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Q+A: Interview with Peter Townsend

Published: 4:25PM Sunday September 05, 2010 Source: Q+A


PAUL With so much damage the Christchurch or the Canterbury economy is on its knees at the moment. One man who sees opportunity amongst catastrophe is the Employers' Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Peter Townsend, and Peter is in our Christchurch newsroom. A very good morning to you. For all this upheaval Peter, there's opportunity isn't there, looming?

PETER TOWNSEND - Canterbury Chamber of Commerce There's a whole lot going on down here at the moment Paul. I'm in the middle of the central city at the moment and it is devastated, there's no doubt about that. There is opportunity that will come out of this. The resilience of the Canterbury Business Community is well known. We are running our business awards next Thursday night, with a thousand people coming to our black tie dinner to demonstrate how we can continue to celebrate and respect business in our community, and tomorrow there will be people going to work, but my advice to them is please be careful. We've got through this unscathed and we don't want any risks taken with people returning to damaged buildings. So they just have to make sure that they err on the cautious side.

PAUL So that's very good news to hear, you're carrying on with your black tie awards Peter?

PETER We'll have 1050 people in black ties on Thursday night to celebrate business in Canterbury and we think it's really really important that we do that.

PAUL What is the morale of the business people you've been speaking to, your members, what are they telling you about damaged to premises, about damaged to their take about carrying on, that kinda stuff?

PETER The damage is enormous, I mean you see any building with a brick in it has been damaged, but internally, I mean my Chamber of Commerce is a good example. It's absolutely trashed, it looks like the building has been picked up and shaken and dropped again. Structurally our chamber is fine, but inside everything is on the floor and the ceilings are down, and that will; be typical of most businesses in the central city. And also further out Paul, I know warehouses that are holding stock, the stock is on the floor, and there's a huge huge cleanup job to be done. But our advice is, sure there's a cleanup job to be done, but be careful, please be careful, and if there's any doubt about the structural safety of the buildings, stay away.

PAUL But you allude to another thing Peter there, which is the hidden nature of so much of the damage. We can see the facades falling from the building. We can see the damage to the brick buildings and the churches and we can see the rubble and the bricks that have fallen through car roofs and so forth, but as you say it's warehouses on the edge of town where the stock is thrown from the shelves and lying on the floor and so forth. It's the damage inside buildings, some people won't even know about till Monday probably.

PETER No they won't. There are a lot of people who simply cannot access their buildings because - and certainly in the central city - we're still cordoned off. So people will have no idea about the damage. I was lucky enough to get into our building, and it's a relatively modern building. The buildings around it have been destroyed, but it's relatively secure structurally, but the mess inside is just huge. You know computers on the floor, screens on the floor, ceilings collapsed, and that will be typical. So there's going to be a lot of cleaning up to do.

PAUL So Peter not to be too pessimistic, the government's talked about a big spend, you've got the Earthquake Commission and so forth coming in. But given what the economy's been trading like lately, given the desperation of retailing say in the last four five months, are some of your people going to find because of what happened yesterday morning, difficult to survive?

PETER Some will I'm sure Paul, but look the support that we're receiving from right across New Zealand has been stunning. I've had emails and phone calls from colleagues and trade union representatives and people in government all weekend saying look we're here to help, we know you guys have had a knock down. And I can assure you Paul that it takes more than an earthquake to knock down the business people of Christchurch.

PAUL Very good Peter. Well said and indeed people right round the country are thinking of you as brothers and sisters. Fantastic, and anything we can do, let us know.

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