Same Same but Different

As we enter the anniversary weekend of my new found home, Wellington, and after reading the front page of Monday’s Dom, about the eroding of business confidence since the November 14 Earthquake, I thought I would share my learnings from Melbourne Docklands and Christchurch and why I think Wellington is well positioned to be resilient and prosperous.

I encountered a phrase while travelling through Vietnam over a decade ago. At the time I was bartering on the fabrics of silk lined wool tailored suits for an impossibly cheap price of US$40 per suit, when I asked my friendly Hoian tailor for his advice on 100% wool versus a studier blend, his response was, “Same Same but Different.”

Since my travels through South East Asia, I had the opportunity to work on some exciting and challenging major projects in New Zealand and Australia.

Melbourne Docklands, Australia

Aussies tend to love it or hate it, but Melbourne Docklands is an international urban renewal success story. Located on the western edge of the cultural epicentre of Melbourne, Docklands was conceived about 25 years ago in the midst of one of the worst economic recessions faced by the State of Victoria. Melbourne Docklands was to be one of the infrastructure catalysts to turn around the State economy and stop the knowledge and capital flight north of the border to NSW, QLD and beyond.

Sod turning commenced in the mid 1990s with the Docklands Stadium (now Etihad Stadium), a retractable roof Stadium (yes Melbourne like Wellington has its fair share of erratic weather) as an anchor and catalyst to spark developer interest in Docklands as a viable urban renewal precinct. In the late 1990s and early 2000s and following an open market bid process, developers were selected to deliver their masterplans for defined precincts over time. Now, with the delivery of Docklands just about two thirds through its 25 year lifecycle, it is a sought after business address attracting the national headquarters of the National Australia Bank HQ (BNZ’s parent company who are innovators in activity based working design), ANZ HQ (originally lost to Sydney), the Bureau of Meteorology (Federal Government) and Myer (a major Australian Retailer) to name a few.

Docklands has attracted more than A$12 billion in private investment to date and with a targeted population of 20,000 people, 80,000 workers, this number is set to grow to A$17.5 billion by project completion in 2025. All this from an opportunity to repurpose the old port because the Yarra River was too shallow to accommodate the larger cargo ships that where projected to visit Melbourne today. Not a bad result in my opinion.

Christchurch Central Delivery Programme, New Zealand

You may think I am looking through rose coloured glasses here in relation to Melbourne Docklands, perhaps so, but I also lived and worked in post-earthquake Christchurch and experienced the challenges of what that city and its people have face in the last five years.

In response to the February 2011 quake the Government through its newly established lead agency the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and Christchurch City Council put their heads together to explore how to rebuild the CBD through the ‘Share an Idea’ and ‘Blueprint’ processes. The latter being an accelerated 100 day planning and design process to set the vision, strategy and identify catalysts projects (Anchor Projects) to rebuild its city.

This was an opportunity to regenerate the CBD and its heart, Cathedral Square. Talk to any local in Christchurch about the conditions of the pre-quake CBD and you’ll hear the stories of how the City Centre did not work as well as it could have due to its fragmentation, high vacancy rates and there were certain no-go areas, for example the old bus interchange after dark due to safety concerns.
It took less than a year to draw up the 17 anchor project programme, source circa $1.3 billion in funds required and commence the planning and delivery for the rebuild of the CBD. The implementation of the Blueprint through the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan was ambitious in terms of its circa 5 - 7 year delivery, considering Docklands was planned over a 25 year delivery, but urgency was required in order to stop the capital and knowledge economies leaving Christchurch and in turn providing the confidence to the private sector and community that the City would be rebuilt.

Wellington is resilient and prosperous…

If we take note of the learnings from places that have experienced adversity and risen to the challenge, Wellington is well placed to thrive. The 7.8 magnitude South Island earthquake on 14 November 2016 did muddy the waters, the impacts on the CBD market have been extensively and perhaps over covered by other commentators, indicating a mixed bag of conditions and if anything significant floor space being removed from the market over the short term.

Wellington is not experiencing or facing an economic or natural disaster, it’s the Same Same but Different to Melbourne and Christchurch.

So a few words of wisdom to a city who has an opportunity. I think the following will continue to provide benefits to private investment, the public purse, job seekers, thinkers and innovators, the community and households:

  • The District Plan isn’t broken. The plan encourages more intensive and mixed-use development within the existing urban area to achieve better use of transport, infrastructure and energy – in other words, a compact and more sustainable city.
  • Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act works, keep these frameworks in place to accelerate the delivery of urban regeneration.
  • Affordable residential development needs to be prioritised for medium density to high density dwellings to meet the needs of the Wellington population growth, in particular the 20-24 year old needs in the inner City.
  • Affordable medium density residential and aged care facilities are prioritised for empty nesters and those in a stage of life that require gradually higher levels of support.
  • Commercial office is nearing or at the top of the cycle in Wellington and where there is excess vacancy in Secondary stock, repurpose it into affordable housing for those in our community who are feeling the squeeze from the housing market.
  • The retail market will continue to strengthen in the CBD that is underpinned by new international entrants.
  • The NZ tourism market has experienced the strongest growth on record in 2016 and is set to continue. Wellington is an awesome place to visit!
  • Due to the lack of quality stock, there has been interest decanting from prime industrial into secondary industrial stock. With low vacancy rates and the delivery of Transmission Gully and other major roads in our City and region, this opens up opportunity for newer, better connected industrial areas and jobs.
  • The high level of optimism and increasing full order books for the major contractors in NZ and in the Wellington region is having an impact on the supply chain and sub-contractors capacity to service the industry. This ultimately escalates costs and impacts on delivery.
  • But trusted partnerships, procurement methodology where collaboration is prioritised, could be the solution to the supply and demand pressures; thereby allowing a buoyant market to manage the high demand.

So Wellington, rather than beating yourselves up on the front page of the local rag, lets realise the opportunity we have. Happy Wellington Anniversary Weekend