Archives for category: Cera

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

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

from CCC draft Recovery Plan

from CCC draft Recovery Plan

Last night, I was reading back over the CCC’s draft recovery plan aka the document that came directly out of the Share an Idea process. It talks about the “transitional city”, and has some predictions. Remember that this was released in December 2011. This is what was predicted for 2014:

  • Demolition work will be completed
  • Infrastructure will have been assessed and be operational
  • Vacant sites will be bringing new life into the Central City
  • Retail businesses will have returned and pockets of the Central City opened up, creating new retail precincts that wait to be discovered
  • Restaurants and bars will have returned to the Central City, extending the enjoyment of the redeveloping city into the evening
  • Life will have returned to Cathedral Square with businesses re-establishing back in the heart of the City
  • The Central city will be alive with lots of transitional/temporary projects and activities – music, arts and theatre – bringing people to the Central City and providing inner city residents with plenty to do in their neighbourhood
  • Council’s LTP will have prioritised key Central City Plan projects and funding to support the Central City
  • Private sector investment in rebuilding will have kick-started the recovery in many areas throughout the Central City
  • Public sector organisations will have returned to the Central City. Staff will have a growing number of activities to entertain them
  • The Central City will continue to evolve on a daily basis with new activities and businesses
  • Community involvement will continue on recovery projects as concepts and sites are developed
  • Investigations and implementation work on the Metro Sports Facility, new Central Library, Convention Centre, Papawai Ōtakaro, Public Art Network and slow core will be underway
  • The feasibility study on Light Rail will have started
  • Incentives for private sector investment will be operating

Obviously, subsequent to this, CERA came in over the top and established the CCDU. One of the reasons given for doing this was that the council wasn’t getting on with things fast enough. Well, you can look at list and see that CERA haven’t done anything to improve the speed at which things get done in this city. The only different really is that CERA don’t even publish timelines, as they know that they bring a level of accountability which they’d rather avoid.

Yesterday morning, I had coffee with an economist who is writing a chapter for us for our book on the rebuild. We talked about a range of things, but what struck me was his analysis that without Christchurch, the economy would be growing at somewhere between 0 and 2%. Less than a day later, and Clint Smith tweeted this image:

NZ gdpIt’s a pretty simple image: Auckland has been about treading water, every where else is starting to go backwards, and the only thing that is giving the economy an illusion of growth is the money going into the rebuild in Christchurch. There are few things to comment on about that. Firstly, imagine how much better the Canterbury figure – and thus, the economic fortunes of the whole country – would be if the rebuild was being managed even half competently. The Government’s blueprint is a failure, with the only development in the city happening outside of the areas that are in control of CERA. The play which the government made for foreign investment has returned almost nothing, leaving development up to a handful of almost comically rich Cantabrians. It’s no wonder that investors are looking elsewhere, when the cost per metre for office space is more expensive in a city which looks like Post-Tito Yugoslavia than in the centre of Auckland.

Secondly, if New Zealand’s economy is a “rock star”, it is one that has drunk the contents of the minibar, soiled the bed, and thrown the TV through the ranch slider and into the pool. Now the hotel is getting new sheets and some double-glazed windows on insurance, but that isn’t the structural change that it needs. With the National Party’s self-proclaimed economic expertise – hand-outs to multinational companies with billion dollar balance sheets, a sad interdependence, both economically and politically, on the dairy industry, flogging off state owned assets to paper over the cracks in the budget – their economy is effectively based on fixing some broken windows in a city destroyed by a natural disaster. If they’re a “safe pair of hands” for the Treasury benches, then I’m a heritage building crying out for demolition.

10004040_701109969912283_803152500_nLast week, CERA made the decision to bowl over the historic Majestic Theatre. Given that we’ve lost so much heritage, it can sometimes be hard to muster any more outrage about the bulldozing of our cultural memory. However, this is a building worth fighting for, and a story that hasn’t really been done justice. In December last year, the CCDU acquired the Majestic. The CCC asked for an engineering report into the building, which CERA are still yet to supply. The Mayor, and certainly Councillor Yani Johanson, have strongly advocated for saving the building.

This week the Christchurch City Council vowed to help save the historic Majestic Theatre in Manchester St and Mayor Lianne Dalziel agreed the council should meet with Cera to emphasise the importance of retaining it. Historic Places Canterbury wanted the council to seek a moratorium on the demolition while a thorough engineering assessment was done.

The demolition will be carried out under a section 38 notice, which has been used (and many would say, abused) by CERA since the CER Act was passed.

If the chief executive gives written notice to an owner of a building, structure, or other erection on or under land that demolition work is to be carried out there,—
(a)   the owner must give notice to the chief executive within 10 days after the chief executive’s notice is given stating whether or not the owner intends to carry out the works and, if the owner intends to do so, specifying a time within which the works will be carried out

Can anyone see the issue here? In December, CCDU acquired the building (I’m not sure whether it was a compulsory acquisition or not). So CERA is now sending a demolition notice to the owner of the Majestic – i.e. the CCDU. It’s effectively Gerry’s left hand – Roger Sutton – telling his right hand – Warwick Isaacs – what to do. Clearly, the owner isn’t going to try and stop this demolition. Surely we have some sort of legal avenue to pursue, as this is a listed heritage building? Well, no. This, from an email I was provided from someone within CERA:

using s38 in this way means the work does not require resource and building consents from council. This is able to be done because the Minister used the CER Act in July last year to amend the council’s annual plan, and is a process that has been used numerous times in the past year.

Labour’s Heritage spokesperson put out a statement, but I fear it is too little, too late. With one hand, King Gerry is taking the building from the us, and with the other, he’s swinging his silver hammer. If you want to stop the destruction, come along to the protest, this Saturday at 11am.

 

 

 

Yesterday, the Herald remembered about Christchurch, and upon waking from its slumber, fired off about a dozen stories about the rebuild. Many of them were from bank economists, and all of them were unrelentingly bullish about the state of the rebuild. In the midst of the cheerleading was an extraordinary piece by Fran O’Sullivan, profiling Don Miskell, the chief architect of the blueprint. It is remarkably revealing of Miskell, and in turn, the government’s, intentions towards the rebuild. He talks about the eastern frame, and how the plan has changed to allow for more residential development.

Already the Blueprint is being tweaked to create some upmarket residential housing within the East Frame, which was originally targeted to allow the central business district to expand as the city grows.

“Inner-city residential is one of the big changes we are looking to make happen,” says Miskell. “Empty nesters like myself would be able to take advantage of the opportunity to walk to work, enjoy hospitality and cultural events.”

Great. So the frame – which was initially designed to mop up excess land so that developers who had large inner city property portfolios didn’t lose too much money – is now revealed to be an upmarket retirement village for well-paid government puppets, sucking on the taxpayer teat. Let’s not forget that this is the man CERA put in charge of designing the blueprint, and he seems to want to create a city for wealthy retirees. I’ll admit that I don’t have his design expertise, but it would be good if someone could point me to the chapter in the manual where it says that the key to making an inner city vibrant and liveable is to bring in old, white, scared people.

How do I know that they are scared? Well, Miskell tells us himself:

A lot of it seems like common sense, but it is about avoiding dead ends, such as Latimer Square which is 80m wide and not well lit. There used to be a bit of antisocial behaviour occurring in the middle – drug dealing and so on. With the East Frame you can read the looks on people’s faces as to whether they are supposed to be there or not. It will be easy to get on the phone and report as there will be no nooks and crannies.

Miskell can tell just by looking at someone whether they belong in his future city or not. Let that sink in for a bit. The head designer of New Zealand’s largest ever infrastructure project is going to judge people just by looking at them. If he doesn’t like the look of you, peering out from the balcony of his $1.5 million dollar apartment, he’ll call the authorities and dob you in. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing anything. He can tell. Just by looking at you.

It’s worth reminding people at this point how much the “Frame” is going to cost. The government is using $481 million dollars – taxpayer dollars – to buy up the land that makes the frame. Miskell says that they want 1500 people living in this area. Assuming that these “empty nesters” like himself live two to a dwelling, that is 750 new apartments. That would mean that the land alone for each of these apartments would be costing the taxpayer $641,300. The best part of 2/3rd of a million dollars to put paranoid boomers into the central city, where they can strangle all the life out of the central city via an anonymous 0800 tip-line. Is this what anyone signed up for?

On Thursday, there was a very passionate, vocal protest to save the Majestic Theatre. Probably thanks to the presence of the Wizard, and two of his acolytes, it got good media attention – CTV news covers it here, and the Press has a video at the top of it’s piece as well. I gave a short speech in front of the Majestic, in which I covered off the main tenets of Those Left Standing: Repair, Reuse and Rethink.

Repair. These buildings, still standing, clearly aren’t an immediate risk of falling down and causing harm to people. They can be repaired, if there is the will and the money to do so. Reuse. The rebuild thus far has been a huge waste – both of materials, and buildings. We need to ask ourselves where that mass of concrete, glass and steel will end up if we pull it down. We can reuse – by repairing buildings and putting them back into circulation, we can reclaim the built environment whilst protecting the natural one.

Rethink. The CCDU want to pull down the Majestic Theatre to widen a road by 9m. It’s 2014, and we’re knocking down buildings to accommodate more cars. This is madness, and shows that parts of the Blueprint plan need to be completely re-thought. Instead of reassessing how the plan has worked in the almost 2 years since it was released, Brownlee and Isaacs are doubling down on the Blueprint, betting that it’s failures can be glossed over by putting the house on red. It’s a high-risk play, with a potentially disastrous legacy if it all goes wrong. This is planning by bluster and stubbornness, and now is the time to admit that we need a rethink, before everything is bulldozed by an outdated plan.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 520 other followers