Archives for posts with tag: Brownlee

And no, this isn’t about the Cathedral…

John Key was down in Christchurch yesterday, making some announcements about the CBD (which I might discuss later). He did his usual – poorly designed infographic with a picture of him, tweeted out. That’s fine, I’d expect that. What I didn’t expect was that CERA would retweet it.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 10.26.00 AM

Not once, but a number of times. But then, if you look at the CERA twitter account, it seems to spend a lot of time retweeting Key:

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 10.25.21 AMCERA have also, excitingly, just launched their own facebook page, as they took to twitter to tell us, on September 10, 2013. They posted this up on that page:

533717_515724291847327_362440013_nClearly, what the Prime Minister has to say is important to CERA and the recovery; however, CERA is a government department, and should remain apolitical. Posting National Party material through these channels crosses the line into political activism. Remember all those times when Brownlee has claimed that the opposition were “politicizing” the earthquakes? Well, here he is, using a massive government department to do exactly that.

Update: If you want to check the State Services guidelines, they’re here. Front page, it says

We must: – maintain the political neutrality required to enable us to work with current and future governments

Bob Parker’s campaign launch The cost sharing agreement between the Government and the council was finalised today. In a rather jovial meeting, Gerry, John and Bob divided up the pie and told us all what it’s going to cost. The Press has a very comprehensive summary of all the items and what is going to be paid for them. Of the $4.8 billion, central government is paying $2.9 billion, with the council taking the remaining $1.9 billion. All the joking around from Parker is meant to give the impression that the council got a good deal, thanks to the tough negotiating style of our mayor.


Someone even more cynical than me has written this for the NBR. The figures break down like this:

A detailed breakdown of the rebuild cost reveals the lion’s share of the money will be for work already under way on pipes and roads – a total of $2.9 billion, with $1.8 billion the best estimate of the Crown’s likely contribution, and $1.1 billion as the council’s share.

This is where most of the money goes – but the Crown isn’t doing it out of altruism. The cost sharing on the horizontal infrastructure was something agreed to between the government and any council (Crown pays 83 percent for roading, 60 percent for sewerage). It’s the following sentence which talks about the CBD spending which is interesting:

The balance will see the Crown fund $1.1 billion of projects in the central business district and the council $765 million.

 $1100 million to the Crown, $765 million to the council. So what is the Crown spending most of that money on? $481 million for the Frame i.e. land banking. Is it really legit for the government to include this money, as though it is an investment? I’ve railed against the frame since practically when it was announced, but this isn’t even about the stupidity of the idea. This is money that is going to be spent on property that the Crown is going to flick on quicklythey’ve already started the process. I think it’s pretty dishonest for the government to use a bookkeeping trick to make it look like they are spending more than they are. This is not $481 million being invested in an asset – it’s money going out of one account but coming back into another. If you take that figure out, the Crown’s contribution is actually more like $620 million – quite a bit less than the amount being asked of ratepayers.

Of that $620 million, the next largest single item is the Convention Centre, which is likely to go to a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), which could mean anything…

The Crown will lead the convention centre rebuild. It is hoping to secure private sector investment but has allocated $284m to the precinct.

While they are “hoping” to find a friend to come on board, it’s worth comparing it with the Sky City convention centre. That project is meant to cost $402 million, which breaks down to $315 million for the building, $87 million for the land. The Auckland one is meant to hold up to 3500 delegates, whilst the Christchurch one is meant to be around 2000. So a little more than half the number of delegates, but for a comparable price? ($284m vs $315m) The council was budgeting just $151 million for the Convention Centre – so getting an efficient PPP set up somehow means it’s going to cost an additional $130 million? Something smells fishy there.

If you take out the Frame and the Convention Centre, the amount the government is paying for projects that it is forcing on the people of Christchurch is actually pretty pitiful.

If you haven’t read Barnaby Bennett’s take on the Town Hall, you really should. It is a comprehensive summary of the argument that is well referenced and provides some much-needed perspective. He talks about the way Brownlee has framed the argument – and this should be something that echoes beyond just Christchurch, as he’s doing the same deceptive dance on Auckland transport. 

I would like us to not get caught up in the framing that Minister Brownlee is making of this.  It is only the CCDU that has set up this weird choice that either we have a Town Hall or an Arts Precinct.  Or as he puts it, ‘You can either have your old broken run down past it used by date Town Hall, or you can have a new state of the art shiny fantastic arts precinct.’  To which I’d reply ‘You can keep your world renowned Town Hall that has served the city so proudly for the past forty years and has some of the best acoustics in the world or you can have an uncosted sketch of an idea with no details, no business case, or no idea of the desired quality.’

My friend and fellow Cashmere Sweater Barnaby Bennett posted this on his Facebook page, and I asked him whether I could re-post it here, for those that don’t have the good fortune of being his friend (or those that haven’t taken a principled stand against the evils of Zuckerberg). Barnaby is working on his PhD, in temporary structures and architecture or something, I can never really pin it down. But he had a look at the CCDU blueprint, in relation to author Jane Jacobs’ four rules. Jacobs wrote “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961; seems like more than 50 years later, we’re still making the same mistakes. [Barnaby’s comments in brackets afterwards]

I think the Christchurch Blueprint breaks all four of Jane Jacobs’ rules!

“To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts four conditions are indispensable:

1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two…
[they are zoning the city into precincts]

2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.
[minimum development size is 7000m2]

3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.
[CERA has overseen the demolition of 80% of the city and seen no heritage plan developed 2 years later]

4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there…”

[Um, yeah. Housing and residential is only dealt with in a superficial fashion in the blueprint – JD]

― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

As seen with his behaviour around transport in Auckland, Gerry Brownlee seems to view “evidence” with an arrogant disregard, as nothing more than a nuisance.

I don’t need to tell you that the two-year anniversary of the quake is coming up. As I wrote about previously, Gerry is well aware of it, and is fast trying to turn what many people from Christchurch would describe as an example of torpid mismanagement into a PR win. His latest attempt is an optimistically titled press release, “Wellbeing survey reveals positive outlook“. Gerry has hand picked some stats that suggest that every thing down here is going just swimmingly. For those of us that don’t just read headlines, you can actually dive in and read the full survey. It’s not exactly as Gerry says.

The key to this survey is in the methodology. It was undertaken between August 29 and October 15 last year. 2381 people responded to the survey. 1156 of them were from Christchurch City, 618 from Selwyn District and 607 from Waimakariri District. So that means that of the people who did respond, more than half (1225) aren’t actually from Christchurch. I mean no disrespect to the people of Rolleston, Lincoln, Rangiora, Kaiapoi etc. I am sure they have had a hard time. But they don’t have the same issues that people who actually live in the city do. They haven’t had to deal with a lack of services, portaloos, red zoning, TC3 land, roadworks to the same extent that people who live in the city do.

The response rate to this survey was barely half – 52%. I would hazard a guess that if you were in the battered East of Christchurch, struggling through two snow falls in an broken shell of a house, answering some questions from CERA were lower on your list of things to do than they might have been for someone living on a lifestyle block in West Melton.

The survey does actually acknowledge this discrepancy, as early as Page 3:

As an overall observation:

Residents of Christchurch City rate their quality of life less positively than residents of Selwyn District and Waimakariri District

Higher proportions of Christchurch City residents have experienced issues as a result of the earthquakes that have had a strong negative impact on their everyday lives.

Yet the survey then merges these three population groups, and continues to extrapolate from the combined population for another 100 pages. If you get to the end of the report, you’ll find the populations of Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri. They are 289,000, 30,000 and 36,000 respectively. More than 80% of the adult population lives in Christchurch, and yet more than 50% of respondents come from less than 20% of the population, a section of the population that the survey shows have a more positive response in this survey. In the appendix to the report, it says that the survey has been “weighted” to factor in this bias. As it does not explain how, I remain dubious.* 

Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

The Herald pretty much ran the press release from CERA without digging down into the numbers. There is this sentence, for example:

When asked about their confidence in Cera’s decision-making, 68 per cent of respondents were very confident, confident or neutral.

Why is “neutral” included with “confident” and “very confident”? The percentage for neutral – 28% – certainly makes for a better headline for the Government. I would argue that if you wanted to, you could just as easily add the “neutral” numbers to the “not very confident” and “not at all confident” numbers, which would then give you 57% of people not confident in CERA. Or you could take out the neutral people all together, and you have 39% confident, and 29% not confident, which would be far more balanced.

This is a flawed survey, which almost half of participants failed to respond to. The government and their cheerleaders will try and spin it as best they can, but most people living in Christchurch want more than just PR. We want solutions to real figures such as 70% of quake claims not yet dealt with 2 years after quake.

* Here is the explanation of the weighting: 

Weighting increases the influence of some observations and reduces the influence of others. So, for example, while 618 or 26% of completed interviews came from Selwyn District, the population of Selwyn actually represents about 8% of greater Christchurch. Thus, the data was adjusted so that 8% of any ‘greater Christchurch’ result reported is based on the responses of Selwyn residents.

UPDATE: If I was to go and hand-pick some numbers from this survey (just look at Christchurch City, not “Greater Christchurch”) here are some I could highlight:

48% of people have experienced additional financial burdens due to the quakes

54% live day-to-day in an earthquake damaged home (22% of which describe this as a moderate or major negative impact)

39% of people have had moderate or major negative impacts on their day-to-day lives due to dealing with EQC / Insurance issues

43% of people have had moderate or major negative impacts on their day-to-day lives due to distress or anxiety caused by ongoing aftershocks

97% of people have experienced stress in the last 12 months that has had a negative effect on them

57% of people have experienced a decrease in their quality of life since the earthquakes

38% of people are not confident that decisions made have been in the best interests of Christchurch

I’ve let this blog sit, festering, gathering dust. I’m not good at maintaining regular postings. But it’s still here, and I’m still here, and I’m getting more and more despondent about the way the “rebuild” of Christchurch is going. I’m off work for medical reasons at the moment, so have a bit more time to write and rant. In this week, the lead up the the second anniversary of the February quake, I’m hoping to have a blog post up most days. In my head, I’ll cover schools, the central city, the local body elections and the media – but that could change when I start writing.

I have commended the Press for their reporting in Christchurch since the quakes started. They have done a great job reporting stories on a daily basis, and following that up with more in-depth reporting from the likes of John McCrone and Philip Matthews in the Mainlander section. Their reporting has held the council, EQC, insurance companies and especially the government to account – to the point where Gerry Brownlee called the paper “the enemy of the recovery“. 

“We’re getting into the sort of zone of, frankly, The Press again being the enemy of recovery. Happy for you to put that in the paper because I know a lot of people think it.”

So I was in equal parts surprised and disgusted by Michael Wright’s front page opinion piece on Saturday. He effectively writes what Gerry Brownlee wants him to say, not because it’s true, but because Gerry wishes it to be so.

“Christchurch’s central city red zone will henceforth be known as the ‘rebuild zone’, the minister said, and thus it was so”

There wasn’t any particular evidence to support this bold claim, though Wright insists that “Brownlee got the rhetoric just right”. Perhaps the truest words he writes are that “perception is reality”. Well, yes. And the Press is the main organ for the transmission of that perception. If they are just going to drop any pretence of critical thought and instead regurgitate the government’s talking points without questioning, then we are in for a tough time.

Perhaps the giveaway was in the second sentence: “a captive audience of more than 40 local and international journalists were on hand”. I don’t want our journalists to be captive. I want them to think about, to critically evaluate the statements coming from this man. This man, who has unparalleled powers in modern New Zealand political history. Who has increasingly made Christchurch his personal fiefdom. The one thing we have left to stop him is a free press – and I hope that in the run up to this week’s anniversary, we can trust them to do that.

There are echoes of the government’s attempts to redefine the word “rejuvenate” during the Schools closure announcements last year. This bizarre, Orwellian tendency to mangle the mother tongue has two very different exponents in Hekia Parata and Gerry Brownlee. One attempts to re-appropriate words through utter confusion, the other through flat-bat bullying. There is nothing rejuvenating about closing a school. Similarly, stating that we are now are “rebuild zone” does not actually build buildings; it doesn’t fix toilets or re-house people who have already been without adequate accommodation for two years or more now.

This is a transparent attempt to change the narrative around what has been both a natural and a political disaster in Christchurch, just in time for the PM to parachute in on Friday and steal the plaudits. As someone with huge concerns about the way the decisions in this city are being made, I am alarmed by this development. I want to see action, not cynical attempts at rebranding. I realise that people from outside of Christchurch are tired of what is going on down here, and that they’re probably keen on hearing that we’ve moved on from Red Zone to Rebuild Zone. It’s just a shame that it’s not true.

After what seems like half a year of trying, the pressure on Gerry Brownlee has finally seen him do something about the housing problem in the city. I say problem, because while critics call it a “crisis”, Brownlee still maintains that what we have are “difficulties”. He says housing difficulties, in the face of overwhelming evidence from the news media that has shown people living in what are frankly third-world conditions across the city, especially in the east. Many of those who are fortunate enough to have houses are paying exorbitant increases in rents, as the market tightens.

However, I’ve talked about the housing crisis before, and I don’t intend to go into it again here. What both interests and frightens me is the way Brownlee seems to be only selectively listening to the people on the ground. The CERA legislation created a powerful organisation, with a strong hierarchical command structure. This top-down approach is key to getting important decisions made quickly, and then executed in an appropriate time-frame. There are also downsides to taking such an approach. Because of the powers concentrated at the top of this hierarchy – powers which are the most over-arching ever given outside of wartime in this country – there isn’t a problem unless Gerry says there is a problem. Forget the reality – a crisis isn’t a crisis unless Gerry says it’s a crisis.

What this approach lacks is the flexibility to respond to a rapidly changing situation, the transparency to properly explain difficult decisions, and the compassion to appeal to the delicate states which so many people living in the city find themselves in. Brownlee has been portrayed as a bulldozer, a bully, a wrecking ball – and doesn’t seem to mind such analogies. There were times when that approach might have been appropriate – but right now, our city needs a softer touch.

Saturday afternoon, Cramner Square. A strange scene, that demonstrated the divides in this broken city. At one side of the park, a collection of fences and signs, part of the operation to ferry people through the CBD, to look at the damage, and the empty spaces. In the middle of the square, a colourful rally of people, for the majority of whom there is more than enough damage at home.


The rally was organised by WeCan, an emerging, activist community organisation. While there were speakers from Labour and the Greens (National and CERA were invited to speak, but declined), the heart and soul of the protest was the Reverend Mike Coleman. After speaking to the crowd in the square, he led the short march down to the CERA headquarters in Worcester Boulevard, where we read an open letter to the people of New Zealand. It touched on the number of sections available for displaced people, the inequity of paying out at rateable value, the numerous issues with insurance. Fairness – or the lack of it – was the theme that ran throughout. WeCan called for the establishment of an Independent Advocacy Commission, who could mediate and resolve disputes between property owners, insurance companies and the EQC.


The letter – which he symbolically hammered into a cross, evoking Martin Luther hammering his 95 theses to the church door – was addressed to all New Zealanders. It is a wake-up call, a reminder that just because Christchurch isn’t on the nightly news, that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. Given the amount of attention the National Party have given to the problem, one might suspect they wish it just would go away. Though they have “Rebuilding Christchurch” on one of their hoardings, that is about as detailed as their policy gets. Would Brownlee continue in his current role? Would they intervene in the property market to ensure people didn’t lose equity? Would they be prepared to introduce an earthquake levy, or raise taxes, to fund the massive investment in infrastructure that is clearly needed?


If National does form a government on Sunday, then we can expect that they will continue with their largely hands-off management of the recovery. This will see the continuing migration from the city, and within the city – the ghettoisation of the eastern suburbs. The divide between those for whom the earthquakes were a curious inconvenience and those who have lost almost everything will only get wider. As Rev. Coleman says in his letter – there is an elephant in the room at this election, and it is Canterbury.


A couple of thoughts on the Cera proposal, which came out yesterday. I’ve been reading through the press release and the Faq that came with it, and there are a few things that caught my eye.


Cera Structure

images always look best in late 90's powerpoint

CERA specifically cites these four examples of disasters as models for rebuilding:

Cyclone Tracey, Darwin, 1974

Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, USA, 2005

Black Sunday bushfires, Victoria, Australia, 2009,

Floods, Queensland, Australia, 2011

It is interesting to note that none of these disasters are earthquakes. One would have thought the Kobe earthquake in Japan would be a great case study, especially given how well many of the major buildings in Tokyo withstood the recent earthquake there. And if they can study the recovery from the Queensland floods of January, one would have thought that they could also look into some more recent earthquakes, such as the 2009 event at L’Aquila, Italy, or the disaster in Haiti last year. Surely there is something to be learnt from the massive quake in Japan too, where the damage was done by a tsunami rather than falling buildings (as an aside, people in Christchurch are rushing to say we should have a low-rise city; would you want a low rise city if a tsunami rolled off the pacific and you were in the CBD? We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this (probably a terrible cliche to evoke.))

The community forum is going to be a very contentious issue. You can almost hear the sounds of champagne corks popping in Fendalton Rd as “old Christchurch” plan what they are going to do when Gerry ‘hand-picks’ them for the job. Cue Brownlee issuing platitudes such as “they known Christchurch best” and they have “great connections to the business community”. What I thought was both interesting and sad was the sentiment in this article from the Press, in which members of the community board line up to book their seats at the table.

Riccarton-Wigram Community Board chairman Mike Mora said community board members would be “ideally placed” to consult with their communities and give feedback. However, they had been “pushed aside” after last month’s earthquake. “It’s very, very frustrating. In fact, we feel like cheats, because we can’t do the job we’ve been elected to do.”

I have a lot of sympathy for what Mora is saying – the role of community boards has been watered down over the last couple of decades to the point where there really is no point (and I say this as someone who ran for said useless position in the last election). While these people may be well-suited community advocates, wouldn’t it be better if Cera actually gave power back to the community boards? They were designed to be able to respond to local and community issues, but the Civil Defence have treated them as a hindrance, rather than a help, and have totally sidelined them. The demise of the community boards goes a long way to explain the rise of new community groups, and the umbrella organisation CanCERN. Communities that needed a voice, to share information and resources, have largely re-invented the wheel since the September 4th quake, creating genuine community links that the actually Community Boards can only dream of.

However, I don’t want to see the Community Forum stacked with frustrated, elected representative from the Community Boards, or even councillors, who have also been marginalised by CD. 20 people is not very many, when you start thinking about how many people will want to be part of it. Central city business owners, arts and culture representatives, ethnic groups (though Ngai Tahu has a separate role in the diagram), heritage people, architects, churches. It will be interesting to see just how ‘community’ is represented on the forum, once patronage has been dished out to all of Gerry’s friends.



Life under Cera looks like it will be just as bleak for residents and businesses as it is under Civil Defence control. Under a question “What about compensation for other losses people may suffer?” there is this answer:

“we consider there should be no compensation for government actions that result in: economic or consequential loss e.g. the inability due to the cordon to obtain access to carry on a business or fulfil a lucrative order (because such a decision
is taken in the wider interests of the community)”

For people like me, who live in the CBD and cannot get access to their property, nor claim insurance, this suggests that the Government doesn’t think it’s a problem, or if it is, they don’t think it’s their problem. This seems to leave a bunch of people – residents and businesses – who are prevented from trying to resume their ‘normal’ lives by the Government, but who Gerry is washing his hands of. Not his problem. Presumably I should have known that there was going to be an earthquake, and moved my life accordingly somewhere else.


Many citizens have criticised Gerry Brownlee’s stance on demolishing heritage buildings. This is unfair. Gerry knows about building construction – he was a high-school woodwork teacher before entering politics.

In these dark times we need decisive leaders that do not overthink the issues and waste time reading technical reports and listening to the advice of experts. In a hundred years, people will still be talking about Gerry.

Richard Stevens – Fendalton

This was the lead letter to the editor in the Press this morning. Gold.


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