Jointly owned urban development agency for Christchurch worthy of consideration
2 September 2014
Given the strategic importance of the Canterbury rebuild, it is logical that the transition from emergency governance arrangements is overseen by the Prime Ministers office, but to maintain momentum in the city centre an expert development agency is an option that should be investigated, says Stephen Selwood CEO of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.
CERA has successfully overcome immense challenges in the wake of the devastating Canterbury earthquakes.
With the emergency response function of CERA largely addressed and the rebuild underway, it is appropriate that longer term governance arrangements are now investigated.
Ultimately, responsibility for communities affected by the earthquakes will need to be restored to local authorities. Migrating CERA into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will help ensure CERA remains focused on the recovery while options are considered.
However, as the Governments role in Canterbury gradually becomes less overt, and as local authorities, particularly the Christchurch City Council, assume wider responsibilities, there is a risk that politics begins to impede progress.
In no place is there likely to be greater potential for cross-governance friction than in the central city. The scale of central government investment there is such that the Government can never fully extract itself from decision making processes, something the city council will increasingly find impedes its efforts to deliver its objectives.
The Government is either going to have to surrender some decision making authority over national resources to a local authority or a third party acting on behalf of both institutions.
Given the success of specialist urban redevelopment agencies overseas, including in Australia, it makes a lot of sense that such an organisation be considered to undertake delivery of the central city Blueprint on behalf of the Government and Christchurch City Council.
Aside from depoliticising such an important and sensitive issue, establishing an independent dedicated body will facilitate appointment of highly skilled specialists in urban redevelopment, procurement and delivery who understand market drivers and can deliver on identified outcomes.
These have not traditionally been the kind of skills maintained by government and after the central city rebuild is complete it is not likely that these skills will be required further.
The Governments announcement that it will appoint a body to provide advice on transition arrangements provides the opportunity to objectively consider all options for the effective governance, procurement and delivery of the Canterbury rebuild.
A jointly owned local and central government urban development agency with independent governance and specialist procurement and delivery capability is an option worthy of detailed consideration, Selwood says.