

“My job is just to get it done.”

And once that’s done – the anchor projects signed, sealed and delivered – Ōtākaro is “over and out,” he said.

“The people here are from all over the world and are here to deliver stuff. They’re attracted to this organisation because of the impact it can have. We’re an organisation that is going to go out of business in five years but we’ve got no problem recruiting because people want to come here.”

After having spent two years in Melbourne, Mr Bridgman said there were a lot of similarities with Christchurch. Though the scale was a little different, there was the same “vibrancy.”

“The climate for one, is the same. But the people here feel very much the same. There is an immense friendliness, openness and enthusiasm here, as well as a positivist that exists in Melbourne as well.”

But it was having facilities and events all in the central city was what Mr Bridgman said is key for the city’s mini-Melbourne future.

“The opportunity Christchurch has for events and attracting people here, whether it be sporting events or through the anchor projects – the Metro Sport Facility, Convention Centre, the stadium – they all provide great attractors.”

He said there were few cities around the world that had all of their facilities in the centre of town.

From what started out as “being good at maths” went into engineering and developed into Mr Bridgman’s passion for developing cities on a mammoth scale.

“The organisation is very impactful. Being able to have an impact on people is exciting as an engineer. The projects you work on can change cities.”

While the opportunity to change the lives of Christchurch residents is something he can’t wait to get started on, Mr Bridgman said so far there’s been one standout highlight of his new role.

“The one that blows me the most is on a fine day I can sit at my desk and look out and see the Kaikoura ranges. That beats Melbourne any day. My office in Melbourne looked out on a derelict building.”

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing in his first two weeks.

From his office window, you can see 10 cranes looming across the skyline marking daily rebuild progress – Mr Bridgman counted.

“I counted them and wrote it on the window. I was going to keep it and every so often go back and count again as a bit of a measure. But I wrote it in permanent marker, so I got in a bit of trouble for that.”

Ōtākaro Timeline

Avon River Precinct – November

An Accessible City, including Oxford Gap – December 2019

South Frame – More than 75 per cent complete by October. The remaining work will be carried out when land becomes available towards the end of 2019 and take six to nine months.

Te Pae Convention Centre – Construction completed early 2020, events from late 2020

Metro Sports Facility – Construction completed late 2021

East Frame – Rauora Park completed. Fletcher Living has 172 homes currently under construction. Construction and sales will continue through to 2026.