Friday, 2 December 2016

Protecting our power base

The recent 7.8 magnitude quake and series of aftershocks that have so drastically impacted the communities of North Canterbury serve as a harsh reminder of the benefits of foresight when it comes to investing in our own infrastructure assets.
After six years of earthquake recovery and rebuild, the city is in good shape to withstand the impact of future seismic events. We live in a seismic environment. It is for this reason that we must continue to invest in the resilience of key infrastructure that allows us to get on with our lives, and growing a thriving and vibrant economy.
Our electricity network is one of those critical fundamentals. It is also a great example of where foresight prepared the city well for some of its darkest days. Power was restored to the majority of the city very quickly after the February 2011 quake because of decades of prudent smart planning, investment and timely maintenance.
Although systems performed well there are still lessons to be learned. Orion openly states that its principle objective following the earthquakes has been to restore resilience to the network and reliability of power supply to our wider Christchurch community by 2019. That involves several significant projects – the 66,000 volt ‘northern loop’ cable project is one, as well as improvements to the supply to Lyttelton and the surrounding bays.
In working towards this goal Orion has approached the recovery and rebuild of the city in a disciplined and collaborative way. It is working with business, industry and community groups to ensure that in future events the network is resilient and flexible. The ability to reroute electricity flow away from damaged circuits to other, undamaged, parts of the network is critical to keeping the network working.
The recently completed northern loop project was five years in the delivery and is one of Orion’s largest ever projects. It is effectively a super highway solely dedicated to the effective distribution of power around and across the city. This will have a major positive impact on protecting our communities and businesses. It will also provide a strong foundation to support new technologies such as solar, battery storage and electric vehicles.
Recently there has been concern about interruptions to the electricity supply to the Lyttelton area. Lyttelton and surrounding areas are vital parts of our community fabric, and the port is critical to the success of our local economy. Improving the surety of power supply to and in the Lyttelton area is therefore a priority. Orion has been working on this issue for some time, but it’s not a quick fix and the investment required is significant.
The power supply to this area comes from the Heathcote Valley substation via two overhead lines that that share a common set of poles. This is tough terrain and a harsh climatic environment so there’ll be risk of power outages from time to time.
The best and most cost-effective way to improve the reliability of power supply to Lyttelton is to run a separate cable through the Lyttelton tunnel, which would then provide an additional source of power. But this requires NZTA approval because it owns the tunnel.
I understand Orion has been in conversation with NZTA for some time now and an agreement is not too far away. In the meantime, Orion has invested more than $1.5 million as a first step to improving the resilience of the Lyttelton network. This includes significant work on substation relocation and renewal.
Preparatory work has set the Lyttelton network up to receive the planned cable through the tunnel. Once an access agreement is finalised, phase two of the Lyttelton Project will commence with the installation of the cable through the tunnel, which should be completed within 24 months.
Further work is underway and more is scheduled on the two existing overhead lines into Lyttelton to improve the reliability of power supply in the interim.

Our community has been and will continue to be well served by Orion. It performed well in a post-earthquake environment and we can expect it to continue to finesse its operations through investment and innovation.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Applying learnings from disaster

The Christchurch business sector has learned much from the 2010/2011 earthquakes relating to how to respond and maintain economic activity in a community.

Never did we think that the lessons we learned in Christchurch would have to be applied to a community so close to home in such a short timeframe. The devastation in Hurunui and Kaikoura is still becoming apparent. The reality is that there are businesses who are stranded, who have disrupted supply chains and broken premises. Further they lack the essential services such as water, power, wastewater and communications to carry on their businesses. On top of all that in many cases their markets have simply dried up. When you have a tourist dependent business and the tourists are not coming you are in trouble. There is no doubt that many of the communities in the Hurunui and Kaikoura districts, including Kaikoura itself, are in dire straits.

One of the critical factors in Christchurch was the importance of providing cashflow to businesses to maintain the fabric of the business until it could get up and running again. Post 2010 I described it as business as usual when there is no business. The lessons we have learned in Christchurch put us in a very good space to help communities to the north. I have often used Kaikoura as a classic example of the interdependency between sustainable profitable business and community wellbeing. With the rapid growth of eco-tourism, corner-stoned by the whale watch activities, Kaikoura has changed from a small railway town to a bustling and vibrant community. Its proposition evolving around eco-tourism is the epitome of sound sustainable business activity. However, if the business activity in Kaikoura is not supported immediately it will be severely compromised and it will take a very long time for the Kaikoura community to recover.

Here are some examples of what I think should be applied to the Kaikoura business community and beyond to ensure that affected businesses can be maintained until markets are restored:
  • One of the most critical issues in Christchurch was the introduction by the Government of the Earthquake Support Subsidy that provided cashflow for businesses until they could get themselves into recovery mode. It was based on a number of dollars per employee per week. It was delivered on a high trust basis and it was a very significant component in business survival in Christchurch. It is very good to see that mechanism being immediately introduced into Kaikoura, Cheviot, Waiau, Rotherham, Mt Lyford and Ward. This will make a significant and positive difference to affected businesses.
  • We would expect, as was the case in Christchurch, that banks will adopt a very supportive and lenient stance for their customers. Offering additional working capital, delaying loan repayments and being generally supportive of the businesses who are effected by the earthquake directly or indirectly.
  • The Inland Revenue Department effectively provided cashflow support to businesses in Christchurch by delaying payments of GST and provisional tax. We would expect the same thing to happen in this instance.
  • Insurance companies in Christchurch did make fast provisional payments on business interruption insurance and property damage to enable cashflow to be supported.
  • The Government, through its various other agencies, provided support for workers and employees where their companies had indeed collapsed and provided support for recovery operations both in the rural sector and urban precincts.
  • The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce provided a safe pair of hands for business providing internet based support, a call centre and business recovery coordinators that were put out into the community to assist businesses through the challenging times.
  • Businesses helped each other out within and across regions.

We know from the Christchurch experience that these mechanisms combined resulted in minimal business attrition and in fact ensured that through business survival the greater Christchurch community was in good shape to embrace a full-on recovery programme.

The numbers of businesses effected in Hurunui and Kaikoura are much smaller than those impacted in Christchurch but it is just as important that they are supported as they underpin the rural and regional communities in that area. Of course, it is also important that we reinstate appropriate connectivity into the areas within the Hurunui and Kaikoura districts and that involves immediate air and sea support as is already being evidenced. It also involves careful planning to ensure that State Highway 1 and the rail link are options that are considered urgently and strategically. Alternative road access into all the areas will be essential in the short term and it is pleasing to see the emphasis being put on the inland Kaikoura route and the obvious dependency that heavy transport will have on the Lewis Pass in the foreseeable future.

As Hurunui and Kaikoura regenerate themselves their businesses and their infrastructure in the post-earthquake environment they will do so in a way that points to the future as we have done in Christchurch.

The immediate international response to the 14 November earthquake was that once again Christchurch and the South Island had been devastated by a seismic event. Of course, this is blatantly incorrect and we all need to do what we can to ensure that the rest of the world understands what has happened and what it really means for our community. The regeneration of this city has been done in a way to accommodate seismic events and that has proven to be the case with almost no damage in our city as a consequence of the 7.5 seismic event in our region. Tourism will continue to be important for the whole of the South Island and particularly important for the earthquake effected area with both Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura heavily dependent on tourism activity. We need to show the world that although this event has knocked those districts back a little they are getting up and getting going and will still offer some of the most spectacular tourism offerings in the world. We must not let perception get in the way of reality and recovery. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

International education in Canterbury - contribution and opportunities

International students are welcome in Christchurch. Recent news items have discussed the challenges around visas for international students in other parts of New Zealand. It is timely therefore, to reinforce and recognise the contributions they make to our city and our region.

In 2015 we had 11,542 students come to Christchurch to study. They were in primary and secondary schools and universities, The Ara institute and private training establishments. They contributed $311m to our local economy. The Canterbury International Education Leadership Accord, that includes the institutions that provide international education services to students, is working to grow our student visitors to 25,580 by 2025.  The contribution they will make to our city and region will be $937m. As valued visitors to Canterbury, they will spend on average $37,300 each on hospitality, activities and accommodation.

The Government, through Education NZ, supports the work of the Accord and recognises that these students and their families who visit Canterbury, return to their countries as ambassadors for us, and encourage many others to visit, study, work and play in our beautiful city.

As Christchurch expands and changes after the 2011 earthquakes, we know that we need to attract and retain skilled workers in our technology, business, and agricultural sectors to contribute to economic growth. Almost half of our new residents, who decide to stay in Canterbury and make it their home, first visited Christchurch on a student visa. We want these talented and energetic visitors to stay in Christchurch and make it their home.

Many agencies, including the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, The Canterbury Development Corporation, Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism, Christchurch International Airport and our City Council, know that these visitors support economic growth and make our city a cosmopolitan and exciting place to live and work. Our city, on the whole, welcomes these students.

However, we need to ensure we offer a consistent quality of service and experience that matches the level of commitment our visitors have made in choosing to come to Christchurch. They have made a courageous decision to come to our country and city, and from time-to-time they may feel isolated and homesick. How we welcome them and look after them is an important way for us to say thank you, but also to demonstrate to them that they are a valued part of our community.

If we look at the likely 25,580 students who will be living and studying in Christchurch by 2025, there are some other less obvious opportunities for us to consider. Our students can be one of the catalysts for reinvigorating our central city with new places to stay and play – they will need somewhere live and recreate. The opportunity for carefully planned and exciting approaches to new urban development, and hospitality and activities in central Christchurch are perhaps one of the most significant opportunities. Imagine 25,000 new residents living in town and the stimulus they will provide for businesses and developers to create a new vibrant centre for Christchurch.

All of us who are charged with the stewardship of our city and call it home, can make a contribution to be even more welcoming and supportive of our student visitors and their families. As employers we have the opportunity to access new talent, new ideas and new investment that is stimulated by international students and we all have an opportunity to make Christchurch an even better place to live study work and play.

International Students are an important ingredient in making our city special, now and into the future. We should recognise and support them for that.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Canterbury air gets fresher from November 2016

This November, Cancer Society Canterbury-West Coast Division will be launching Christchurch’s first Smokefree outdoor dining pilot. We have been on the lookout for local cafes and restaurants who were keen to make their outdoor areas smokefree, whilst enjoying some fantastic promotion and support along the way.

Working in partnership with the Canterbury District Health Board, this Pilot is the next step following our research on Smokefree outdoor dining undertaken with 137 Christchurch hospitality venues last year. Findings from the research indicated that 60% of respondents thought that a voluntary pilot was the best way to introduce smokefree outdoor dining. 

We asked, they answered and we listened. From here the Fresh Air Project – A taste of Smokefree outdoor dining pilot was born. 
The following 20 venues will go Smokefree outdoors from November 1st:
Laneway Espresso, Café Metro:St Albans, Ferrymead and Merivale, Joes Garage Sumner, Emperor’s New Clothes, Boatshed Cafe, Raspberry Café, Local at Riccarton House, Lonestar Papanui, The Tea House, Café 186,Addington Coffee co-operative, Ilex Cafe– Botanical Gardens, Coffee Culture: Merivale and Sumner, Savoire Café and Wine Bar, Under the Red Verandah, Oddfellows,  and Robert Harris, Rolleston.

Each week a new venue will feature as the Fresh Air Venue of the week,helping to profile that business for being part of the Smokefree pilot.

Under The Red Verandah’s Jennifer Kippenberger said “when we go Smokefree, the main benefits will be for families. They can sit together outside and not worry about someone lighting up next to their toddler”.  Jennifer added, “I’m hoping that the next generation are smarter than my generation as far as smoking goes and we can play a part in that”.

For further information contact Amanda Dodd at Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division DDI: 03 353 9871 and visit http://freshairproject.org.nz/

Friday, 21 October 2016

International Visitors – Can We Cope?

It is very clear that New Zealand, and the South Island in particular, is on the verge of an exponential increase in international visitors. Tourism is now the country’s biggest industry with $14.5 billion generated in the current year. We are expecting 4.5 million visitor arrivals by 2022. This year we will host 380,000 visitors from China and that will grow to 500,000 in 2017. These are big numbers and this is a critical industry for our country.

New Zealand is sold to the world largely on the majesty and beauty of the South Island, even though a disproportionate number of tourists land in Auckland and concentrate their visitor experience in the North Island. However, the secret is out. Tourism numbers to the South Island, especially free independent travellers, who spend significant sums of money, are on the increase and we are seeing increasing pressures on our general infrastructure as numbers grow. This is a very positive problem for New Zealand and for the South Island in that tourism provides a diverse range of job opportunities, a significant amount of foreign exchange earnings and also assists to connect our country better with other countries to realise other opportunities.

However, we have some challenges. The capability of many of our tourism operators needs to be enhanced and they need to manage the growth accordingly. Growing companies face issues with regards to capital constraints, internal business processes and human capability.

We also have infrastructural challenges. Our international air carriage capacity is increasing in a carefully coordinated way, particularly into markets with high visitor potential. Our roads are in relatively good shape, but we are under increasing pressure with regard to visitor accommodation. This is not only as a result of the earthquakes but in the other areas throughout the South Island accommodation is becoming choked.

Then of course we see the issue of how small communities can provide facilities for visiting tourists, such as toilets and hospitality offerings. This is a particularly fraught issue when it comes to rate payers in small areas being expected to provide significant tourism facilities.

While we welcome all of the opportunities that increasing international tourism brings to the South Island we must be careful we do not destroy the very offerings they have come to see. Guardianship of our prime tourist offerings is vital as is the spread of visitors right across the South Island to take pressure off the hot spots. We also need to explore how we can continue to host our visitors across the year, not just in the peak season. A South Island wide coordinated visitors strategy will be critical. In Christchurch we now have a strategy in its early stages of development and it is important that that be developed alongside the overall aspiration for our city. Tourism will continue to be a leading contributor of our economy, with Christchurch operating both as a gateway to the South Island and also a tourism destination in its own right.

New tourism offerings such as the Christchurch Adventure Park need to continue to be developed to ensure we get a good spread of activities to entertain and enthral our international visitors. We also need to ensure that across our population we welcome and relate to visitors from other countries. Next to our scenery, the prime reason tourists visit the South Island of New Zealand is our people and that of course includes our cultural heritage and diversity. We are on the doorstep of the biggest economic opportunity of our generation. We need to do it well and we need to get it right.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Post-earthquake workplace dynamics

Workplace dynamics are changing quickly everywhere with the increased use of technology and changing expectations of employers and employees. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Christchurch in a post-earthquake environment.

The earthquakes forced an acceleration of changes in workforce and workplace dynamics through necessity which will be locked into the city and the region’s future. For example, there was an increase in flexibility in the workplace. The change in the working environment for many of us necessitated flexibility as did the importance of our families’ welfare in a tumultuous post-earthquake environment. Although this has its challenges in some employment situations, generally it provides a better working environment, increased productivity and a better employer/employee relationship.

We have also seen a rapid increase in employees operating in empowering environments. The emphasis on outcomes rather than on prescriptive work agendas has been accelerated post-earthquake. In my opinion it is the responsibility of every good employer to create a partial vacuum of opportunity around all of the employees to reduce boundaries and to create news spaces in which employees can migrate and realise their real potential.

Another area of rapid change has been the reinforcement of the trend towards open plan. Work spaces post-earthquake many companies were forced to work in temporary and sub-optimal worksites which more often than not involved crowded working conditions and employees working, whether they liked it or not, in an open plan environment. A consequence of that is that most of the employers and employees who were forced to work in an open plan environment now find that a preferable and more efficient way to work.

It was very clear in Christchurch that after the tumultuous events of September 2010 and February 2011 people learned how to work better together. We have seen across a wide range of Canterbury companies much better collaborative endeavours with employees stepping outside their specified areas of activity to work on whatever it takes to achieve better outcomes for themselves and for their companies.

In addition to collaborating internally we have seen a much greater emphasis on employees and employers working together across sectors especially where companies were thrown together by necessity in a post-earthquake environment. Working with each other delivers extremely positive outcomes compared to the entrenched silo mentalities of the past. For five years many of us have led a day to day nomadic existence. Now that we are moving back into rebuilt, permanent office space it is very interesting to note how employees right across the corporate spectrum are thinking more strategically. New Zealanders are not good strategic thinkers and this is a very healthy trend that we are seeing unfolding in the context of the regeneration of our city.

Finally, from an employment perspective it is most encouraging to see how more and more employees in Christchurch are recognising and appreciating the independencies not only across the city but between the city and the wider region. In the day’s post-earthquake all of us in the city realised just how dependent we were on the wealth creators right across our region and how that activity helped to support us through the dark days of 2010/2011. That understanding is now engrained in our workforce and our corporate sector very much to the betterment of our city and our region. We are working better together and we need to.

As we continue to regenerate greater Christchurch these workplace dynamics will continue to evolve and in my opinion will put this region ahead of the rest of New Zealand in terms of complementary highly productive workplace outcomes. This is the sort of post-earthquake legacy that should never be taken for granted.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Business expectations of Local Government

With the Local Government elections looming it is important to reinforce what the business community expects from Local Government, in the context of being supportive of business, given how critical it is for any community to have a healthy business sector.

Local Government needs to be business friendly. Being business friendly means providing opportunities for interaction by business with the city in a friendly, efficient and cost effective manner and in a way that optimises sustainable economic growth for the benefit of all.

It is timely to remind all candidates why being business friendly is important. Fundamentally it is about the compelling linkage between sustainable, profitable business, community wellbeing, and individual welfare. However, a business friendly Council is also important because the local economy must grow to achieve the Council’s aspirations as expressed in its Long Term Community Plan. Of course, we need to generate wealth for our community to thrive. Christchurch is still regarded, relatively speaking, as a low wage economy and businesses and employers are determined to change that.

Christchurch City Council has a mission of adding value to the local economy and has declared its intent to advocate in the interests of the whole economy including the business community. It follows therefore that the Council must be seen to be inadvertently business friendly in the context of wider community support. As we regenerate our city, most of us understand that vibrant businesses are a critical component of a liveable city. During this regeneration phase the Council must be seen to be overtly business friendly to optimise positive business outcomes. A Council that stands in the way of sustainable profitable business will impose a major barrier for good business outcomes and will discourage the investment of capital in our city.

Our challenge to the incoming Council, which has been our challenge to the Council for many years, is that the Christchurch City Council be recognised as the most business friendly Local Government in New Zealand. It can do that by making a declaration to be business friendly, because attitude is important, and because this will give us an edge over other communities. Everyone in Council, both elected representatives and staff, must be encouraged to think business friendly. Council must ask itself constantly what it can do to support and encourage local business activity.

The Council should be intent on actively attacking and reducing compliance costs. It should think of compliance through the eyes of the business community. The Council should activity support local business given all other factors being equal. It should make sure that its infrastructure is supportive of business activity and it should be fair in apportioning the city’s running costs, rates and user charges. The Council must not subsidise one business against another or offer cash incentives or selective rates relief. They distort the economy.

The Council needs to work closely, collaboratively and constructively with local business support agencies and it needs to support cross community collaboration to grow the economy. It is important that the Council is seen to be prepared to be accountable and rectify issues that are seen to be anti-business. It needs to have a long term sensible and predictable planning framework. It is critical that we are overtly promoting sustainable business growth in our community and that we have new models of collaboration in a very busy post earthquake period to encourage efficiency and to maximise productivity. A business friendly Council can materially assist in this endeavour. We lay down the challenge and we look forward to working with the incoming Council to achieve our common objectives.