Hey team,

One last post about the movie fundraiser and I’ll get back to blogging about policy and playgrounds and other fun things.

Our fundraising screening of the movie What We Do In The Shadows is tonight, 6:30pm at Hoyts Riccarton. Cinema 1. Starts at 6:30pm. We still have around 20 seats left, so if you wanna come along, join the facebook event or flick me an email (james.dann at labour dot org dot nz). $20 for a ticket! And it’s for a good cause.

With all the advertising and social media focus of the modern election campaign, it’s easy to forget that the most effective way to communicate with people is one on one, on a personal level. That’s why I hand-wrote this letter to a potential voter, which she then posted on twitter. I’ve included it here:

If you live in Ilam, and would like a personal communication, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.


In 2012, Lonely Planet named Christchurch one of the most exciting places to visit in the world. Gap Filler was a large part in that:

Don’t miss playing a few ends at the Lyttelton Petanque Club, a development from the Gap Filler Charitable Trust, a community initiative that’s reinvigorating derelict spaces around Christchurch. Another Gap Filler project, the Think Differently Book Exchange, sits on the corner of Barbadoes and Kilmore Streets on the edge of the CBD. Just look for the retro fridge crammed with assorted tomes available to swap.

The New York Times named Christchurch #2 on it’s “52 place to go in 2014“;

Though much of the central city has yet to be rebuilt, entrepreneurs and volunteers are finding surprising ways to make temporary use of empty lots and bring life back to the downtown. The Gap Filler program, begun a couple of months after the first quake in September 2010 and expanded after a more destructive second quake in February 2011, has created an open-air performance space made of blue pallets, a dance floor with coin-operated music and lights, and even a nine-hole mini-golf course in vacant lots across the city. The Greening the Rubble campaign has since the 2010 quake been planting temporary gardens on the sites of demolished buildings.

Prince Charles danced on the Dance-o-Mat. Roger Sutton rode at the cycle-powered cinema. The Pallet Pavilion become the backdrop to thousands of photos, including one of our incoming councillors. So I was surprised to see these complaints appear in the paper today:

Gap Filler is a “backward” organisation that should be forced off the former Crowne Plaza Hotel site, Christchurch City Council has been told. “Some people” see the Crowne Plaza site under Gap Filler as “messy” and “shanty style”, public relations man David Lynch told city councillors recently.

I honestly don’t know where to start. Maybe with a story that relates to the Commons site, relayed to me by someone involved. When the Arcades were being put in, an old man wandered past, looked at the arches going in, and as he shuffled off, mumbled something about it being “great to see the government finally getting something done”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Gap Filler is a true community organisation, one that has done dozens of projects across the city on the smell of an oily rag. Some of them don’t work. But when they do, like the Dance-o-Mat, the Book Fridge, the Pallet Pavilion, they have gone on to become the de facto symbols of the rebuild. They are the ground-up recovery that is pressing on in spite of the formal recovery.

If this guy loves demolition sites with nothing on them but weeds, then I could suggest literally hundreds of other sites in the CBD he might like to visit. If he thinks that moving the Commons from this site is somehow going to magically “cleanse” this site, then maybe he should ask himself why that hasn’t happened anywhere else in the city? I don’t know much about this guy, but he is clearly not as clever or nuanced as his film auteur namesake:

Lynch gives public relations advice to hospitality and other businesses on Victoria St and said he was certain they supported him but he made the presentation on his behalf.

I’d suggest that if you are employing the services of this guy to do your public relations, you start looking elsewhere. He’s taken aim at one of the most popular organisations that has been seen in Christchurch post-quake, with some poorly constructed arguments. Surely any public relations advisor worth his salt would have kept his mouth shut.


EDIT: Via Lyndon Hood, David Lynch visits the Black Lodge


I’m going to be writing an occasional blog over at the Standard for the next few months. It will be similar to what I write here, but I think I’ll try and aim it more for a national, rather than local, audience. So keep an eye out – and I’ll probably post some links here too.

Also, did I mention we’re doing this next week?

WWDITS-smallCome along! You get to see a great movie AND support a good cause (me).

You may have seen a story in the Press this morning about the number of Comms staff at CERA. This isn’t the first time there has been a story about the number of people working in communications there, but it is the first time we’ve got an idea of what proportion of the organisation is actually involved in this. As you can see from the graph below, it is by far and away the most heavily skewed towards comms people:

Percentage comms staff of Government Departments

Percentage comms staff of Government Departments

The best part of the story was the last line:

A spokesman for Brownlee said the issue was an operational matter and needed to be directed to Cera. Sutton declined to comment.

How … ironic.

Screenshot 2014-06-13 12.08.37

The thing is, we’ve been through a lot here. The last thing we need is the government department that has been set up to help us leading us up the garden path. More vibrant than ever? Only if you ignore all of Christchurch’s history up to 2011. People don’t want to be lied to and patronised. People want to know what is going on in this place. Businesses need to know what is happening in the CBD, and when they can’t find out, they leave and go to Addington or Victoria St.

The problem for CERA is that it is a new department that has been set up in the Minister’s image. The line between the government and government department has been blurred, like when CERA went on a social media crusade for the National party last year. The slick graphics and speeches are all well and good, but Christchurch wants actions, not words.

So the World Cup has started! I jumped out of bed for the first time in a while, put on my All Whites shirt (never stop believing) and settled in for what was a pretty good game. Sure, dodgy decisions, bad keeping, but there was an comedy own goal from Brazil’s pantomime villain, and that fancy spray paint. Aside from when New Zealand flukes an appearance, I support France. I don’t really know why. They’re either amazing, or amazingly terrible. Their implosion in 2010 was almost as good as Zidane’s fantastic headbutt in 2006.

One of the leaders of the 2010 mutiny, wannabe Bond villain Franck Ribery, has been ruled out with injury, which is a massive plus. The Ribery-less Les Bleus demolished Jamaica 8-0 earlier in the week, and looked much better without him. I don’t think they will win it, but maybe leave after a comical on-field dustup between team mates in the quarter final.

Speaking of the French … the Press’s Cecile Meier has a column today which suggests some French fixes for our broken rental housing market:

Now let’s look at Billye Jean Rangihuna’s French double, Jeanne-Billois Roquefort. Her rent could only be increased once a year and the raise would be capped to a government-issued index (usually under 3 per cent) based on inflation.

At the end of her three-year rental contract, Roquefort’s landlord could hike the rent more, but only if it was significantly undervalued compared to market rates. To do so, they would have to give six months’ notice. Even then Roquefort could refuse the increase, in which case the landlord would have to go to a conciliation commission.

The French system arguably puts lots of pressure on landlords. But tenants are usually the more vulnerable party in the tenancy relationship and therefore need protection.

There is plenty of evidence that tenants in Christchurch are being exploited by the invisible hand of the market, and it has to stop. And speaking of French socialism:

A stunning finding of the report is that no one actually knows who holds the French debt. To finance its debt, the French state, like any other state, issues bonds, which are bought by a set of authorised banks. These banks then sell the bonds on the global financial markets. Who owns these titles is one of the world’s best kept secrets. The state pays interests to the holders, so technically it could know who owns them. Yet a legally organised ignorance forbids the disclosure of the identity of the bond holders.

Hence, the audit on the debt concludes, some 60% of the French public debt is illegitimate.

The author tracks a story of French debt that looks very similar to what has happened in New Zealand over the last generation. He posits an internationalism in which the working classes free themselves from the financialism that has obsessed Western governments for the last 30 years:

The nascent global movement for debt audits may well contain the seeds of a new internationalism – an internationalism for today – in the working classes throughout the world. This is, among other things, a consequence of financialisation. Thus debt audits might provide a fertile ground for renewed forms of international mobilisations and solidarity.

This morning, Councillor Glenn Livingstone posted this to Facebook:

Screenshot 2014-06-12 13.53.18

Then this story appeared on the Press website:

which provoked this response from Raf Manji:

So it looks like all that praying paid off.

One of my many hobbies on this site is to collect together to works of Peter Townsend, one of the rebuild’s greatest cheerleaders, and the head of the Employers Chamber of Commerce. Mostly they are about how the rebuild is “about to crank up” or that “you can smell the money”. This is a new favourite:

Everyone I talk to that is repairing their house or rebuilding their house is putting more capital in than the insurance company, because they’re putting betterment in. So you have $200,000 worth of damage to your house you’re going to put a new kitchen in, you’re going to put a new bathroom in for another $40,000-$50,000 and do above and beyond what the like-for-like replacement of your insurance policy will allow you to do.

Everyone Townsend talks to is putting in a new kitchen; whereas everyone I talk to on the streets of Ilam is worried about their landlord putting rent up, about the power bills for winter, about whether Housing New Zealand is going to kick them out. This really is a tale of two cities: the one where the quakes were a minor inconvenience resulting in a new master bedroom with an ensuite, and the one where rent has gone up 40% in the last year but there is still a queue of 50 lining up to lease it.

In a worrying development, the Press has joined up with the Taxpayers Union to push the latter’s asset sales agenda:

The Ratepayers’ Report found in the Canterbury region the Christchurch City Council was the worst-performing council in terms of operating expenditure, spending $3901 per ratepayer – well ahead of the national average of $3175.

“Worst performing” is an interesting term. I think they mean “spent the most money”. If a family of six spends $300 a week at the supermarket, and a retired couple spends $150, does that mean that the family of six are “worst performing”, or just that they have different needs? This is the sort of reductio ad absurdum rhetoric found in this piece. If only there was some major event that had happened in the city that had caused the council to increase it’s spending for some reason …

But wait! The CCC’s debt is set to increase as they take on the cost for the anchor projects of the rebuild. So to cut their cloth, the totally non-partisan Taxpayer’s Union recommends

The council data suggest that without more central government money, Christchurch City’s decision to keep assets such as the airport and Orion will need to be re-examined.

What a surprise. The CCC should sell off these assets, which produce a dividend that has kept rates in the city down, so we can build Brownlee’s egotistical anchor projects, like the Stadium and the Convention Centre – for which the business case remains non-existent.

The best-performing Canterbury council is Mackenzie District. It has the lowest average rates, the lowest operating group expenditure per ratepayer, the lowest group liabilities per ratepayer and the lowest staff to ratepayer ratio. “It appears to be a slick operation,” Williams said. “Ratepayers in Christchurch City and Waimakariri may want to consider why their councils do not appear to be providing the same value for money as Mackenzie District.”

The Mackenzie Country is a lovely place. It is also the home to a mere 4,000 people. So to compare the operation of New Zealand’s second biggest city to that of a district which has the same number of people as a well-attended speedway event is beyond a farce. Ratepayers in Christchurch City and Waimakariri may also want to consider whether they enjoy council services such as pools, gyms, kerbside recycling, cultural events and other such things which are provided in cities.

Speaking of the Mackenzie Country and the Taxpayers Union, yesterday I received a response to my OIA about the businesses cases used by the Crown Irrigation scheme. I asked for them to provide me with a business case for their decision to invest in the CPW scheme. The papers released by CIIL have almost every single word of substance redacted.

Screenshot 2014-06-11 11.11.49 Screenshot 2014-06-11 11.12.05

It’s a joke. So the taxpayer is putting $6.5m into an irrigation scheme, and we have no way of finding out how it is being spent, what the business case was, what the returns might be. Surprisingly, the silence from the Taxpayer’s Union over this unaccountable spending of taxpayer money has been deafening.

The Press reports that the demolition of Centennial Pool will begin next week, so that the construction can begin on the playground that was included in the Blueprint. I think this is a very, very bad decision. I don’t have a problem with the construction of a playground – it is probably one of the only things in the blueprint that has actually been held open for true, genuine consultation with the public. I just don’t think they need to take out the pool to build it.

Centennial Pool (from the Press)

The demolition of Centennial, as well as the previous demolition of QEII, means that there are now no public pools to the east of Colombo St. With the plan for the “Metro Sports Facility”, it looks like the money for what was QEII will be put towards a new complex in the western corner of the central city. This will mean that the west of the city has indoor pools at Northlands, Jellie Park, Pioneer Stadium and in the CBD, with additional outdoor pools at Halswell and Templeton. The outdoor pools remaining in the South-East – Waltham Lido and Lyttelton – are out of action, requiring quake repairs (they are only open for a couple of months a year anyway, due to Christchurch’s unforgettable summer weather). These pools aren’t just for recreation; they play a key role in teaching our children how to swim and keep safe in the water. It is irresponsible to pull down these facilities without any plan for how, where or when they will be replaced.

But aside from the wider issue of aquatic facilities, who decided that we needed to knock down a pool (a thing that kids like) to build a playground (a thing that kids like)? Surely we could have both. If someone at the CCDU had the brains, or the vision, or both, they could have integrated the pool into the wider playground campus. As Gerry seems obsessed with putting things in little precinct-shaped boxes, let’s call it “the Fun Precinct”. Families could go down to visit the pool for a swimming lesson, then reward the kids with a trip to the giant hippo slide next-door. It would increase the numbers of people using the space during the weekdays, when there shouldn’t be a whole lot of kids around.

It seems to me an example of CERA’s “blank canvas” mentality: wipe the slate clean and start again. Except here, as with most of the central city, the canvas isn’t totally blank, and doesn’t need to be. They could – and should – be thinking smarter, thinking bigger, and thinking about ways to integrate those buildings that are still left standing into their plans, rather than needlessly bulldozing them.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 805 other followers