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Christchurch Three Years On: Identifying problems before they arise

The leaky building crisis proved an apt training ground for property consultancy Hampton Jones.

Spending time fixing things means the company is pretty well placed to identify problems before they arise, according to James Bundy, founding partner along with Brian Jones.

They set up the consultancy in 2005 offering chartered building surveying expertise. 

But the company has grown to include specialised services including architecture, project management and engineering. It was recognised by the Deloitte Fast 50 as New Zealand’s 34th fastest growing company in 2012.

“In recent years we’ve tended to work more with existing buildings, which has helped us develop our problem solving, which we can apply to the Christchurch rebuild,” Mr Bundy says. “That means, with our experience in the New Zealand market, we’ve been able to identify issues that arise between the tradespeople and professionals before it’s too late, so we don’t end up with long-term problems.

“We’re still getting over the biggest building crisis we’ve had in this country – leaky buildings. We don’t want to face anything like that down the track.”

Mr Bundy says that compared with other earthquake zones around the world, Christchurch is doing pretty well. The city is functioning, the economy, if not booming, is certainly growing, and Christchurch business are mostly recovering well. 

By comparison with disasters in places like Haiti and northern Japan, Christchurch utilities are functioning, roads are being repaired, and the social fabric of communities has proved to be remarkably resilient.
But it hasn’t been all plain sailing, Mr Bundy says.

A year after the government unveiled its recovery plan the final demolitions are still under way and many homeowners in the suburbs are awaiting repair or demolition. 

The majority of the central core of Christchurch’s CBD is now bare land where sites have been remediated.

Several of the new anchor projects have been initiated and repair and replacement of the city’s damaged infrastructure is well under way and some commercial property developments has been completed.

Outside the city centre and in neighbouring districts, housing construction is under way and new communities are being established.

“While it’s remarkable progress, hundreds of displaced businesses are still waiting for new commercial and retail developments,” he says.

“Many businesses that had to find new premises after the earthquakes are occupying sub-standard or inappropriate premises. Some had to sign-up to long leases but many others are on short-term leases that may be terminating soon. 

“They’re faced with a dilemma – do they renew existing leases in the hope of ultimately moving to more permanent premises in the re-built city centre, or do they find a more permanent home in one of the growing suburban business communities?

“If city-centre commercial development does not pick up, this decision will be made for them and we will see declining demand for office space in the new CBD. And if this occurs, demand for retail space will also soften,” he says. 

“The challenge we all face is accelerating new commercial development in the core central business district or we will see declining demand for office and retail space.”

Mr Bundy says the complications include fragmented ownership and a low level of institutional ownership.

It means development is more likely to reflect local aspirations for the new city centre but also creates some hurdles to re-development.

Institutional funds want to see substantial developments and high levels of tenant commitment and these are hard to come by. 

“Local investors and developers certainly have the appetite and ability to deliver some of the developments.

“The real challenge we have is to provide the incentives to encourage well-built commercial development as a legacy for the future, and to support local and institutional investors with more detailed planning.”

Read: the rest of the Christchurch Three Years On stories here

Comments and questions

Comparing Christchurch to Haiti and Fukushima devalues the opinion to almost useless or biased, as a Third world country with poor resources and organisation and a major Nuclear holocaust is not comparable with a well insured/resourced country like NZ. The problem as usual is inept Political and Commercial entities whose interests are egotistical and financial rather than the practical restoration of peoples lives in terms they deem appropriate. I do agree that infrastructure repair/replacement is being done well in spite of the financial and beaurecratic restraints. I suspect many business's having been forced to adapt to new locations will be very reluctant to return to the CBD with the higher costs and further disruptions.