Christchurch is like a coiled spring – building up tension before rapidly releasing energy, according to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.
He gave another confidence-boosting speech last Friday against a background of growing apathy and lack of new construction in the central business district.
Just one of the handful of commercial buildings under way is within the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s “frame” and 38ha out of an initial 387ha remain behind army cordons.
Plus, there is, of course, the cardboard cathedral.
Mr Brownlee’s speech noted growing impatience and frustration while making assurances that the pace of property acquisition by the Canterbury Earthquake Authority is speeding up.
Various media were flown into the city for a tour of progress, beginning with a visit to the airport and a briefing by chief executive Jim Boult. He emphasised the role of the airport company in promoting tourism and employment in the region.
While the rhetoric was rousing, the reality is that finding hotel accommodation is very difficult, as visitors frequently testify.
The Heritage Hotel in Cathedral Square has announced plans to reopen in May and Ernst Duval’s Rendezvous Hotel is scheduled to open in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Mr Brownlee officially renamed central Christchurch a “Rebuild Zone” instead of a “red zone.”
Sale contracts have been signed with 27 Christchurch inner-city commercial property owners and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.
Agreements “in principle” have been reached with 20 other property owners.
The Crown is seeking to buy 350 properties in total and negotiations are under way on 215 of them.
CERA recently issued Notices to Take Land as part of a legal process that will give the Crown the option of compulsory acquisition. More notices were issued this week.
“It has always been our intention to create a willing-buyer willing-seller environment as we acquire land to allow the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan’s anchor projects to proceed and so it is proving to be.”
Mr Brownlee says the East Frame and the Avon River Precinct detailed design work has begun at the same time as the Crown is acquiring the property for each project.
The land acquisitions for these two projects should be completed by August, and construction on the Avon River Precinct will be under way by April, with completion by “mid-to-late next year”.
Last year CCDU called for expressions of interest in building the convention centre precinct, and this month parties who responded will be advised of the outcome.
The required land will be in Crown ownership within six months and site clearance will have commenced, Mr Brownlee predicts.
“A month later, in September, the Crown will own all the land necessary for building the metro sports facility, with finalised design and early construction planned to begin soon afterward.
“By August this year the Crown will own all the land necessary for the bus interchange and construction is planned to begin in early 2014.
“The health precinct in the South Frame is also making good progress, with a request for proposal for master plan services now closed and a master plan contract due to commence next month.
"By May the master plan will be completed and this will determine the development options available. Detailed design will begin by around August and construction should begin early next year,” Mr Brownlee says.
On the residential front, 6500 of 7207 red-zoned residents have signed a sale and purchase agreement.
“My parting message to you today is that while the scale of development in the Canterbury region is unprecedented, and while we’d all like things done yesterday, we have an exciting but realistic vision of what Christchurch will become, and orderly well-considered processes to make it happen.
“The strongest legacy for me in how Christchurch has responded to the quakes is the way everyone, from all walks of life, is now going about their daily lives slightly differently, just happy to be here, and working, and improving our city.
“In September, I laid out a challenge – that in five years’ time the event that defines the lives of this generation of Cantabrians is not so much the earthquakes but being part of creating a magnificent new Christchurch.
"I believe we have laid the foundations to create the best small city in the world,” Mr Brownlee says.