I have a guest post over at the Standard right now – Walking through the wrong door is the least of Gerry’s problems. Jump over there and read it in full!

What we need in Christchurch is more houses, now. Affordable, well-designed, well-insulated houses. Lots of them. This is why Labour’s Kiwibuild scheme will roll out 10,000 houses in Christchurch in the first 4 years. People have waited too long for the invisible hand. Labour believes that the government has a strong role to play in alleviating the considerable stresses in the Christchurch housing market. Not only do National deny that there is a housing crisis in Christchurch, they have left the rebuild in the hands of a man who demonstrated at the airport last Thursday a level of arrogance that suggests he is completely out of touch with the people he is meant to be representing. While the PM may have chosen not to accept his resignation, the people of Ilam don’t have to: they have the chance to show Gerry the exit door on the 20th of September by voting Labour and voting for James Macbeth Dann.

 

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It depresses me to be writing this piece again. I thought we had put all of this to bed last year. Unfortunately, after the council suggested that the project was on hold, the opinion pages of the Press were once again filled will ill-informed pieces calling for the Town Hall to be pulled down. Then, some sanity. Former Arts Editor Chris Moore wrote this piece in last Friday’s art section, which summed up much of what I had been meaning to say.

There’s a widely held misbelief that the cost of retaining the town hall will prevent the construction of a series of glittering arts palaces custom-made for individual organisations. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch … The sense of entitlement accompanying proposals for the arts precinct is mind-boggling. Some individuals and groups should remember that tooth fairies do not exist.

Richard Dawkins fills the Town Hall for a lecture on evolution in 2010

Gerry’s opposition to the building is well known. We don’t know reasons for his stance; he may just hate brutalism, or internationally recognised architecture, or culture in general. The most likely reason is that he wants to knock down the Town Hall and take the insurance money, then spend it on the Performing Arts Precinct (PAP). Spending money on PAP gives him another opportunity to leave a lasting memory of his magnificence; the CCC voting to save the Town Hall means that he can’t.

The PAP is weirdly considered to be a replacement for the Town Hall; it’s not. The Town Hall does play host to a lot of arts and cultural events, such as the orchestra, choirs, theatre and the like. But it is much more than that. It was often used for conferences, with the air bridge that linked it to the Convention Centre. It hosted speaking events; I remember seeing Robert Fisk speak in the Limes Room as part of the Writer’s Festival a few years back. It had a multitude of rooms, of a variety of sizes, that could be used by a whole range of people for whatever they might think of doing. The PAP doesn’t do that.

What we’re seeing with the PAP is a bunch of very specialised cultural organisations within Christchurch seeing the dollar signs in Gerry’s eyes and putting their hand up for a bit of it. They think that if they play their part, and whinge about how awful the Town Hall was, then when the money starts flowing, it will come their way. It ain’t gonna work like that. There is a chance that if the CCC does knock down the Town Hall, they may just use the money to pay down debt. No one gets a building.

The bizarre thing about this saga is how it has been reduced to a few voices from the arts community siding with Gerry against the Council and heritage advocates. If Gerry does win, and the Town Hall is knocked down for the benefit of a handful of commercial arts organisations, what does the council do without a Town Hall? I mean, we, as a city, are still going to have a Town Hall, right? They will have to find the money somewhere to build a new one. And no, an auditorium in a convention centre run by a casino doesn’t count. We are on the verge of losing the icon of our city – the Cathedral – and the symbol of our civic and cultural lives. The people who came before us in Christchurch had the foresight to leave us with two fantastic buildings, and yet we are on the cusp of watching the last of our cultural history disappear because we left a philistine the keys to the bulldozer.

This is the CPIT War Memorial Hall at approximately 2:30pm yesterday.

 

July 9th, 2:30pm

July 9th, 2:30pm

And here it is again at 11am this morning:

July 10th, 11am

July 10th, 11am

This building was of no immediate risk. It had been there since the quakes, not causing any harm. There was no need for the Section 38 powers to be invoked to demolish it. It is well beyond the time for these powers to be used.  That the demolition was done overnight shows that the people responsible knew that this was something to be ashamed, hence doing their dirty work under the cover of darkness. It’s a disgrace.

Jim Anderton writes in the Herald in a very strong column about saving the Cathedral:

The picture of the ‘ruin’ that has been put on television and on the front page of the Christchurch Press on dozens if not hundreds of occasions is a totally false perspective of the damage that the Cathedral has suffered.

Some of the most experienced and knowledgeable seismic and structural engineers both in New Zealand and, internationally, agree that the Cathedral has not been terminally damaged and can be both made safe for repair and totally restored to the highest building code justifiably required for public buildings. No similar building in any other part of the world that I have experienced, would remotely be a candidate for demolition.

 

Jim Anderton with Anna Crighton at the Cathedral last week

Jim Anderton with Anna Crighton at the Cathedral last week

 

I recommend reading it yourself. Labour’s policy announced last week was not one taken lightly; we recognise the significance of the Cathedral and the ownership of the Anglican Church. All that we have said is that if it is to be demolished, then it should not be under the provisions of the Section 38 powers. These powers were given to the government so that they could demolish buildings for public safety without going through an RMA process. More than 3 and a half years later, it is clear that the building provides no immediate hazard to the public. If the Church wants to demolish it, then they should have to go through the process of having it removed from the register of historic buildings. To do this would require a process under the RMA, in which all sides could present their cases.

If the building is to come down, then so be it. But it should only be through a robust process, not the abuse of extraordinary powers.

(I stole the blog post title from this Decemberist song)

 

 

Here in Christchurch, we’ve grown used to the government exercising the extraordinary powers that they’ve had since the quake. While they were granted so that they could get the recovery moving, they seem to have been mainly used so that CERA and CCDU can knock down heritage buildings without going through an RMA process. The most recent case was the Majestic Theatre; the next looks to be the War Memorial Hall at CPIT. This was built in 1935 to honour the 71 students of the college who died in World War I.

Technical College _0001

The building was opened by the Govenor-General, Lord Galway, in 1935. Our current Governor-General has been exercising his extraordinary powers, on something that also has to do with heritage and World War I:

The governor-general has been forced to use his special powers to avoid the embarrassment of New Zealand’s Anzac Day centenary centrepiece not being completed on time … The lack of action eventually threatened the park’s completion to the point where the Queen’s representative, Sir Jerry Mateparae, last week had to rubber-stamp a resource consent to get the ball rolling again and save the Government’s blushes.

In Wellington, the Government is pulling out all the stops to ensure a WWI memorial is built in time for the 100th anniversary of ANZAC Day; in Christchurch, the same government is using Section 38 to ensure that a WWI memorial will no longer exist on the 25th of April, 2015. While the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage hasn’t shown much interest in preserving Christchurch’s buildings, as I’ve blogged about before, he does care about our military history. He’s issued three statements about Christchurch heritage – and 8 about the National War Memorial. As he is clearly concerned with honouring the people who served our country in war, here’s hoping that he steps in to preserve this memorial.

I am disappointed that CERA are invoking their war-time powers to demolish a building that is a reminder of the horrors of war. Labour believes that the time for using Section 38 powers to pull-down buildings is over, and would ensure that a building such as this would not be demolished without first going through a consultation process with the community.

I don’t know how he does it. Alongside running one bar, Smash Palace, and building another, Brick Farm, Johnny Moore still manages to find time to churn out a column for the paper every week. They are consistently some of the best analysis that gets printed in the paper. This week’s was on point:

In a town that has mountains of paperwork to climb before you even think about building, lumping a heap of extra rules into the mix is not the type of thing that excites developers or people wanting to build. Ask anyone that has built anything substantial since the earthquakes what portion of their total cost was consumed by paperwork and you will be staggered. Add to that the expense of foundations and it doesn’t leave much to throw at a building.

Then you get well-intentioned but ultimately idiotic planning in areas like the South Frame and it becomes clear that there is little incentive to build in the central city, let alone in any of the designated precincts.

If you want more insight like this, then pick up the paper every Thursday – or you could wait until our book, Once In A Lifetime: City Building after Disaster in Christchurch comes out in late August, as he has an essay in that!

(for updates on Brick Farm, check the Facebook page)

This afternoon I had the privilege to visit the Arts Centre, along with Labour’s heritage Spokesperson Jacinda Ardern and Christchurch Central candidate Tony Milne. We were given a comprehensive look around, and it is amazing to see what they have been able to do.

20140703-151454-54894838.jpgThis is the roof of the old gym building, which used to house the Academy Cinema. This is going to be the new home of Free Theatre – and will be open really soon!

20140703-151502-54902760.jpgIn the space that most people will know as Annie’s Wine Bar, there is a store of all the bits and bobs that have been pulled out of the buildings, labelled, and ready to go back in. This is a library of doors.

20140703-151458-54898441.jpgThis is the view from the first floor balcony, looking into the North Quad. The Great Hall is behind the big crane, and Le Cafe is to the right of the shot.

20140703-151459-54899996.jpgI took this shot from the same place, and the light is very bad, but I loved the sight of the moss growing on the stone work! It is quite lush after 3 years.

20140703-151456-54896814.jpgHere is a concrete mixer, which has its own little shelter, made from the stalls which the Arts Centre Market used to use.

20140703-151504-54904357.jpgThis may not look like much, but it is the spot where I was sitting in Le Cafe at 12:51 on February the 22nd. Obviously, I hadn’t been back there since. It was very odd to be inside again.

We were brilliantly guided around the site by the CEO of the Arts Centre, Andre Lovatt. It really is a hive of activity, with around 100 people working on the site. Seeing all the buildings that have been the back drop to so many stages of my life was a real thrill. It was like an archeological dig site, with people painstakingly trying to put history back to the way it was pre-2011. It will be great to step back into these buildings, as they re-open phase by phase over the next few years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a surprise: the convention centre industry that will directly benefit from the government using taxpayer and ratepayer money to build a convention centre are “optimistic” about convention centres. It makes us a “serious destination” – which I suppose means that until we get one, the rest of the country will just be laughing at us and our lack of convention centre. Bloody amateurs.

Further details for the much-awaited convention centre are coming in July, Christchurch & Canterbury Convention Bureau manager, Caroline Blanchfield says. That is according to a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) statement she received.

The CERA statement reads: “The convention centre precinct development is running to schedule, CERA is currently evaluating the proposal to select the preferred consortia and preferred operator. The announcement of the preferred consortia for developing and building the convention centre, and the preferred operator . . . will happen in July.”

I’ve written about the Convention Centre project a number of times – click through on the Convention Centre tag and you’ll bring up a stack of posts. A brief summary:

  • The convention centre was initially going to take up a whole block, bounded by Gloucester and Armagh St, Colombo St and the River
  • This block contains the old central library, which initial estimates for repair were put at $9 million
  • The old central library would have to be demolished to make way for the convention centre, and a new library would be built about 100 metres down the road for a cost estimated at around $90 million
  • The council can’t afford to spend $90 million on a library, so might have to the education of our city up for sponsorship
  • the market” suggested that a 2,000 seat convention centre was too big for the city, and the project should be scaled back
  • despite a competitive tender process that has gone on for what seems like an eternity, it was understood that there was only one company interested in building the damn thing

 

 

As we know from the Sky City / pokies deal, this government seems convinced by the merits of convention centres, and isn’t particularly concerned with evidence. So this is probably in vain, but here is an article from the US (via Eric Crampton) about the highly competitive convention centre industry, and how it ends up taking taxpayers and ratepayers for a ride:

And that illustrates the larger problem with convention center subsidies — that they tend to generate meager public returns and generous private ones.

So by all means, let us celebrate the beautiful new convention facilities we have built on Mount Vernon Square. At the same time, let us resolve not to dedicate any more public funds to a convention center arms race that no city can win.

 

I’ve been up in Wellington for the last 24 hours, for the launch of my cousin Lotta’s book (which you can find more details about here) and so have been less connected that I usually am. So you may or may not have seen a couple of things that I’ve been involved in. The first was a post I wrote at The Standard, about the recovery (of course):

For so many of the people in this still-broken city, they feel that this is a journey which they have been left to walk alone. More than that, it is a journey which they are walking alone, into a howling headwind of government bureaucracy and ineptitude. Too often they find themselves fighting against the state, rather than working with them. One gets the impression that for all the visits and photo ops, Key just doesn’t get the situation down here.

The second was a feature by Philip Matthews in the Mainlander section of the paper, that interviews a range of Christchurch candidates, including myself:

In one way, Dann might have been an odd fit for Ilam, but in another, it was an ideal match. As earthquake recovery minister, Brownlee has been the chief target of Dann’s Rebuilding Christchurch blog. Now he gets to take him on in person. Dann is increasingly convinced that the blueprint is not working, and is too ambitious for a city the size of Christchurch. The widespread apathy in the city is just as problematic.

“We seem to be sleepwalking towards knocking down cathedrals, knocking down heritage buildings, knocking down a swimming pool to build a playground. National can say it has a mandate from 2011, but no one voted on a stadium, no one voted on a convention centre and no one voted on the frame.”

I’ve just been down at the launch of Labour’s housing policy for Christchurch, which is one of the key parts of our Kick-starting the Recovery package. Part of it will see 10,000 Kiwibuild homes built in Christchurch over the first 4 years of a Labour-led government. Further to that, 3,000 of them would be earmarked as affordable rental housing, as a way of immediately making rents more affordable. The venue for the launch was the Oxford Terrace Baptist church, up on the corner of the Chester St and Madras.

Phil Twyford, looking in his bag for some housing policy

As our housing spokesperson Phil Twyford announced the policy, he had to speak up to be heard over the sound of Centennial Pool being destroyed. But the main reason for having the launch where we did is that we want to use this policy to bring people back into the centre city. Between a third and a half of the 10,000 homes will be medium density builds within the centre city, including some in the land designated for the frame. This is an example of how we believe that the Government should be more involved in the urban design of the city:

Labour will kickstart the redevelopment of the city centre, working with the Council, the community and developers to bring people back into the heart of the city. We will create a vibrant urban community with affordable medium-density housing. We will take the same approach to the revitalisation of New Brighton, and other suburban and town centres such as Addington, Riccarton, Spreydon, Kaiapoi, Rangiora and Rolleston. We will build mixed income communities where people can live, work and play, with high urban design standards, green space, and decent infrastructure.

The current government’s “hands-off” approach to urban design has clearly failed, but it’s not too late for us to turn this around. We can still create a city that builds back communities, then works with them to create a liveable, workable city.

 

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