via Porcupine Farm

 

While the big news with regard to the rebuild has been the scaling back of the Arts Precinct, this is just one part of a wider narrative that sees the grand plan unravelling. Since I wrote my column in the Herald at the weekend, we’ve had the news that Antony Gough’s Terrace Project is taking a wee break, that the Arts Precinct is being scaled back, and that the CCDU is paring back it’s land acquisition. These stories illustrate the point that I made on Sunday; that the rebuild is happening outside of CERA’s control, and that the Blueprint hasn’t worked in the way it was meant to.

The Arts Precinct announcement has been a long time coming. The original plan depended on the Town Hall complex being knocked down, so that the money from it’s insurance payout could be use for this new precinct. Once the council had resolved to restore the Town Hall – which was in August of las year – the rest of the project was always going to have to be scaled back. It is just a shame that CERA’s thinking wasn’t made public earlier, as it could have helped inform the debate around the Majestic Theatre. A restored Majestic could have* brought a beautiful building with a strong cultural history back into the discussion about the wider arts community’s needs. Instead, the demolition proceeds regardless.

There was an interesting comment in the NBR piece on the precinct:

However, the arts precinct has other hurdles to surmount – the Court Theatre, Symphony Orchestra and the Music Centre are pivotal tenants and they have indicated they cannot afford high rentals required in new buildings.

I’m not sure where this leaves the project. If the three key tenants of the project have indicated that they can’t afford the rent for a new building, then what is the plan? If we (the council / the government / both) are going to have to subsidise the rent for these tenants, isn’t that a discussion we should be having? It may be that the arts fall victim to Brownlee’s land-grab, which has pushed the land prices in the central city to a point where they can’t afford to be based in it.

At this point – almost two years after the plan was released – I think it would be a good idea for the involved parties – particularly the CCDU and the cash-strapped Council – to have a bit of a stocktake of where the Blueprint has got us. Best-practice planning means that things aren’t set in stone; strong leadership means making the tough calls about changing direction, rather than just ploughing on regardless. It is not too late to reconsider some of the anchor projects in the plan.

*The Majestic could still be saved, if they ordered an immediate halt to the demo. But they won’t

I had a column in the “Out of Left-field” section of the Herald on Sunday yesterday.

For those of you who haven’t visited Christchurch for a while, it’s probably easy to imagine that everything is trucking along nicely, that the city is irresistibly moving forward. For those of us living it every day, we don’t feel like rock stars.

We did get a little of the rock star treatment this week, with Wills and Kate popping in for a quick matinee show. Even after a tightly orchestrated tour of the sites the Government wanted them to see, the Duke expressed his surprise at how long the recovery was seeming to take. He isn’t the only foreign visitor to share that sentiment.

In case you missed it, the full text is here.

It is three years and one day since Danyl wrote this blog post about South Canterbury Finance. I was re-reading it today, and something stuck out like a sore thumb:

December 2008: SCF undertakes a high risk loan strategy, losing an estimated $500 million dollars, the cost of which is borne by the taxpayer. (I would love to know who these loans went to. SCF refused to disclose the nature of the loans, telling journalists who asked about them that they should ‘go to the movies’. I’m guessing they were to PGG related companies or investments.)

January 2009: Cash pours out of SCF in secret loans to its parent and related companies. Treasury is not notified of these transfers which add up to at least $180 million dollars and which puts SCF in clear violation of the Guarantee Scheme. The Reserve Bank wants SCF ‘put on notice’. No action is taken. (I’m assuming that the cash transferred out of the company was that of debenture holders, so not guaranteed by the government.)

Danyl was wondering where those loans went. Well, we know there is a connection between SCF and Dairy Holdings Limited:

SCF’s late chairman, Allan Hubbard, had transferred a 33.6 per cent stake (In Dairy Holdings) to SCF in 2008 in a bid to shore up the company. The stake was said to be worth $75.7 million then but Reserve Bank documents revealed the figure was thought to be inflated.

Hubbard had a very strong connection to the irrigation industry in Canterbury. In April 2010, before the empire came crumbling down, he was given an award for his support of irrigation:

The public face of South Canterbury Finance, Allan Hubbard has been recognised for something completely different – irrigation. Also a director of the Central Plains Water scheme, he “put his money with his passion” and helped fund the project when it needed money, Mr Sutton said.

“If it wasn’t for Allan’s bailout, CPW would not have obtained its consents and be where it is today.”

Dairy Holdings, along with Fonterra, loaned money to CPW. In fact, Dairy Holdings was CPW’s biggest lender:

CPW’s biggest lender, Dairy Holdings, is also part-owned by SCF and many of its shareholder farmers have business ties to the company, although Crombie said its loan was not directly affected.

It’s not like Dairy Holdings was a small operation. This from 2012:

South Canterbury Finance’s (SCF) largest remaining asset, Dairy Holdings, will stay in New Zealand ownership after existing shareholders put in the winning bid of $56.4 million. Dairy Holdings is Fonterra’s biggest supplier and owns 58 dairy farms in Canterbury, Southland and the West Coast, covering 14,200 hectares.

Someone cleverer than me could try and fit this stuff into a timeline like Danyl did. However, this is what we do know:

- the government bailed out South Canterbury Finance to the tune of $1.7 billion dollars

- one of the largest assets that SCF owned was Dairy Holdings, a collection of farms that was Fonterra’s biggest supplier

- Dairy Holdings was also the biggest lender to Central Plains Water, a scheme that wouldn’t have gone ahead if it wasn’t for “Allan’s bailout”

I wonder if any of the high risk loans and secret loans to parent companies from December 2008 and January 2009 went to Dairy Holdings, and if so, whether they went from there to Central Plains. In any case, it doesn’t matter now, as CPW was using the money to try and fight legal objections to the scheme; instead of wasting money on lawyers, they were lucky enough to have a government replace the regional council with irrigation-friendly commissioners.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you remember the CERA Community Forum? It’s ok if you don’t. It was set up soon after the quakes, before rapidly fading into obscurity. In late 2012, a group of MPs – including one L Dalziel – signed an open letter which called it a farce;

The community forum put in place to allow such consultation has become a farce with Mr Brownlee or Roger Sutton having attended only a handful of times.

I had to check to see if it still exists – and yes, apparently it still does. So what does it do? Well:

The Community Forum has been established by Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to provide him with information and advice on earthquake recovery matters.

Simple. Well, Mr Brownlee didn’t attend a single meeting of the community forum last year. His proxy, Amy Adams did attend, but only for 8 of the 18 meetings. Roger Sutton only attended two meetings all year. How do I know this? Well, it’s all available in the meeting notices, which are available here.

Summaries of the proceedings of Community Forum meetings are available below. These meeting notes are prepared to assist the wider community to understand the issues the Forum has discussed. The meeting notes have been released under the Official Information Act 1982. Where information has been withheld under that Act this is clearly identified, and will be reviewed on a quarterly basis to check whether the reason for withholding is still valid.

Frequently, the names of people attending the meetings themselves are redacted from the minutes. I find it remarkable that these people – public servants from CERA, CCDU, CCC and ECan – should be given anonymity when they turn up to a meeting with what is nominally a forum made up of the people they are meant to serve. In some instances, the minutes of virtually the whole meeting have been withheld. According to the rationale which the CERA website itself gives, the purposes of the forum are to:

A – provide him (Gerry Brownlee) with information and advice on recovery matters

B – (disseminate notes from the forum to) assist the wider community to understand the issues the Forum has discussed

On point A, the Minister didn’t bother to attend a single forum in 2013; his Chief Executive Roger Sutton went twice, and his associate Minister went less than half the time. It must be quite hard to fulfill the stated objective of providing him with information when he doesn’t bother to show up. On point B, it is hard to see how the public gets any benefit from documents that are redacted to the point of uselessness.

This whole sorry mess seems to be a good example of CERA’s modus operandi; set up a body to give the impression you are being responsive and engaging (communities! interaction!) then let it wither and die through a combination of bureaucracy and negligence. It’s hardly a demonstration of good-will and genuine engagement when a body set up to represent the community communicates with the public through reluctant, redacted minutes provided under the Official Information Act.

The Community Forum is a needless farce which should be disbanded; CERA should instead focus on open and transparent communication with Community Boards, the Council, and existing community and interest groups.

 

 

 

 

Last week, Warwick Isaacs claimed that it would cost $18 million to fix the Majestic. He didn’t provide any breakdown of his estimates, and still won’t provide the engineering reports, but I guess he thinks we should just believe him. $18 million is a lot of money. It is an inflated figure, designed to silence the heritage campaigners trying to have the Majestic saved. We have no way of knowing how realistic a figure it is – but I thought a comparison to another heritage theatre restoration might give some context.

Theatre Royal restoration

This is the Theatre Royal on Gloucester St. A lovely building which will be an asset to the city when it is reopened later this year. The total cost of this restoration project is around $30 million. Warwick Isaacs wants us to believe that restoring the Majestic will cost almost 2/3rds of what the restoration of the Theatre Royal will cost. Look, I’m no structural engineer, but I find it hard to believe that it the two could even be in the same ball park. The Theatre Royal project is almost a complete rebuild, based around the original facade, with much of the detail salvaged to be added back later. The Majestic may be badly damaged (Isaacs still won’t release the engineers reports, so we can’t asses that ourselves) but it has a steel frame. And unlike the Theatre Royal when that project started, it still has four walls and a roof.

Theatre Royal facade

Warwick Isaacs has finally responded to the council’s questions about the Majestic, but I can’t help but feel he is being less than truthful:

In a letter to the city council, Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) director Warwick Isaacs said he had not made the decision to demolish the theatre lightly or in haste. He went onto strongly reject the council’s assertion the planned widening of Manchester St was the main driver for his decision.

This final sentence seems to contradict the letter (Majestic CERA Section 38 full demolition) he wrote to Jane Parfitt, the CEO of the CCC just a month ago. I’ve attached the full letter, but here is the relevant part:

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 8.51.34 AM“Accessible City” is the CERA jargon for “transport plan”. So in this letter, from less than a month ago, he sited the transport plan as the first reason for knocking down the Majestic. The council then tried to respond to this, by ameliorating his concerns about transport. Isaacs then responded by claiming it wasn’t anything to do with transport. Unfortunately for him, the paper trail proves otherwise.

Given his predilection for massaging the truth, I think there is little reason to trust his claim that it would cost $18 million to restore. He provides no evidence for this, and will not release the engineering report which would allow for independent verification of the damage to the building. He also says:

“I am unable to halt the demolition as you have requested”

Unable? I find it hard to believe that someone with almost unlimited powers to destroy, acquire and re-zone can’t pick up the phone and tell someone that he has contracted to stop. No, I think he is completely able to stop the demolition, but totally unwilling.

 

Govt heritage fight snub - Christchurch Star, 9/4/14

Govt heritage fight snub – Christchurch Star, 9/4/14

I had been wondering where the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage had been through all the destruction in Christchurch. Turns out he’s just “too busy”. I was trying to remember when I had last seen him say anything about Heritage in the city – but instead of relying on my dodgy memory, I checked the releases from his Ministry. In the 3 years since the quake, Finlayson has issued three Ministerial releases about heritage – two of which are about the Airforce Museum in Wigram. There have also been two official press releases from the Ministry – neither of which feature a quote from the Minister himself.

The guy has clearly been busy. In the same time, he has released no fewer than 8 statements about the National War Memorial. He stopped to announce the Avatar films, and congratulate Bret McKenzie, Top of the Lake and Peter Jackson.

There is no question that the state of many of the heritage buildings in the city in 2010 meant that a significant number of them would have to be pulled down due to the quakes. However, Finlayson has been the Minister of Heritage in a government that has facilitated the greatest heritage destruction in New Zealand’s history, and during that time has made more press releases about Hollywood than he has about heritage. That’s not because he’s too busy, but because he – and the government he is proud to be a part of – simply don’t care that our rich cultural history is being being wiped out at the end of a wrecking ball. Welcome to the #goldenage.

 

I guess that the effluent in the water after the Amy Adams saga has dissipated enough for the National Party to start throwing more money at irrigation. From this press release from the Minister of Primary Industries, Nathan Guy:

It’s great to see the first investment decision made. Central Plains Water will help irrigate around 60,000 hectares of land on the Canterbury plains once all three stages are complete, giving a real boost to the region’s economy.

Without this funding, it’s unlikely the scheme would be developed to the size and scale required.

This is an important step towards unlocking the major opportunities that water storage and irrigation can provide for New Zealand.

Minister Adams has recused herself from decisions around Central Plains, on the grounds of a pecuniary conflict. In doing so, she has made it clear that she does stand to benefit from the CPW scheme. This release from MPI shows that not only are the government throwing $6.5 million at the scheme, but the very viability of the scheme itself would be in question if it weren’t for the interventions of the government of which Minister Adams is a member.

 

Peter Townsend – the chief executive of the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and the rebuild’s number one cheerleader – is never short of an optimistic pull quote. Given how often he says these things – and that he’s been given a gong for doing so – I thought it would be appropriate to put some of the choicest quotes into a timeline.

May 21, 2012: “Common sense” Council Asset Sales

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, who has previously called on the council to investigate asset sales, said the comments from Carter and Key were “common sense”. Townsend said he had received broad support after calling for a “well-considered and sensible investigation” into asset sales.

October 20th, 2012: “Smell the Money

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said: “The best way I can describe it is you can now smell the money.” It was starting to flow through the region. “And I think that’s going to play out in some quite major growth kicking in at the beginning of next year. People are starting to get to the stage they want to invest, they are wanting to make plans.”

“You can see it is just starting to crank up,” Townsend said.

May 4th, 2013: “exponential growth

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said there is even stronger growth to come because the Canterbury rebuild had barely started.

“The trend at the moment has to be exponential not straight line,” Townsend said.

May 11th, 2013: “It’s going to be a ride

“We are going to be spending a lot of money in our community, most of that insurance money, and when that money starts flowing through our economy, watch out. It’s going to be a ride.”

May 15th, 2013: “there’s money here if you want it

“That money is going to come into Christchurch and it’s there if you want it.”

September 9th, 2013: “an avalanche of building work

Meanwhile, Townsend predicted the next three to six months would see an “acceleration towards [insurance] settlement” and an “avalanche of residential building work coming through”.

October 30th, 2013: “La la land

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said the first quarter of 2014 would see a pickup in activity and anyone “who thinks we’ve plateaued out is absolutely in la la land . . . The reality is we haven’t started the recovery yet for all intents and purposes.”

December 5th, 2013: asset sales, again

“[The council] needs to look at how much it’s prepared to borrow, how much it’s prepared to raise through rates, and whether or not it can realise cash through asset sales in the whole context of what is in the best interests of the wider community,” Townsend said.

January 4th, 2014: “Just be patient

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend says 2014 will be a year when “people will have to be patient” because the sheer scale of the central business district rebuild means that “jigsaw” will take much longer.

January 25th, 2014: “real start of the rebuild

Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend was in no doubt that this year would mark the real start of the rebuild, led initially by residential housing repairs and rebuilds.

April 5th, 2014: “goldrush

Townsend says by the end of the year Christchurch will be a goldrush city as the rebuild finally gets into top gear. “It’s going to be the equivalent of three years of Fonterra’s GDP being dumped into a place with 500,000 people.”

I’ve covered the travesty that is the impending demolition of the Majestic on the blog a few times, but as I was walking past yesterday, realised that most people won’t be as familiar with the area as I am. The more you know about the area, the madder the decision becomes. I’ve made up a couple of maps, with three buildings highlighted on them: The Majestic, The Excelsior and Shooters.

2D majestic

The Majestic is on the corner of Lichfield and Manchester St. I and others have written about the history of the building itself. It is currently in the process of being prepared for demolition, with the main reason given being that the land is required for the “accessible city” part of the CCDU Blueprint. In other words, they want to knock down the building to widen the road by 9 metres. You could argue that in a 21st century city, creating a 20 metre wide road actually makes a barrier that is less accessible to the pedestrians who are meant to be living in the frame on the east of Manchester St. You could argue that, and you’d be making a good argument, but it would be an argument that would be ignored by the powers that be.

You could also argue that CERA seems to have an irrational grudge against the Majestic. For example, just 25 metres south of the Majestic is the facade of what was the Excelsior hotel. This building is now literally just a facade, propped up by stacks of shipping containers which stick right out into the eastern lane of Manchester St. As you can see from the photo, this is a current impedance to traffic on Manchester St, but CERA would rather concentrate their energy and wrecking ball on the Majestic, which poses a theoretical, future impedance to traffic.

20140407-113825.jpg

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see the Excelsior retained and rebuilt. It was a lovely old building, and the corner of High St in front of it was a pleasant, under-utilised part of town. However, I think it shows the lie of the CCDU’s actions; it is both a higher safety risk, and a bigger traffic problem than the Majestic, and yet there seems to be none of the hastiness to have its future resolved.

3D majestic

Just one block further up the street, on the corner of Cashel and Manchester, is the lamentable Shooters bar. Unlike either the Majestic or the Excelsior, Shooters has very few, if any, redeeming features. It is a fairly horrible tilt-slab building that used to be the home of one of Christchurch’s more notorious booze barns.

20140407-113902.jpg

I can’t imagine anyone will be chaining themselves to the fake cattle skull on the front of this building anytime soon. However, I have heard nothing from CERA regarding their intentions for this building. Perhaps they are planning to widen the road by 9m where the Majestic is, then run a chicane down past Shooters? Or maybe they have some sort of grudge against heritage buildings, and they are using whatever excuse is convenient at the time to pursue their agenda?

At this point, it’s hard to argue that the Minister doesn’t have some sort of grudge against he he famously termed “old dungers”. There is a comprehensive list of Christchurch’s heritage buildings here, of which over 235 have now been destroyed. CCDU acquired the building, and then CERA used the section 38 provision to request demolition, which means that there is no recourse through legal means to object to this process. CERA have also refused to release the engineering report for the building, despite saying they would when asked by the CCC in December. An OIA request has now been lodged to try and access this information. The reason given for the building’s destruction – which I’d argue is a spurious one – is that it is required to implement the “accessible city” part of the Blueprint plan, but at this rate, one has to wonder whether there will be any city left to access when Gerry and his mates are done.

 

 

 

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