There have been some very good, and very interesting, pieces about the rebuild in the last week or so, which I’ve collected up here. Peter Robb’s Total Rebuild, from the Sydney Morning Herald, gives a necessarily detached look at the rebuild from an Australian perspective. His insights into what happens behind closed doors are illuminating:

Don Miskell, a retired Christchurch landscape designer who is now CERA’s head of design, seemed nonplussed by my questions. He rattled off a summary of replies received in the city council’s “Share An Idea” survey. They showed that people wanted a compact, low-rise and green city – trees and grass, rather than renewable energy – with good public transport, bike paths, arts and sports facilities. He said he’d bought a bike himself a week earlier, and had really enjoyed riding home in the rain the night before.

Slightly closer to home, but again with a little distance, Charlotte Grimshaw writes about visiting the city from Auckland:

Broken-hearted Christchurch: you could certainly say it’s got more interesting. The residential red zone was poignantly beautiful in late summer sun, the wrecked houses by the pretty river weed-choked and overgrown. Past the keeled-over pillars of the Holiday Inn, you could look at whole streets sinking and decaying, returning to the earth. There was something to see here all right: after the natural disaster, a disaster of neglect.

You could only wander through it and marvel. How can those in charge justify this mess? What on earth does the Government think it’s doing?

The Press editorial from Saturday’s paper also weighs in on the growing feeling that there is a lack of vision in the rebuild at the moment:

The city must now combine ambitions and the collective aims expressed through Share an Idea and come up with a simple bold, defining vision. A new small-city vision that makes the most of what we have in our stunning South Island location.

Also from the Saturday paper, Philip Matthews’ has written an excellent summary of where the battle over the Cathedral is at. It ends with a tantalising political prospect, which could see the symbol of the rebuild forced back into the national political discussion where it belongs:

The political equation is quite simple, Anderton says. Whether it is National or Labour that needs Peters in September, a stable government could be purchased for $15m. Anderton’s line indicates just how small the sum is in the greater scheme of things.

“If it can be saved, why wouldn’t you?” he says. “The amount of money is relatively modest.”

Finally, a post that I wrote last Friday when everyone had clocked out for the week.

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.

 

Agropolis Urban Farm. Photo by Eroica Ritchie

 

A couple of times a week, I take a clik-clak container full of organic waste over to a compost heap, which is on the site of one of my old flats. This is Agropolis, on Poplar St. It is an urban farming initiative, that was launched at last year’s FESTA, and has grown – slowly, organically – over summer. We have about six raised beds, growing lettuces, rocket, tomatoes, cauliflower and other seasonal goodies. I don’t do much of the gardening stuff – I mainly do heavy lifting, spreading bark chips and building planters. But since we moved back into town in December, my partner and I have become a regular part of the Agropolis community.

So when I was reading through the almost advertorial rebuild lift-out that was in the Herald last Tuesday, I almost choked on my plowman’s lunch upon reading this story, which I assume was put there by the company in question, Aecom:

Last year, Aecom launched Agropolis, as part of a collaborative initiative between FESTA, Garden City 2.0, Aecom, A Local Food Project, Juliet Moore, Andreas Wesener (Lincoln University), Liv Worsnop (Plant Gang) and Rosie Brittenden (Christchurch Youth Council)

Hang on. Aecom launched Agropolis? I’ve asked some of the people who ran FESTA, and helped to get Agropolis off the ground, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Agropolis is a genuine, community-run project, that would still just be a crazy idea in someone’s head if it wasn’t for the determination and vision of people like Bailey Peryman, Jessica Halliday, Juliet Moore and others. For Aecom to claim that they launched it – the way the story is written, they make it seem like it was their idea – is a complete misrepresentation of the project. But wait – it gets worse:

Corporate social responsibility initiatives such as Agropolis can draw on the strong sense of community among Christchurch residents and businesses.

Corporate social responsibility initiatives such as Agropolis. Come again? The Agropolis that I am a part of is a community-run garden, with volunteers who give their own time and money to try and make Christchurch are more liveable, sustainable place. I am not part of some faceless-corporation’s Corporate social responsibility initiative. I am not blistering my hands at the end of a rake so that some guy in an Auckland boardroom can feel slightly less guilty whilst he necks his fourth macchiato of the day.

Yes, Aecom contributed money to the project – I understand it was a number with three zeroes, so probably less than what they spent on the staff Christmas party. Probably less than what it cost to get this “story” placed in the Herald. I also understand that they were incredibly difficult to deal with, trying to place their legal and workplace regulations onto a small volunteer organisation. To me, this represents the worst aspects of big corporates exploiting the emotional pull of the earthquakes for their own purposes, throwing a token amount of money at a group, then turning around and claiming that they were instrumental in its establishment and success. Agropolis is not a corporate social responsibility initiative. It is a community, collaborative, transitional project that as removed as possible from that hollow, meaningless phrase.

 

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.

As many of you will know, I ran, unsuccessfully, to be the Labour candidate for Christchurch Central. While I’m disappointed not to have been chosen, the party has picked someone who will make an excellent MP for the electorate in Tony Milne. I’m proud of the campaign that I ran, and the effort that I put in. I am post proud of the speech that I gave on the day, which I am reliably informed was a rousing call to arms. In lieu of a video from said speech, I present the text from it below.

Good afternoon, my name is James Macbeth Dann and I’m here to talk to you about why I think I should be the next Labour candidate for Christchurch Central.

I’d like to acknowledge our party president, Moira Coatsworth, our former mayor, people’s choice councillors and community board members, and Megan Woods. I’d also like to acknowledge my parents, grandmother, aunt and uncle, as well as my partner Hannah and her family.

It is my belief that Central is the most important electorate in the country at the moment; it is a symbol of the destruction wrought by the quakes which has been beamed around the country and the world – but it is also a symbol of the failure and broken promises from the National-led government. Brownlee and his accomplices have presided over a man-made disaster, far worse that the one caused by mother nature, and I believe that I am the best person to lead Labour and Christchurch Central towards a resolution.

The rebuild should have been an opportunity to show how we, as a nation, can create a new vision for a fairer, more equal, more sustainable way of living in the 21st century, and yet this chance has been squandered. The hope and optimism that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the terror has now dissipated, almost completely, under the weight of disappointment with a lack of progress, frustration and obfuscation from EQC and insurance companies. Thanks to the resounding success of the People’s Choice team at last year’s local body elections, we now have a council that are ready to address the realities which the city faces. Despite being thrown a hospital pass by the previous administration, Lianne Dalziel and her council are trying to approach the significant issues the council faces with a maturity and responsibility not seen often in this city, post-quakes. Their approaches have fallen on deaf ears. I believe that the parliamentary opposition can no longer afford to stay silent on these issues: we need to provide more support for the council, who are of course representing the people of this city.

Further to this, Labour needs to start outlining what it will do differently if and when it forms a government after the next election. Would we continue with CERA in it’s existing format? How would we improve EQC, or work with insurance companies to ensure a better outcome for all parties involved? What is our position on the suburban expansion into the fertile farmland around the city, and the impacts it will have on our transport infrastructure? Would Labour support the anchor projects as they stand currently on the Blueprint, and if not, what would we do differently? After asking myself these questions for many months, I decided that the best way to have them answered was to put my name forward and ask the party as a whole.

I grew up in the south-west of the city, in an idyllic semi-rural setting. After my schooling at Hoon Hay Primary, Manning Intermediate – a victim of Parata’s needless restructuring – and Cashmere High School, I went on to Otago University. Here I studied for a BSc in Biochemistry, as well as a BA in Classics. I then returned to Christchurch, where I completed a Masters in Cellular and Molecular Biology. It was during this time that I first got involved with Labour in the Port Hills electorate. I’ve been helping Ruth Dyson and her team since before the 2008 election, and have been Chairperson of the Port Hills LEC since 2010. Working with Ruth, Martin and others has taught me invaluable experience on not just how to run a campaign, but how to run a winning campaign. But now, it’s the time for me to come back to Christchurch Central.

I’ve lived in Central for much of the last decade. I would have been a voter here at the last election, were it not for the quake destroying my flat on Lichfield St. It also took out the place I lived before that, in Cashel St, and the one before that, in Poplar Lane. But now, my partner and I are back living in town. We both walk to work – which is equal parts depressing and exciting. Every day, buildings are coming down, and the plants are getting slightly taller. As the plants grow, so does the anger – anger at the lack of progress, anger at the government prioritising pet projects over people, anger as we come to realise that dreams we had of rebuilding a better Christchurch are fast slipping from our grasp.

Every morning when I leave my house, I’m confronted by the broken mess on High St, the old McKenzie and Willis. So much history and heritage, propped up by struts and shipping containers. A reminder of both the city a hundred years ago, and the city three years ago. A monument to creativity, and to everyday, human stories. The quake wiped these buildings off the map, but the government’s inaction has written them out of our cultural history.

Under Helen Clark’s leadership, the arts and culture portfolio was a personal interest to her. Since then, we have struggled to get much cut through in this area. Where were we when so many of the cities beautiful heritage buildings were pulled down? I would like to see the Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio once again be as strong as it was under Helen, and my experience will be useful towards that. I’ve spent a decade making, releasing and performing independent music, up and down the country. I know what its like to be a part of this small industry, an industry that is so vital to our identities as New Zealanders. I’m also well connected in the contemporary and visual arts scene within the city. I’m good friends with a number of artists, curators and practitioners, and a board member of the Physics Room, the South Islands’ only artist-run contemporary arts project space.

Along with music and visual arts, I’ve had a key role in a number of the transitional projects that have brightened up our city since the quakes. I was the first artist to perform at the very first Gap Filler, held on the old South of the Border site on Colombo St, in November 2010. Since then, I’ve stayed involved with a range of transitional projects, including FESTA and the urban farming project Agropolis. While there are many things about this city that can be frustrating and bleak at times, the creative, dynamic energy that is best expressed through these unexpected ways in something that assures me that the future of the city is still one of positivity and progress.

The redrawn central will be an electorate of communities and contrasts. In the south, it will start at the Heathcote, the river that runs past my parent’s back yard. The electorate then moves through Beckenham to Sydenham, where my grandparents raised four boys on a plumber’s salary. In the north we have St Albans, where my partner’s sister lives with her two children, around the corner from the house where my mum grew up. Slightly across to the east is Shirley Boy’s High School, where my father has taught for over 30 years. But in the middle is an aching gap, a mess of gravel and road cones where a city once stood. This is where I live.

Central has been a starting point for some brilliant Labour MPs. Geoffrey Palmer was one of the best legal minds to ever step foot in the house – and his long shadow still hangs over the party. Lianne Dalziel showed after the quakes just how valuable a strong, vocal, passionate local representative can be – and now she’s one of our brightest hopes for cleaning up the mess at the CCC. When Tim Barnett was the MP, he promoted important social legislation, such as the prostitution reform bill. Christchurch Central has had a long tradition of charismatic, visionary MPs, and this is a tradition in which I want to follow.

My writings on my site, rebuildingchristchurch, have been read 10’s of thousands of times, all around the world. I’ve written over 100,000 words in almost 300 posts since September 2010. This isn’t just me talking to my keyboard. The success of the site has seen my writing feature in the Press, the Herald, and have a column in the Christchurch Mail. The site has also been picked up by the Guardian, as the only New Zealand blog to feature in their Guardian Cities site. So what, you might say. Well, I’d argue that this is important. The Labour Party hasn’t enjoyed the greatest run in the media of late – including some mistakes of our own making. I already know how to work with the media, to write a speech, a blog or a press release. I know how to write something tailored to a particular audience. I know how to get cut through on twitter, or how to get reach on Facebook. These are skills that the party desperately needs right now, and not only do I bring them, but I can work to up skill others.

I want to run a campaign that puts the rebuild back into the political discussion. Now is the time for the opposition to offer a real alternative, to step up and let people know that there is a point of difference between us and the failed policies of Brownlee and Key. On February 23rd, 2011, John Key said this:

On behalf of the Government, let me be clear that no one will be left to walk this journey alone. New Zealand will walk this journey with you. We will be there every step of the way. Christchurch; this is not your test, this is New Zealand’s test. I promise we will meet this test.

More than 3 years on, with thousands still struggling with EQC and their insurance companies, our most vulnerable people being told that the “free market” will sort out their housing issues, and with a central city that looks more like a war zone than a rebuild zone, I think we can say that this is a test which Key has failed. It’s time for a change, and I believe I’m the right man to usher that change in.

What are our priorities? Should we be building a $500 million stadium when the Crusaders can’t fill their temporary one on a week by week basis? Is it fair to take the money from two pools in the east – Centennial and QEII – and put it towards one complex on the south west of the city? But for me, the biggest outrage is the Eastern Frame, not far from here. The Government is spending over $600m of taxpayer money with the express purpose of limiting land supply, so that land owners within the frame don’t see their portfolios lose too much value. This shows exactly where this government’s priorities lie; they will spend hundreds of millions to maintain the real estate portfolios of their rich lister mates, whilst residents in the suburbs shiver towards a fourth winter post-quake. It’s socialism for the rich, but capitalism for the poor. This is John Key’s New Zealand, but it’s a world away from the egalitarian, caring state in which he was raised.

I don’t want to live with another 3 years of a Key Government. Even worse, I don’t want to suffer through another 3 years of Brownlee botching recovery. But we aren’t going to change this government without changing ourselves. We need to be bigger and bolder. We need to be braver. Most of all, we need to be better. Better than the Nats, better than the Greens. Better than we are at the moment. It’s no secret that Labour lost the last election in Christchurch. Central was held by Labour for 65 years until 2011 – but that wasn’t the worst result. No, that would be Labour’s performance in the Party vote. We got 26.7% across the city – which is even less than our dismal return nationally. The boundary changes are better for Central than they are for some other electorates, but that doesn’t mean that we can be complacent. In Beckenham, which is proposed to be added, Ruth’s personal popularity saw her get 44% of the candidate vote. However, Labour got fewer party votes than National. We got fewer party votes than the Greens. We got 22% – a percentage that we associate with Tory strongholds like Halswell and Fendalton.

If Labour is to have any chance at this election, then we need to win back not only Central, but the party vote across the city. This will be no easy feat – but the government’s mismanagement of the rebuild has left the door ajar; we, as a Labour team, need to swing that door wide open, so that there is no-one in the country who is not aware of National’s shameful neglect. We need to reach out to the communities that have become disengaged with Labour – and disengaged with politics – and show them that this is a party that has the ideas, the conviction, and the people to look out for them.

If you support me, I can promise you this: I will bring you new members. People from the Greens. People from National. People who fell out of love with the Labour Party in the 1980s and haven’t forgiven us. People who are disengaged and don’t think politics is for them. I’ll bring them in. I’ll bring in money. I’ll throw garage sales and movie nights and art auctions. I’ll hit up my neighbours, workmates, and friends. I’ll make sure we have enough money to run the campaign that we need to run.

I’ll hit the streets. From Sydenham to St Albans, from one end of Colombo St to the other. I’ll knock on every door that I can. Most importantly, I promise you this; I will win back Christchurch Central for Labour, by running on a platform that reflects what Labour is about. I’ll put people before pet projects; communities before convention centres, and equality back into EQC. The earthquakes stopped Christchurch’s heart, and the National Government has done little to get it started again. If you support me, I’l put the heart – the people, the caring, the relationships back into Christchurch Central, and in doing so, back into the Labour Party as well.

 

From the Save the Majestic facebook page:

ATTENTION ALL MAJESTIC SUPPORTERS: We are planning a demonstration for THIS THURSDAY AT 1PM, in response to the news of CCDU’s decision to demolish the Majestic. We will be stationing ourselves outside the Majestic Theatre, banners and placards in hand, ready to show that Christchurch wants to save the Majestic. Please come and show your support, your presence will make a huge impact, and spread the word as much as you can. The more people we can get along on the day, the more we can show that we will not take this decision lying down, and that the Majestic needs to be saved for the benefit of Christchurch! More details to follow soon.

Dr Ian Lochhead has written about the importance of the Majestic. Almost 50 years ago, on June the 27th, 1964, the Beatles played the last show of their one and only New Zealand tour at the Majestic. While “the Beatles played there” may not be the best excuse to save a building, it’s a million times better than “making the road 9m wider” – which is the reason being given to bowl the building. If you’re in the vicinity, I hope you’ll join me and others at the theatre, this Thursday at 1pm.

One of the government’s main anchor projects, is increasingly looking like a farce. The Press reports that there is now a grand total of one company bidding to build the convention centre:

Five groups, out of 23 initial responses, were asked to submit proposals for the $284 million precinct – one of the Government’s key blueprint anchor projects – to the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) … The Press understands (Australia-based infrastructure business Plenary Group) Plenary is the only bidder left.

The CCDU have repeatedly stressed the importance of a convention centre. The tourism industry has described it as “pivotal”. The shortlist of five was drawn up in late 2012, and reported on in early 2013. That is well over a year ago – which seems like a pretty long time to be on a “shortlist”. In June of last year, Alan Trotter said he expected an announcement on the convention centre “soon“. The CCDU aimed to have the first sod turned on the site in 2013. After that deadline whizzed by, the viability of project is increasingly being questioned. If they read reports from the US, they might question whether they should be building convention centres at all.

The big problem around the convention centre – and this is one of the main criticisms of the Blueprint plan as a whole – is that it is intricately linked to a number of other projects. The money-spinning part of the convention centre was to be the associated hotels. However, these became a less viable proposition when the council refused to bowl the Town Hall in favour of the “performing arts precinct”. With a smaller arts precinct, and potentially a smaller convention centre, there is likely to be less demand for hotel rooms. The developer of the hotels were going to be offered an advantage, by being permitted to build without the 7-storey height limit. Christchurch’s richest man, Philip Carter, expressed an interest in being said developer. It’s also worth remembering that the mega-convention centre is the reason why the central library is to be demolished and built somewhere else, for almost 10 times the cost of simply repairing it.

Which brings me to my main point: I have a suggestion for Minister Brownlee. It’s a solution that can save money, save a building, save time, and save face. What we should be doing is converting the old Government Life building into a convention centre.

IMG_1890The Government Life building isn’t many people’s favourite building. I kind of have a soft spot for it, and as the new City Council building has shown, mid-century modernist buildings can be successfully re-purposed. Before the quake it was in a state of disuse, home to pigeons and artist studios for Tony De Lautour and Mike Hewson, amongst others. Hewson did this fantastic work on the back-side of the building:

Hewson Government Life

What do we need in a convention centre? The old one on Kilmore St wasn’t much more than a two-storey tilt-slab barn, with adjustable partitions on the ground floor and some small rooms on the first floor. It cost $15 million to build in 1997. I’m no big-city architect, but surely it would be possible to fit out the Government Life building so that it can host a couple of thousand people, house some smaller rooms and maybe the offices for VBase (the company who runs conferences for the Council.) It may not be the most glamourous building, but it does have the best location in town. And on top of that, the guy who owns it – Philip Carter – happens to be one of the people the government wants to build hotels. This would save not one, but two buildings, as it would spare the old Central Library from the wreckers ball. It would save time, and would prevent a building-sized load of waste going to the landfill.

 

 

One of Amy Adams’s major projects is the reform of the RMA. Rob Hosking has an interesting profile on her and her reforms. It’s worth considering the Federated Farmers response to these proposed changes. Here is a press release from about a year ago, when the change proposals were announced:

The proposed reform is closely aligned to Federated Farmers 2008 reform package.

Federated Farmers has for a long time tried to get the balance right between what the public wants to protect and what that means to someone who wants to use their land. The RMA in our view currently leans too far towards protection. Our members will welcome the proposed inclusion of “the benefits of the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources,” in a revised section 6.

A newly drafted section 7, focussing on the efficiency of council process, could require councils to consider “an appropriate balance between public and private interests in the use of land”. Every council should ask itself that same question every time a decision is made.

The changes that Adams is proposing are “closely aligned” to the reforms that Federated Farmers asked for in 2008. According to the Feds, the current RMA “leans too far towards protection” and they welcome wording which euphemistically refers to efficient use of resources, and the dropping of the phrase “the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values”. These proposed changes have been criticised as shifting the balance too far towards the economy, at the expense of the environment. One of the most prominent critics was no less than the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright. Here is a joint release from 50 councils who submitted on the changes (ECan is notably absent from the group). The submission notes “strong concerns raised by the majority of submitters that proposed changes will harm the environment”. Forest and Bird weren’t exactly keen on it either:

The proposed weakening of the environmental safeguards in the Act’s purposes and principles are disappointing, unfounded and unrelated to the government’s objectives for simpler and consistent planning that leads to greater housing affordability.

Nor were Fish and Game, who commissioned Sir Geoffrey Palmer – the original architect of the RMA – to write a report on the changes.

In his report for the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, Sir Geoffrey’s expert analysis clearly shows that the Government’s proposed changes ‘will significantly and seriously weaken the ability of the RMA to protect the natural environment and its recreational enjoyment by all New Zealanders’

There is widespread opposition from a broad-range of groups about the impact that these changes will have on our environment. The common theme seems to be that these changes are designed to make it easier and faster to extract resources (read: water). So is the Minister of the Environment acting in the best interests of Federated Farmers, or herself? Or are they one and the same?

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