We did not know by how much or when we might return to normal, but we can agree that the upheaval started with a 7.1-magnitude earthquake 40 kilometers west of Christchurch just after 4.30 am on September 4, 2010.
The devastating aftershock that struck the city nearly six months later changed Canterbury on a much larger scale, but September was the start.
How do you measure and define the recovery? Dollars spent? Time elapsed? There is no right answer.
In truth, there are 436,000 different recoveries happening at once – one for every resident of Christchurch city and the Selwyn and Waimakariri districts.
No two versions of recovery are the same.
We have each taken stock of the process countless times and probably arrived at different conclusions for how the recovery is faring.
In the interests of providing the fullest answer possible, the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (CECC) asked a cross-section of key players in the rebuild to report their progress by a handful of measures, including project size, completion date and value. Dozens responded.
This year, perhaps for the first time, that snapshot hints at conclusion. The Earthquake Commission has completed 97 per cent of its 69,081 building repairs and 80 per cent of 150,735 land claims. More than 80 per cent of all quake insurance claims are settled, according to the Insurance Council of New Zealand. The Stronger Canterbury Infrastructure Rebuild Team (Scirt) is 76 per cent through it $2.2 billion job of repairing the city’s roads and pipes. Almost all of the work in the central city (96 per cent) is finished.
The CECC asked respondents when they expected to finish their work. Some major projects, including the central city bus interchange and the ‘‘Deloitte’’ building on Cambridge Tce, are already finished. Next year looms as a big leap forward with a cluster of retail developments – the BNZ Centre, the ANZ Centre on the old Triangle Centre site, the Crossing and the Terrace – all scheduled for completion.
‘‘I would think by the end of next year, October 2016, when the heart of that central city retail offering is up and operational . . . you’re going to see a major shift,’’ CECC chief executive Peter Townsend said. ‘‘You’re going to see people coming back into the central city in ways that we haven’t seen for five years.’’
A Cera report from July estimated the rebuild – measured as progress in residential, nonresidential and civil construction – was 41 per cent complete. Of the three categories, only residential construction spending was trending down. The other two were steady or climbing. The peak for all construction in the city (including business-as-usual building) is shaping as the last quarter of 2016, when Cera estimates $1.3b will be spent.
The idea the rebuild was already peaking was ‘‘fallacious’’, Townsend said. He puts progress at somewhere between 35 and 40 per cent. The decline, when it did come, would be gradual. ‘‘We’re not going to fall off a cliff. The Government’s assessment of the end of this earthquake recovery phase is 2026. We’re going to taper off.’’
In construction terms, Cera estimated that would translate to a decline from the late 2016 spending peak to about $500m in the final quarter of 2021. By then, Christchurch will have almost spent all of the $40b recovery bill.
‘‘That [spending] has an impact on the future of Christchurch that I don’t think people have factored in,’’ Townsend said. ‘‘I’ve often been challenged by people saying ‘We’re only replacing what we’ve lost.’ No we’re not. It’s all new. We are recreating a city.
‘‘I don’t know anywhere in the world where $40b has been tipped into a population of 360,000 people to recreate a city. It’s unique.’’
The bulk of the money will filter through the economy via insurance payouts (according to the Insurance Council, commercial and residential quake claims are about 88 per cent and 84 per cent settled respectively) but some will arrive through big ticket developments. The University of Canterbury will spend $1.2b on its redevelopment by 2022, including new engineering ($145m) and science ($216m) facilities due by 2016 and 2017. The Ministry of Education’s $1.1b Christchurch Schools Rebuild programme includes the rebuild of 115 schools. The $900m redevelopment of Lyttelton port – a mix of quake repairs and expansion – will continue until 2042.
As those time frames suggest, the rebuild was never going to be a five-year job. Charles Eadie, who led the rebuild of Santa Cruz city after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, told Fairfax Media the recovery reached a ‘‘turning point’’ six years after the quake and most work was completed after 10 years.
‘‘I think we’ll look back on this period of our lives and say . . . we were hopelessly optimistic when it came to time frames,’’ Townsend said. ‘‘We all thought we’d be over this in five years. No, we won’t.’’
The statement is truer of some things than others – Scirt prioritising central city infrastructure repairs over suburban ones, for example.
‘‘I don’t want us to get to 10 years and think that we’re in that kind of state we won’t be able to reflect very positively on our journey,’’ Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said.
The focus brought on the central city by the recovery blueprint and the magnitude of the task of repairing broken parts of eastern Christchurch posed that risk, she said.