Archives for posts with tag: CCC

The Press ran a feature at the weekend that looked at the City Council’s finances, and the man who has a lot of the responsibility, Raf Manji. Undoubtedly, this is a very complicated subject, but since the release of the Cameron Partners report it has been simplified down to “we have to sell assets.” That’s not the only conclusion that one could reach from reading the report, but it is one that suits the government, who have been trying to sell off council assets since pretty much as soon as the quakes started, almost four years ago. However, John McCrone does go and talk to someone else, Christchurch accountant Cameron Preston. Between the two of them, they do a good job of explaining how we got into this situation:

On the infrastructure repairs, the council’s position was that a total of $3.4b of public works was needed to bring Christchurch’s roads and pipes back to their pre-quake level of service. But KordaMentha notes the Government unilaterally capped its “60 per cent” contribution at $1.8b. A maximum figure was named. Once the council’s 40 per cent share was calculated off that, it effectively lopped $400m off the infrastructure budget, bringing the agreed spend back to $3b.

Some 83 road, sewer and water projects got axed from the council’s priority list to make this work.

However, now – because the money actually does need to be spent says the council – the missing millions have just reappeared to haunt the accounts as the largest part of its $800m balance sheet black hole.

So $400 million went missing from the infrastructure budget from the start, and everyone knew that it was needed. The government knew it was needed, and knew that there was no room in the CCC’s budget. They knew that if the CCC were to act responsibly, they would have to find this $400 million, and that in doing so, this would create a “black hole” and a “crisis”. Then the pressure goes on the council, and the “sensible heads” like Manji to do the “reasonable thing” and sell assets. Job done. The $400 million to raise from asset sales is suspiciously similar to the $400 million that went missing from the infrastructure budget in the cost sharing agreement.

Brownlee, Parker and Joyce, put the final touches on burying the council

the government and council in happier times

But what about the other $400 million in the council’s $800 million block hole, you might ask? Well, you might like to consider some other items that were forced upon the council in the cost-sharing agreement. $253 million for a stadium (a project that will be controlled by the Crown, not the council that is paying for it). $147 million for the Metro Sports Centre – another council-funded, Crown-controlled asset. And funnily enough, that’s $400 million right there.

This isn’t a crisis; it’s a bait and switch. The government has skimped on infrastructure, and then forced the council to spend money on assets with weak or non-existent business cases. They’ve forced the council into a corner, and are now trying to tell us the only way out is asset sales. It’s not. They’ve trimmed money from the rebuild budget so that they could make their surplus, and then turn around and say they can afford to spend $300 million on a behemoth of a conference centre.

This “crisis” is a key example of just how this government are running the rebuild, and a strong signal of how they plan to continue if given another term. We can’t afford another 3 years like this. Every vote for Labour in Christchurch is a vote that says that we want an inclusive, people-focussed recovery; every vote for me in Ilam sends a signal to John Key that the rebuild isn’t working.

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.

 

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.

The Press reports on the Council’s finances:

Council finance committee chairman Cr Raf Manji said he was adamant that ratepayers would not have to wear any extra financial burden as a result of a forecast increase in the council’s operating deficit. The council was forecasting an operating deficit in the 2013/14 year of $17.5 million but it is now likely to be $26.9m in the red by the end of this financial year.

While the numbers aren’t great, it is so positive to see someone with financial acumen in charge of this. Cr Manji seems to have jumped into the business of the council with energy and intelligence – such a contrast to the last couple of terms. But the best part of this story is the final line:

Cr Jamie Gough said the performance report made depressing reading.

This shouldn’t be so depressing for Cr Gough – he was, after all, part of the council that presided over crisis after crisis. He voted in support of Parker and Marryatt, and somehow, is the only councillor to survive at the ballot box. What should be more depressing for Gough is that in 3 months, Cr Manji has done more than Gough managed to do in a whole 3 year term.

A couple of odds and ends from the Press today. Firstly, Johnny Moore’s column, in response to his column last week asking why we’re so apathetic. There are a number of reasons for this, but one that struck me is that the sprawl of the city works quite well in countering the concentration of people that you need for a vibrant protest. This was a problem before the quakes, but in the few occasions where we could put a critical mass of people into a smallish area, that was often enough to start attracting more people. That said, 10’s of thousands of people poured into Hagley Park to see Christmas in the Park, so I guess it still happens if it’s the right cause.

Secondly, the cost-sharing agreement between the council and the government seems to be under a bit of strain. While on the one hand, it could result in the CCC being forced into selling off assets to pay for things (which I think would be bad) it could also lead to the council questioning some of the projects that the previous council prioritized, such as the stadium, convention centre and building a new library, rather than repairing the old one (which I think would be good.) It certainly seems like this issue is in a state of flux at the moment.

This is a cross-post of my most recent piece, which went up at the Daily Blog on Saturday.

A change of seasons, and a mysterious smell hangs in the air over Christchurch. No-one quite knows what it is. Could it be the change of council, alongside the change in the seasons? Is this the Canterbury Spring? In one of the least surprising elections of all time, Lianne Dalziel coasted into the mayoral chambers without even breaking a sweat; along with her came a swag of new councillors, many from the left, many with some innovative new ideas. It wasn’t just talk though – one of her first actions was to put a stop to some of the excessive spending that seems to have characterised the arrogant, out-of-touch attitude of the Parker-led administration. Just this week, the first council meeting was opened up to the sunlight of the livestream. Not much happened, but it was the principle of the thing. We could watch nothing happen, from the comfort of our own homes. We could watch it later, if we had something else to do, like, say, work.

The council isn’t the only thing that is showing signs of changing – the big man may be for turning. Incoming councillor Raf Manji is leading the voices questioning the wisdom of the “green frame”. I’ve written about it before, but this is the large amount of land that was going to be bought up and converted into green space on the centre-east part of the CBD. Except now the green elements are being watered down, with buildings and projects being added. The grand artifice of the blueprint, with it’s digital flyovers and shiny brochures, is starting to crumble. The revelations about EQC intentionally excluding people from it’s surveys was not taken well by Gerry, who has been less than supportive of his chief executive, Ian Simpson. Even the recovery’s most vocal cheerleader, Peter Townsend from the chamber of commerce, has admitted that we are only 3-5% of the way through the rebuild. Coming up to 3 years after the February quake, that simply isn’t good enough.

In the middle of this dynamic time, the Labour party made the bold choice to have it’s annual conference in Christchurch. I was on the organising committee for the conference, and it certainly wasn’t easy to hold it here. We could have done it somewhere else, and it would have been much, much easier for everybody. But we stuck with it, and made sure it happened here – because it meant something to the party, to give something back to the city. The organising committee was then rewarded by the party for their work hosting, with some bold policy announcements which will help the city get out of this rut.

The announcements at conference – KiwiAssure, plus extra Kiwibuild in the east, red zone temporary accommodation and the New Brighton revivatlistation – are all designed to benefit Christchurch East, but the also single the end of the phoney war that has been going on over the rebuild. “Don’t politicise the rebuild” has been the catch-cry since February. These announcements show that Labour isn’t afraid to make some bold decisions. The Christchurch East by-election is high stakes, for both Poto Williams and David Cunliffe. A win onNovember 30 wont just be a vindication of the change of leadership; it will be the next step towards winning back Christchurch, and ultimately the Treasury benches, in 2014.

Finally, just 22 years after Al Gore invented the internet, the Christchurch City Council has taken the on-ramp and is now hooning down the information super highway. Yes, we have live streaming!

It’s probably gonna be real boring, but it’s the thought that counts, right? The stream is cutting in and out a bit for me – but a few teething problems are to be expected. Have a look here.

The transport plan for central Christchurch has finally been released, and it’s another piece in a rather underwhelming jigsaw puzzle. There are a few things that are going to piss off some people – Tuam St being changed to a one-way street, whilst Kilmore, Salisbury and Lichfield St are reverted to two-way from their current one-way. Also, the speed limit for the “core” of the CBD will be dropped to 30km/h – though as Eric Crampton pointed out on twitter, that’s effectively what we have now.

While the plan says lots of nice things about cycling and pedestrians, call me cynical (go on, do it. I dare you) but I can’t help but be underwhelmed by this announcement. The transport plan on it’s own won’t do much to revitalize the inner city, but then, what will? There are two things in the plan that I do have problems with – the bus exchange, and the widening of Manchester St. The bus exchange is going to go onto the Tuam St site of the old CCC / Millers building – which is a magnificent building which could and should be saved, not knocked down to create a bus terminal. Secondly, the widening of Manchester St will see a bunch of buildings torn down – some of the last remaining ones in the CBD, as well as ones that have been built since the quakes – so they can get a bus lane in. Manchester St was very prone to traffic jamming pre-quakes, so I’m not convinced that running buses down it will sort that issue out.

It will be interesting to see how the new Council responds to this plan, and whether they agree with all the aspects of it. After all, they – not the government – are ultimately the ones who are going to have to administer it.

That’s a relief. Andrew Turner has been elected to council from the Banks Peninsula ward, with a lead of 5 votes after specials were counted. That means that the People’s Choice have their 6 councillors confirmed – a great result.

I’ve not had much to write about this week – it’s the calm after the storm really. Dalziel seems to be getting on to things well, even the noises coming out of Brownlee are positive for a change. Sure, it’s only early days, but I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. 

The red tide is sweeping Christchurch; barricades are going up in Hereford St, the hammer and sickle has been raised above the council chambers. Or has it? Without wanting to down-play the success of the left in the local body elections, I think it’s worth tempering the enthusiasm. Somewhat.

So what happened? Well, Lianne Dalziel won the mayoralty with a commanding majority and a good return. It is a strong mandate (I’m not going to say “awesome” as I think she’s said that enough already). There was a worry that the non-contest for the mayoralty would lead to a low turnout; I think it was important that Dalziel got a good number of votes, and she did. It was just a shame that she didn’t get to go up against Bob Parker – with the backlash against the Marryatt-team, he would have got his ass handed to him on a plate. While some will eulogise his two terms in charge, I would hope that history remembers him for more than just the Orange Parka. He showed media savvy and leadership for about 3 months in September 2010; the mood was already turning against him in early 2011 before the February quake. He led well in the wake of that disaster; there might have been 12-15 months of his two terms in which he performed competently, the remainder was pock-marked with poor decisions – the Henderson deal, the Ellerslie deal, the Marryatt saga and the building consents debacle, to mention but a few.

At the council level, there will be 9 new faces – six of them from the People’s Choice team. I don’t want to detract from the result, but need to put a few caveats on it. Firstly, the Banks Peninsula result is at this point to close to call – with Andrew Turner ahead by just 5 votes. Once special votes have come in, I’d expect it will still be close, and that it will proceed to a recount. So let’s say there are 5 PC councillors. It’s worth remembering that in 2010, we had 4 PC councillors – Yani Johanson, Glenn Livingstone, Jimmy Chen and Chrissie Williams, who resigned mid-term. Johanson, Livingstone and Chen have retained their seats, as well as Phil Clearwater in Spreydon-Heathcote and Pauline Cotter in Shirley-Papanui. Clearwater did well, but was helped by the two long-serving incumbents stepping down. Cotter was assisted by the voters of Shirley-Papanui punishing Ngaire Button and Aaron Keown for their abysmal record at council.

So while I’m not trying to detract from the result – which is fantastic – I think suggestions that Christchurch has “gone left” and is punishing the government are premature. This was an extraordinary election, in which the electorate has punished Parker’s so-called “A Team”; Keown, Button, Claudia Reid and Helen Broughton were thrown out at the ballot box, whilst Sue Wells and Barry Corbett had the political nous to see the writing was on the wall months ago, and chose not to stand. Jamie Gough is the only councillor to survive this ballot, which shows just how bleak the Fendalton-Waimairi ward is.

Possibly the biggest casualty has been the centre-right “independent” groupings. While People’s Choice is openly Labour, in Christchurch the “National-in-drag” grouping was Independent Citizens. That was then rebranded as “iCitz”. Then there was the split, with Ngaire Button leaving to form her own independent non-political political party City First with Aaron Keown. Gough was the only councillor to return on the iCitz tag; Claudia Reid and Helen Broughton both lost their seats, and as mentioned before, but I will gleefully mention it again, City First got precisely zero (0) councillors. I assume that the right will try and rebuild their presence at the local body level; they may want to look at what Labour has done with the People’s Choice.

That said, I’m not convinced that the People’s Choice did that well. In two wards where I thought they could or would pick up a second council seat (Burwood-Pegasus and Hagley-Ferrymead), they didn’t. In each of these wards, People’s Choice had a high-profile councillor seeking re-election (Livingstone and Johanson) along with a council vacancy (Peter Beck and Tim Carter). A strong Labour presence on the ground in these wards sadly didn’t translate to a win for either Robyn Nuthall or Tracey McLellan, who would have been bold, female voices on Council (only 3 of the 13 councillors are women; time to talk about man-ban again?) So while the People’s Choice team should be satisfied with the effort, they should be wary of getting too carried away with the results.

To build on them in 2016, it will be critical that our councillors perform well. Given their 5, maybe 6, seats, People’s Choice should be able to lay claim to the deputy mayoralty. While Johanson and Livingstone are the most senior of the team, I would suggest that maybe Clearwater is the best choice. Though he will be learning on the job about being a councillor, he has a long history of representation at the community board level. On top of this, he has been instrumental in leading the People’s Choice organisation for quite some time, alongside Community Board member Paul McMahon. They have been a superb job to keep the organisation running, rebuilding it from the ashes of the old Christchurch 2021 group – which almost fell apart on a couple of occasions. He knows how to manage people and egos, and would be a calm, sensible voice in what will be a very challenging transitional period.

The only other option I can see for deputy would be Vicki Buck, who won a council seat with the largest return of any candidate. However, there is some animosity between her and the People’s Choice camp, so while I’m sure she would bring a wealth of experience as a former mayor, it might be a bit “back to the future” for a supposedly forward-looking council. The Press’s favourite, Raf Manji took the second Fendalton-Waimairi seat, and will be interesting to see how he performs this term. I will be watching closely to see how Dalziel goes in working with the fresh faces like Manji, Ali Jones and Tim Scandrett. Given that the disunity of the last council was one of the nails in Bob’s coffin, how she pulls this team together will be one of her most important tests.

This was a remarkable election for Christchurch, and while I don’t want to detract from the individual campaigns of the various candidates – successful or otherwise – they need to realise that they are there mostly because of who they are not. Hopefully by 2016, we’ll be re-electing them because of who they are, and what they stand for.

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