As we head into autumn, it’s amazing to think about what Christchurch looked like this time a year ago. Only several weeks after the earthquake to most of us, in April 2011, the city centre was simply out of bounds; it lay derelict and crumpled. Homes were abandoned, but no one knew what their fate would be. Pummelled by aftershocks, we were taking stock of our lives and trying to come to terms with what nature had dealt us.
Today the CBD and some suburbs are almost a blank canvas; most of what is going to go has gone. Empty lots lie vacant, but in architecture offices around the city (and around the country) plans are being made to rebuild on these sites.
This time a year ago, the then Orion CEO, Roger Sutton was being head-hunted to be our ‘earthquake czar’ – to lead the newly created Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority as we collectively stared into years of extensive rebuilding.
He took the job and has begun our long journey to recovery.
Canterbury Today caught up with Roger Sutton to find out where he thinks we are at.
Nearly a year on from taking the CERA job, are we where you wanted us to be?
Since my appointment to the role of chief executive of CERA, I have strived to do everything I can to fulfil the role of leading the team at the forefront of Canterbury’s earthquake recovery.
While we are working hard to restore the buildings, the infrastructure, the economy and the land – it is the people that are at the heart of everything we do. I am immensely proud of the people of Canterbury – their resilience and strength and the way that we have come together with hope and a determination to rebuild our city and our communities.
Over the past few months we’ve made some really good progress.
• CERA has released the draft Recovery Strategy – it’s the overarching document that a number of other plans feed into.
• We are able to give a growing number of people certainty about their land – for a number that means being able to go ahead with rebuilding or repairs.
• Progress is being made identifying other areas and land that can be used for building new homes.
• A number of businesses and commercial property owners have certainty about their buildings and have been able to make plans. Work on rebuilding the first multi-storey building in the CBD has commenced.
• We ran our Central City Survey to get a better picture of how property owners, tenants and consumers want to see their CBD rebuilt.
There’s about $2.5 billion worth of infrastructure work to be done. It will take about five years to fix, but will be done at a rate about ten times faster than has been achieved in the city before. About a thousand workers are out there every day.
I know there are people out there though that are still waiting for a decision on their land. It’s been a long wait.
My message to them though is that these last decisions are the hardest and the most complex. We’re working as fast as we can to make the right decisions that will deliver the very best outcomes we can for them.
Every day people are facing challenges. We can all have moments when things feel like they are getting on top of us.
Of course there can be days where it is hard to stay positive but it’s important that we all find our own way to deal with the challenges we may face.
What gives you the most hope for the future?
We achieved a lot over the past few months, but some of the stand outs for me include seeing the recovery start to happen so early – sometimes in small ways, such as a business restarting, through to the restoration of utilities and the resilience of the overall economy.
A great amount of effort went into looking after people’s welfare – more than ten thousand winter heat installations were carried out and the health system handled a huge challenge very well.
Cordons in the central city have reduced significantly and in spite of the June and December aftershocks we are still on target for the CBD Red Zone to be completely gone around April this year.
People, communities and businesses have shown incredible resilience and determination over the past year. We’re all working towards a recovery strategy that will underpin a sustainable, comprehensive and completely robust recovery.
What do you do in your downtime?
For me, my weekends are precious. When I’m not out for a run or riding my bike, I am dedicated to spending quality time with my family.
At work, I have the support of a great team that I know I can trust and rely on. I think all of us at CERA can honestly say that we feel a great sense of pride in playing our small part in helping Christchurch get back on its feet. It is that sense of purpose that helps us stay positive.
I think that is a real testament to the strength of the Canterbury character. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people out there still doing it tough. Really tough. But what I am sure about is that there is always someone there to help if needed.
There won’t always be a quick fix but a problem shared is often a problem halved. Sometimes the best way to cope with the pressures in our own lives is to help lighten the load in someone else’s.
These are testing times and ultimately it is up to each of us to guide how we feel about the events surrounding the Canterbury quakes in the years to come.
Each of us will draw on our own experiences and reflect on how it has shaped us. For the city, there will definitely be a sense of before and after. There are unique pieces of our city’s culture and heritage that have been lost forever.
However, each of us now has the rare opportunity to shape a bright future for a city we are all proud to call home.
It has been a tough year and there is a lot more hard work ahead. But it is work that we are committed to. I know that in years from now we will be able look at what we have achieved with pride.