Quake rebuild could race ahead with British help

The $30 billion rebuild of post-earthquake Christchurch will race ahead if local firms team up with British firms experienced in major construction projects like the London 2012 Olympics and Heathrow Airport redevelopment, a UK government minister said yesterday.

Lord Ian Livingston, UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment, was in Christchurch today to talk up the benefits and opportunities for British businesses working collaboratively with New Zealand companies on the rebuild.

He had lunch with local firms that already invest in the UK before later meeting with UK companies pitching for work in the post-disaster zone.

In the audience were officials from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU), construction firms, accountancy powerhouses, and banks.

Afterwards, he told APNZ that Christchurch firms needed outside help to ensure the rebuild was not a 30-year project.

"The people of Christchurch have been remarkably resilient and deserve to, as quickly as possible, get the sort of future I think these sorts of partnerships can deliver," Lord Livingston said.

He cited the expertise UK firms have from completing huge infrastructure projects like the London 2012 Olympics, Heathrow Airport redevelopment, Crossrail, the largest construction project currently in Europe. All projects were completed on time, to budget, and safely.

"[New Zealand] companies just are not set up to do what is, hopefully, a once in a few lifetimes, sort of project," he said.

Partnerships formed on large-scale projects in England have seen international firms go on to build infrastructure for the Football World Cup in Brazil and the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi.

And he stressed that the partnerships can have longer-lasting benefits, than just one-off projects in Christchurch.

"There's a real opportunity for those partnerships to operate around Australasia, Asia, and the world."

Lord Livingstone, the CEO of the BT Group up until last year, also visited the site where Vodafone plans to erect a new $50 million South Island headquarters and innovation hub.

He said it was a prime example of British and New Zealand interests working together, "not just to rebuild Christchurch but very much make it like a city of the future".

And he added that the history between the two nations, having the same legal system, as well as the close social, cultural, and sporting links, made working together "easy".

British High Commissioner, Vicki Treadell agreed.

"This is about our history. As an old friend and ally, it's about our relationships, our history, our present, and our future."

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said local companies had the ability to "unlock" economic opportunities.

But by teaming up with international, including UK, firms, they can "build scale".

"We lack the scale to do what needs to be done in Christchurch. The only variable we have ahead of us is time. If we don't build scale everything is just going to take that much longer."

Collaborative models and joint ventures are already starting to happen in Canterbury, Mr Townsend said.

He has seen companies outside of New Zealand come in cold and try to set up companies as opposition to local firms.

"I can't quote one time I've seen that work," he said. "It's the model of collaboration that's the key."

- By Kurt Bayer of APNZ

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