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Leeann Watson26 September 20236 min read

Opinion: Expectations of incoming Christchurch City Council

Local government affects every business and every resident in our city. It is easy to switch off when we are confronted with hundreds of hoardings at every street corner, policies that sometimes appear nonsensical and a constant stream of media commentary.

It is important to not lose focus of the fact that whoever is elected to the Christchurch City Council – or any Council in New Zealand – has access to all sorts of levers and mechanisms to make life for both residents and businesses a little better, or, in some cases, pull the handbrake and make it harder.

In the case of businesses, local government has a significant role to play in both facilitating economic growth and hindering it – and it is important that not only potential incoming representatives understand the needs of business, but that businesses understand the positions of candidates on the issues that matter to us.

The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce has developed with local businesses, a document outlining the Business Expectations of Local Government, to set a blueprint for the next three years and make it very clear what is required from Christchurch City Council to address the most significant barriers to growth, and to focus on the issues that need to be addressed over the coming term to ensure we have a prosperous and future focused city.

The last term of local government has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, as restrictions are eased, the borders reopen and we welcome back tourism, we are in a very different position with very different challenges to those navigated in the past. The business community is reigniting and gearing up to make up for the significant impacts that COVID-19 has had, and local government must work in tandem with us to ensure we can maximise the opportunities we now have.

First and foremost, we expect that Christchurch City Council prioritises supporting economic growth by enabling businesses to succeed, reducing red tape, and establishing initiatives to support the challenges that we are all experiencing such as labour market constraints, scaling back up tourism, and ensuring our infrastructure is fit for purpose and future proofed.

Labour market constraints remain the biggest challenge facing businesses and anyone who thinks that local government has no role to play in alleviating these challenges needs to think again. Our city must ensure that we are an attractive and competitive destination for both domestic and international migrants to fill our vacancies, and to visit our city and region. We must maintain a programme of major events to attract tourism and boost our economic return, and we must ensure our city is modern and vibrant. We need people to visit and we need them to stay.

Our expectations document explores how this can be achieved but at the top of the list is the need to reposition our city and reinforce our points of difference. Those that choose to live in Christchurch experience a quality of life that is second to none and cannot be replicated in any other major city in New Zealand.

We also need to increase awareness about the world-leading industries founded on innovation that choose to base their businesses in the second largest city in New Zealand. We want to grow, and we want more people here. Actively shaping the perceptions of our city by others in New Zealand and abroad has never been more important as we compete on an international level for talent.

And when visitors arrive in our city for a quick trip or a more permanent basis, ensuring our core services operate at a first-world standard and our infrastructure is adequate is just as important. The basics like ensuring our streets are tidy and sufficient steps are taken to discourage vagrancy and anti-social behaviour, right through to ensuring we have a cohesive integrated plan around supporting future growth.

As the beating heart of the region that represents 400,000 people and 43,000 businesses, the decisions and actions of the Christchurch City Council have significant consequences for both those within the city limits and those outside of it – and for those 43,000 businesses, every regulation and barrier to business that the Christchurch City Council imposes has the ability to cost money, time and in some cases, discourage investment altogether.

Building and resource consents must also be significantly sped up if we want to go anywhere anytime soon, and we expect to see more accountability and transparency in this area – and where new regulations are implemented, we want to see the focus change to enablement rather than risk aversion.

The business community has an overwhelming desire to elect people who are supporters and advocates of our shared interests, and one of these interests is having a clear purpose and a clear vision for what we as Christchurch want to be known for – what our identity is. A blueprint for the future of the city that we can all work towards, and not be afraid to be aspirational and shout from the rooftops that we are a world-class city, with the assets and the environment to have a great quality of life – and a great place to do business. The status quo just doesn’t cut it anymore.

As businesses have grappled with the challenges over the last couple of years and adapted their way of operating, we expect the Christchurch City Council to do the same. We want to see the Council supercharged to deliver for both residents and businesses in a manner which is efficient and transparent, and results in strong economic growth and positive community outcomes.   We expect a commitment to minimising waste and maximising efficiencies, and embedding a culture throughout the entire Council that is focused on enabling businesses and economic growth.

We also want to see more collaboration with business and increased transparency, with business interests taken into account more regularly and more actively – not just ticking boxes to say they have been consulted, and we want to see alternative funding and financing levers pulled. Increasing rates is not the only option and everyone knows that, particularly if we want to invest in our future.

The next three years are crucially important. We are teetering on the edge of either capitalising on the progress that the post-earthquake environment has facilitated, or risk becoming an irrelevant city in a period where global competitiveness has never been more important.

No longer is local government just about the delivery of core services and it is no longer about rebuilding a city, it is about repositioning our great city and the Canterbury region, and preparing us for the future.

We need – not want – a local government that understands the needs of the business community, has the ability to meet our expectations, and understands the interdependences between creating a strong economy by providing an enabling environment for business resulting in strong community outcomes.

At a fundamental level, we want to see a Council that develops a culture of enablement that actively supports business development and innovation, and discourages unnecessary bureaucracy, conservatism, and risk aversion. We want to see a Council with bold courageous leadership, a strong and supportive culture that is welcoming of new innovation, development and practices that support that to happen.


Leeann Watson

Creating inspirational leadership and a culture of innovation for Business Canterbury and being a raving enthusiast for the city, region and our business community.