CERA winds down: A progress report

CERA winds down: A progress report

Regenerate Christchurch takes over come Monday, leaving behind the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), which has overseen the rebuild since the devastating 2011 quakes.

The agency was established by the Government to lead and coordinate the recovery effort. Its purpose was to "lead and partner with communities to return greater Christchurch to a prosperous and thriving place to work, live and play, as quickly as possible".

At its helm was Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and chief executive Roger Sutton, now Jim Ombler.

In February 2015, it became a Departmental Agency within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

In 2012, the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) – a unit within CERA – released a blueprint for the CBD, outlining key projects.

Of this, the Bus Interchange was completed in May this year and was the first CERA-led project to be opened. Other anchor projects progress is slow with Mr Brownlee just announcing two contractors for preliminary designing of the metro sports facility.

At the end of its tenure, CERA's own survey foung just 26 percent of people in Christchurch communities are confident in the recovery decisions made by the agency. CERA estimates an additional 9000 office or other workers will return to the CBD over the next 18 months.  Another CERA survey showed 69 percent of landowners had construction underway or completed in the central city.

However, the latest Treasury report marked the Christchurch rebuild red and gave it its worst rating. Mr Brownlee dismissed the report saying it was outdated.

Read more: Christchurch rebuild gets worst rating from Treasury

Speaking to Newshub, Mr Brownlee rated CERA's performance a 7.5 out of 10.

"I think they've done a very good job at coordinating a lot of companies and leading a number of other organisations in the recovery effort," he says.

He counts the residential red zone as the most difficult project that was well handled by the agency.

As for what he would do differently, Mr Brownlee says it's hard to say and it doesn’t serve a lot of purpose to go back over it.

"I think some of the speed that we've moved at would have been improved if there'd been greater clarity around the law," he says.

However, the city lost 1800 commercial buildings in the quakes and he says rebuilding just one takes time.

"People forget [there's been] 13,000 earthquakes, 67 over five on the Richter scale, it was a very much a moving picture for a long time and still is."

Mr Brownlee does credit the people of Canterbury for making sure Christchurch continues to thrive, despite talk of a collapsing economy after the 2011 earthquakes.

"Another 10 years and it will be an absolutely fantastic city," he says.

"Frankly, it always has been, it's been my home in my life."

Taking over CERA is Regenerate Christchurch, Development Christchurch Limited, and the Government's Crown-led company, who will work together in order to deliver the anchor projects.

Gerry Brownlee (Newshub.)

The leaders of CERA

CERA was established with the help of chief executive Roger Sutton.

Mr Sutton came under fire in September 2014 following allegations of sexual harassment against a senior female staff member.

Details of the harassment weren't released for privacy reasons but were said to involve inappropriate jokes and an unwanted hug.

An investigation by the State Services Commissioner didn't recommend dismissal however Mr Sutton chose to resign anyway.

Read more: CERA boss resigns after sexual harassment claims

Mr Sutton joined the board of six directors of Network Tasman Ltd in August 2015.  

Mr Brownlee told Newshub Mr Sutton was the "right man at the right time".

He says he established the organisation and populated it with very competent people.

John Ombler was named as acting CERA boss for four months while a permanent chief executive was recruited. He then returned to CERA in December 2014 to continue as acting chief executive.

Mr Ombler says he thinks CERA has achieved what it set out to achieve – to make a plan and get on with the recovery of Christchurch.

"We didn't have a textbook about exactly how to do this," he says.

Mr Ombler says he is comfortable with the way residential red zone was handled and the "vast majority had moved on".

Speaking about the central city anchor projects, he thought a number of them are going well and the important thing was the Government voicing its commitment to get them done.

"We've had some complex situations -- the ground's not easy, some of the planning processes, making sure that we get great value for the tax payer dollar – it's all complex.

"Undoubtedly, as an organisation grappling with this from time to time we won't get it dead right and so some of the criticism of course will be fair."

Mr Ombler is proud of what CERA has achieved and says it's been an "everybody in Christchurch effort".

He says the job has been challenging at times but very rewarding and he was looking forward to a rest.

What is Regenerate Christchurch?

Regenerate Christchurch is jointly owned and funded by the Crown and the Christchurch City Council. Its independent board will report to both the Crown and council and after five years the organisation will become fully council controlled.

Appointing an independent Board ensures that Regenerate Christchurch will be managed in a completely different way to the current entities, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the Christchurch City Council.

                Read more: Laws in place for next Chch recovery stage

Regenerate Christchurch shifts the focus from recovery to regeneration, Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said when the Bill was being introduced.

"The structure of the new entity allows for community engagement in the decision-making process, which is crucial to the future prosperity of our city."

Ms Dalziel said last week she is confident it will work. Regenerate Christchurch will "mark a step change" in the rebuild process, she says.

"We've made it absolutely crystal clear to the new organisations that we're expecting them to work collaboratively to ensure all of these things are ticked off and that we're fully engaged in the process."

Legislation was required to set up Regenerate Christchurch as its shared ownership model is the first of its kind in New Zealand.

"Legislation that will empower the new structures was unanimously agreed in parliament," Mr Brownlee says.

He says Regenerate Christchurch has the city's best interests at heart. The Crown-led agency Otakaro will be there to deliver the anchor projects, but Mr Brownlee says the structures for Regenerate Christchurch are "right" and it's what the council wanted.

PM John Key on CERA

Prime Minister John Key took a tour through the CERA building yesterday and says Christchurch is progressing.

"I actually think the Government responded pretty well to the Christchurch earthquake," he says.

Mr Key says staff can be proud of what they've achieved under very challenging circumstances. He feels it's the right time for the organisation to end.

"Because we are moving to the next phase…it's arguably a bit more positive."

He says the focus is now on the future and there's a sense of vibrancy and hope for Christchurch.

He says CERA's legacy will be "an organisation that helped people in a time of great need".