25 Jun 2021

Christchurch economic development agency focusing on wrong things, ex-mayor says

8:08 am on 25 June 2021

A former Christchurch mayor is questioning the value of the city's multi-million dollar economic development agency, saying it is not doing enough to grow jobs and industry - four years since its creation.

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Christchurch city. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

ChristchurchNZ got just under $12 million in ratepayer funding last year and is tasked with promoting the city.

But Garry Moore, who served three terms as mayor, said there are enough tourism promoters already and the agency is focused on the wrong things.

He said that is down to the council.

ChristchurchNZ was founded in 2017 by the city council, after a merger between the region's tourism and development bodies.

But Moore, who was mayor between 1998 and 2007, said the agency is not doing enough of the latter.

Instead of trying to attract or grow industry it is focused too much on bringing in sports events, shows and concerts, he said.

"I don't think there's enough emphasis by the council on economic development and [there is] too much emphasis on events and all that sort of thing, which I find [events] a sort of superficial type of economic development," he said.

Former Christchurch mayor Garry Moore.

Former Christchurch mayor Garry Moore said events should not be a priority in a Covid-19 world. Photo: Christchurch Dilemmas

Moore said event promotion should be the job of the council itself.

Over the last three years the agency spent just under $4m to bring in major events such as Phil Collins, the national Track and Field Championships and the cricket rugby contest known as the Black Clash.

That generated more than $23m in visitor spending but Moore said from his experience, those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

"My experience of events people is that there is a very hard figure of how much cash it cost and a very soft figure of the benefits. And so I always applied a 90 percent discount factor to the supposed benefits," he said.

Moore said in a Covid uncertain world, events should not be a priority anyway.

But the agency general manager for destination and attraction, Loren Heaphy, said events are hugely beneficial.

"The return on investment at the moment that ChristchurchNZ is bringing into the economy for major events alone is $20 million a year. That is about a 1:15 ratio of success. For business events, it's actually even higher," she said.

"The forecasted events that we have secured for Te Pae alone are valued at $44 million to the economy in the first 18 months."

But on paper, the agency does not appear to have been too successful in attracting business events.

Over the past four years, it has made 119 bids - 36 have been successful, 66 are still classed as pending or unknown, and the remainder have failed.

Heaphy blames Covid-19 but said it was also because of the focus on long term planning, and the lack of infrastructure like the unopened convention centre.

"We bid anywhere between four and eight years out from an event being hosted in our destination. So, sometimes a pending bid or an unknown bid results from the fact that the event that we were meant to be bidding at, hasn't proceeded," she said.

Christchurch city councillor Sam MacDonald, a former critic of ChristchurchNZ, said the agency will start to focus more on economic development over the coming years.

"So what we have done recently is obviously Development Christchurch Limited (DCL) has ceased operation and we've taken the urban development function into ChristchurchNZ. So I think one of the things that you'll see now is them playing a more active role in that as well," he said.

But Moore said the council still needs to give a stronger directive to change the agency's work.

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