Concerns raised over loss of Christchurch regeneration portfolio

Photo: RNZ file / Nate McKinnon
Photo: RNZ file / Nate McKinnon
Christchurch leaders hope the government is not walking away from its responsibilities in the city.

The Greater Christchurch Regeneration portfolio was left out of this week's Cabinet announcement, with rebuild responsibilities now in the hands of Christchurch City Council.

That decision took some by surprise, including former rebuild minister Gerry Brownlee.

A dedicated Crown minister overseeing the Christchurch rebuild and regeneration has been in place for 10 years, and its removal comes with key rebuild anchor projects like the Convention Centre, Metro Sports Facility and Stadium yet to be finished.

James Gough. Photo: Supplied
James Gough. Photo: Supplied
Long-serving city councillor James Gough said the government could not pull the role simply because it had been a decade since the quakes, and there was still plenty of work to do.

"You've got a Minister for Veterans and Food Safety yet Canterbury's regeneration after going through one of the largest natural disasters, the world, let alone this country, has ever seen, I think should demand that we still have a Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration," he said.

The government said the Crown rebuild agency Ōtākoro would continue its role until all rebuild projects were finished and would continue to report to shareholding ministers Grant Robertson and Megan Woods.

Dr Woods, the minister who held Greater Christchurch Regeneration last term, said the time is right for the role to go.

"That was a very specific role that was around earthquake recovery," Woods said.

"We're now a decade on in Christchurch. One of the aims that we had in our first term in government actually was to accelerate the return to local leadership."

Gough did not buy into that narrative.

"I've seen the spin that it's handing the power back to the city, I don't really see it as that," he said.

"I see that you've got a city and a region like Christchurch and Canterbury that have felt continually shafted whether it's through infrastructure projects, whether it's through shovel-ready projects."

He said the effects of the earthquakes which killed 185 people and wiped out a significant portion of the CBD was still raw for Cantabrians.

Dr Woods is standing by the the timing.

"I think one of the things I hear very strongly from people in Christchurch is that it is time for us to resume our position as New Zealand's second largest city, and to interact with central government on that basis," she said.

"It is time for us to move beyond recovery and get back to a kind of normality, we are a decade on."

National's deputy leader Gerry Brownlee spent seven years leading the quake recovery role. He was a little surprised by the government's decision to relinquish minister-level focus for the city.

"All the ministry does, is [it] creates a focus and a reference point for people who've got contributions to make, or questions to ask, or requests to make," Brownlee said.

"I think taking away that delegation, particularly when we've lost so much of this year, does seem to be just a little premature."

He urged Christchurch residents to monitor what the government was delivering for the city.

"Look, it is what it is. I hope that the voters and ratepayers do keep an eye on exactly what is coming into the city as part of the expectation that I think was reasonable for people to have, going back three years and of course looking forward three years," he said.

Lianne Dalziel. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Lianne Dalziel. Photo: Geoff Sloan
In a statement, Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said the move was a well-signalled normalisation of arrangements between the government and the council, with local leadership being restored.

"The reality is that we need a future focus more than ever," she said.

"The strengthening of the relationship between the city and our two neighbouring districts through the Greater Christchurch Partnership enables us to work directly with the government on matters of significance for the future, e.g. urban development and transport, which are much broader than earthquake-related issues."

Councillor Sam MacDonald said the government must step up to address ongoing rebuild challenges such as repairing the Arts Centre and redeveloping the Canterbury Museum, which face significant funding shortfalls.

"Losing that portfolio does on one hand signal that local leadership, but at the same time we need to be really cautious that certainly Cabinet don't just wipe their hands of Christchurch," he said.

"I'll be particularly interested in looking at that funding that does translate through, certainly over the next 12 months."

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