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Rebuilding a city takes co-operative effort

Duncan GibbMost of us are now familiar with CERA—the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority—but perhaps SCIRT is an acronym we may not know.

Yet it is SCIRT—the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team—that has the crucial job of rebuilding the city's public "horizontal" infrastructure (water, sewerage, drainage and roading) in the wake of the earthquakes. What's more, the man in charge of SCIRT is a Baptist, Duncan Gibb.

In 2012 Duncan was enjoying himself as manager of Fulton Hogan Ltd's Northern Territories operation in Australia. He had a settled family with grandchildren on the way, and an active church life including heading up a prayer ministry. Then he got the call that changed his life.

After much prayer and journaling Duncan decided to accept the offer of applying for the job of heading up Christchurch's infrastructure rebuild. "I had a revelation that my whole life had led to this point, where I was the right guy to do this. Itís pretty humbling when that happens to you," he told delegates at the Gathering.

Five people were interviewed but Duncan got the job. What he was then faced with was repairing damage on an unprecedented scale as quickly as possible, to the same standard as prior to the earthquakes, and of a quality that would withstand future earthquakes of 6.5 magnitude.

"The infrastructure was mounted. There was no water coming out of taps, people couldnít use their showers or toilets, you couldnít get down some roads. No single construction provider or designer could do what needed to be done. There was huge uncertainty that needed to be dealt with," said Duncan.

After the initial September earthquake an organisation was created to repair the damage. It split the city into four with each area having contractors and designers working independently. After the February quakes it was soon realised that was not going to work. There was the need to get all resources and funding parties into a single entity. 

The result was SCIRT, an organisation to deliver a $2.5 billion rebuilt by the end of 2016. Duncan was its first staff member. SCIRT set about identifying resources; building a team; understanding the structure that was needed; what systems and procedures were needed to deliver hundreds of rebuild projects; and investigating what needed fixing, priorities, and concept designs.

These were followed by detailed designs, cost estimates, and independent estimates. "This is not paid for with insurance. If you pay tax or are a Christchurch ratepayer, then you are paying for the infrastructure rebuild," said Duncan.

SCIRT existed purely to rebuild infrastructure over a set defined period of time, finishing December 2016. That involved fixing 659 kms of sewerage and 1000 kms of roads.

What made SCIRT unique was that it was an alliance of contractual parties to achieve common goals and objectives. There were five major contractors who would normally be fierce competitors, but were working together for the rebuild. SCIRT did not employ people directly. It seconded them from their parent organisations. There were now 2000 people working for SCIRT. Two thirds of the contractors were from the South Island, one third from the North. There were no overseas companies, the rebuild was a New Zealand operation.

"We will only succeed through co-operation," said Duncan.

Building the right corporate culture was crucial, especially with so many organisations involved

"We need to build people's security and confidence. That's the drive that pulls everyone together. We need to be generous with trust. We need to trust that people will do what they say they will do. It's intriguing watching people challenge each other over that."

Meanwhile, the rebuild was on track—about a month behind where Duncan would like it to be—and close to budget. Different parts of the rebuild were at different stages. Most of the services ran along roads, so the deepest—the sewerage—needed to be fixed first, then water supply, then roads. There were 127 projects across the city on the go and SCIRT was spending $2.5 million a day.

The massive effort had seen SCIRT win the infrastructure category in the Champion Canterbury Business Awards and the Supreme Award (medium to large business category). The Institute of Civil Engineers UK, the oldest engineering organisation in the world, had given SCIRT its Brunel Award for excellence in engineering management.

"What we are doing in New Zealand is being recognised internationally as being outstanding," said Duncan.

And there were lessons for the Church in all this, he said.

"The possibilities are limited by the minds of man. The Church is limited by the mind of Christ. What sort of limitation is that! Is there anything stopping us from the limitless possibilities? That's my challenge to us."

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