Sluggish home-building slows return to Christchurch

The rebuilding of Christchurch is bringing migrants and students back to the city, but the slow pace of new-home construction in Canterbury is holding back numbers.

Aecom, a Fortune 500 firm, is one of the companies bidding to help prepare a blueprint to rebuild the city, to be decided by the newly formed Central Christchurch Development Unit.

The unit has been given 100 days to prepare a blueprint and is seeking, by tender, a company to lead in urban planning, architecture and engineering.

Immigration New Zealand says up to 56,900 additional workers may be needed when work on the rebuilding peaks next year.

About 400 people migrated to the city last month _ about the same number as the previous March _ according to Statistics New Zealand figures, and many are believed to be associated with the rebuilding.

Christchurch lines company Orion will be building a $15 million temporary head office by Christmas to house its 160 staff.

Nearly 200 foreigners had been granted visas for work associated with rebuilding, most of them under the skills shortage list, said general manager labour and immigration research centre, Vasantha Krishnan.

The largest numbers are coming from the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Philippines.

International student numbers have dropped significantly from pre-quake levels, however Ministry of Education figures showed nearly 900 have enrolled in Christchurch schools this year.

Until last year's February earthquake, Canterbury was the second-most popular study destination for foreign students after Auckland, and the city's education industry is estimated to be worth $400 million.

Education agents said that although there were students from Asia wanting to study in the city, finding a homestay host for them was "nearly impossible''.

"Houses are not getting fixed and new homes are not being built, and schools are telling us they have nowhere to accommodate the students,'' said education agent Gwenda Li.

Despite the number of consents for new dwellings jumping from a year ago, insurers' reluctance to insure new homes and provide contract works insurance were being blamed for the slow pace of new home building.

A recent briefing paper to the Immigration Minister warned that the Canterbury reconstruction could create several immigration risks.

It said efforts to attract migrant workers could lead to a perception that migrant workers were favoured over New Zealanders, and demand for migrant workers was difficult to estimate.

The Department of Labour estimates the number of additional workers needed during the peak to be between 17,900, and 56,900, of which between 11,600 and 37,000 are in building and reconstruction.

"To ensure that skills gaps do not pose a threat to the rebuild, the department is making considerable efforts to help local employers attract skilled workers from offshore,'' the paper said.

RISING FROM THE RUINS

17,900 to 56,900 _ number of additional workers needed.

11,600 to 37,00 _ in building and construction.

197 _ skilled workers granted visas since July.

871 _ international students in Christchurch schools.

400 _ people who moved to the city last month.

100 _ days to prepare a blueprint to rebuild.

Source: Immigration NZ, Statistics NZ, Ministry of Education

- Lincoln Tan, New Zealand Herald

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