Christchurch will attract skilled migrants from within New Zealand and from around the world due to the enormous activity associated with the reconstruction required following the earthquakes, and most will choose to stay, if you choose to believe Prime Minister John Key. Speaking to the regional National Party conference yesterday, Key claimed that only about 1000 people had been left unemployed, and that long-term more people would come to live in the city than before the earthquakes, attracted by the construction boom and associated economic activity.
I certainly don’t doubt this, not only will the reconstruction attract plenty of people it might also attract plenty of business, particularly as Christchurch will probably be the centre of the New Zealand construction industry for at least the next five years. Having said that, it is important to get everything right and provide the best conditions to take advantage of this scenario. It really is Christchurch’s one chance to get the earthquake albatross off its back and become, once again, a great place to live in and visit (indeed, a better place).
That means it is essential that we not only have a plan in place that creates an attractive vibrant city for the future, but also plan smart to create a city that is incredibly well-connected (yet another example of why sorting out transport is so important to the future of greater Christchurch). Basically, we can take this opportunity and run with it, or we can stuff it up and only reap the rewards for the next five years before going back to ‘normal’ mode. I know what I would rather see, and despite the post-quake political situation being decidedly ‘tread-on-eggshells-ish’, it really is a case of so far, so good at this stage. The Council seems to realise all this and is doing a pretty good job of putting in place a plan that: a) reflects the values of a modern, world-class city and; b) has strong input and backing from the community (which I have to say, so far it has in spades). That part of the equation seems to be on track at this stage. What we need is co-operation from central government to ensure it stays on track, and gets done. Without it, Mr Key’s words could be hollow.
If we get all this right, I believe it will happen, and economic and population growth will not only return to normal over the next decade but could also increase. Part of the planning process should therefore reflect this. This means good urban planning and not unmitigated sprawl. A balanced transport approach of quality public transport, smart roads, and better infrastructure for cycling, and not a motorway only spend up. As I said, so far, so good. But one thing the earthquakes have done is given green field developers leg room to campaign for fast-tracked development that was previously being shunted out (as I outlined a bit here). In my mind, such a scenario would not best take advantage of the brief window of opportunity Christchurch has been granted. I hope that over the next few months the Council/s and community put together a plan that shuts off that path, and that the local response is given a full blessing by central government and CERA.