BUDGET 2014: Don’t forget the rebuild

It occurred to me I have now had my work laptop for just over three years. Most people probably wouldn’t remember a detail like that but for my colleagues and me it is easy. 

Our laptops were issued almost immediately after the February 2011 earthquake that resulted in most of our IT equipment being lost in the demolition of the Grant Thornton building in Cathedral Square.

If only everything else could be replaced as quickly. If there is one thing Cantabrians have learned, it’s the need for patience. Many red-zoners and others are still waiting for a satisfactory conclusion to settlement of their property claims. 

Most of the Christchurch CBD remains as vacant lots, with a number of significant demolitions still to be carried out. The islands of activity that do exist are themselves fraught with delays.  

A significant amount of infrastructure work remains to be carried out. Although such work is less inspiring than seeing new houses, offices and restaurants go up, and (with over 40 sites being worked on in the CBD) creates commuting carnage, it is a vital part of the recovery.

Recent reports suggest $1.77 billion of “horizontal infrastructure” work is still to be carried out. City councillors have been told there’s only $1.36 billion left in the budget, although Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee disputes the figures. 

Regardless, the amount of infrastructure spend appears to be a moving feast and one must ask what provision will be made in the budget to ensure Christchurch rebuilds itself to full capacity.

On the positive side, figures released in the Canterbury Development Corporation’s Canterbury Report show economic activity here far exceeds the New Zealand average, with a 6.6% increase in local GDP during the year ending December 2013. This includes growth in: the construction sector (15.7%); professional, scientific and technical services (8.2%); retail trade (8.2%), and accommodation, cafés and restaurants (7.5%). Associated with this comes low unemployment and strong migration.

While that provides a return to the government’s books in the form of higher tax receipts, much of the growth is acknowledged as being temporary and one-off. The real question is: what will result from this hive of activity as a lasting legacy and future driver of the Canterbury economy?

The government must maintain a continued understanding of, and funding for, Canterbury’s situation and requirements. For anyone not affected, earthquakes may seem like yesterday’s news; after all, the last big ones were three years ago.  

But for those of us still living in inadequate housing, driving on roller-coaster roads and working in deficient “temporary” workplaces, it’s still a reality.

After three years, my laptop is starting to show signs of its age, including sluggish performance. Ironically, our IT man has suggested it may need a “rebuild.” Let’s not allow the pace of the rebuild of Canterbury to decelerate.

Geordie Hooft is a partner, tax and privately held business at Grant Thornton New Zealand