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CERA bullish on Chch CBD anchor projects, though keeping mum on business cases

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, which was tasked with overseeing the rebuild of the country's second-biggest city, is upbeat about the prospects for anchor projects in Christchurch's central business district, but won't provide business cases for the developments until commercial contracts have been signed off.

Acting chief executive John Ombler told parliament's finance and expenditure committee the CBD projects are worth an estimated $1.1 billion, and more projects are being announced to rebuild the heart of Christchurch. CERA's initial focus was on ensuring residential properties were rebuilt and repaired, and in recent years it's put greater emphasis on key CBD projects to renew the South Island's major centre.

"One of the questions on people's minds after the central city was demolished and people moved out to the suburbs was 'would they move back?'," Ombler said. "What we're seeing here is that for many people they've got confidence and are investing in that central city."

Last year, a survey of senior leaders in Christchurch was critical of the way major projects were being procured and managed, something Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee took on the chin, saying he would work to ensure stakeholders had confidence in the rebuild.

When asked whether CERA would release business cases for anchor projects so the public could have input, Ombler said the agency wouldn't publish those reports until commercial terms had been agreed with partners.

"I would be surprised if we were able to release the business case with full commercial details prior to any commercial agreements being finalised," he said.

Deputy chief executive of implementation Warwick Isaacs told policymakers all of the projects and horizontal infrastructure, such as water and roading, were assessed to ensure the taxpayer received value for money, but that quality was also a concern.

Under questioning from Green Party MP Eugenie Sage, Isaacs defended the procurement process for the proposed public private partnership to build a convention centre in Christchurch, which he said would help reinvigorate the city as a tourism hub for the South Island.

Ombler had earlier said it was too early to provide an updated estimate on the cost of the centre, which had been flagged at about $284 million.

CERA has been rolled into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Ombler said the transition had been going smoothly, with frontline staff largely unaffected.

Ombler was appointed acting chief executive in November last year after his predecessor Roger Sutton resigned suddenly after the State Services Commission investigated a complaint of sexual harassment.

Ombler told the committee he had met with all of the department's staff since joining CERA and "didn't find anything that was broken to the extent that needed serious repairing."