Archives for posts with tag: CERA

A great, if disturbing, image via felloffasofa:

White Elephant via felloffasofa

Last week, some of the anchor projects – including the stadium – were delayed. The stadium has been pushed out to 2019. That takes it beyond not just the 2014 election, but the 2017. As a political football, it has been kicked for touch. I seriously doubt it will be back in play any time soon.

 

Crocogerry from Porcupine Farm

 

The Press reports that the much-touted surplus was in large part due to reduced spend on the Canterbury rebuild:

A surprise $300 million boost to the Government’s trumpeted Budget surplus relies mainly on a cut to the Earthquake Commission’s insurance bill, Treasury forecasts show … Budget documents show the improvement to $372m was given a $200m boost from “lower insurance expenses after an updated valuation of EQC’s insurance liabilities”.

If you look through Keith Ng’s awesome budget visualisation page, you will also observe that money is being pulled out of CERA. So while the Minister is busy denying that the floods in Christchurch have anything to do with the quakes, his government is putting the squeeze on EQC and CERA so that Key can boast about being “back in black”. The council is in a $534 million dollar hole – in part due to the anchor projects that the Crown has forced upon them – but instead of offering a helping hand, the government is pushing them towards it’s ideological obsession, asset sales.

Remember back to the day after the February 22nd quake, when Key said that this was a journey we would walk together? Well, National has hopped into a Crown limo and sped off, without even looking back to see how we’re doing. The message is clear; if you care about the rebuild of this city, about ensuring that people whose lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own can get the assistance that they need, that they deserve, and that they were promised, then you need to throw out this government on September the 20th.

A couple of quick links from the weekend. Perhaps the most interesting story on the rebuild was Tess McLure’s investigation into EPIC. The original story is here, and I’ve written about it here. Twitter’s Stephen Judd has also contributed here. Obviously, Saturday night was the best time to put out long blogs – but they’re all worth a look, to give you an idea about how the state-led rebuild is panning out almost two years after the blueprint first came out.

Another good recap came from Georgina Stylianou, which gives a good account of the city for those living outside of it:

The retail precinct, which has long been hailed as the flagship recovery project by the Government and private sector, was last week described by Brownlee as “the biggest mess on our plate”.

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Today I spent part of the morning down at a organic composting workshop at Agropolis. I’ve mentioned Agropolis before, but if you don’t know about it, it is the “urban farm” project, with raised planter beds and composting boxes on a clear site where the Poplar Lanes used to be (Agropolis is actually on the foot print of one of my old flats). This project, started by a bunch of predominately young, idealistic creative types, is the most innovative thing going on in the “innovation project”. As the Press reported this morning, the Innovation Project is the latest thread of the Blueprint plan to start unraveling.

The poster child for the Innovation Precinct was EPIC. This is the building on the corner of Tuam and Manchester that is home to a number of small to medium start-up businesses:

A key tenant of the central-city innovation precinct has “given up” and pulled out of the project, saying delays and overpriced land make the project infeasible. EPIC (Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre) co-founder Colin Anderson says the group has scuttled plans for an inner-city innovation “village” to house more than 50 small businesses. EPIC is now looking at land outside the blueprint.

I’ve been hearing rumours of EPIC leaving the area controlled by CERA for months. Part of this was due to dealing with MoBIE, who are apparently even harder to deal with than the CCDU, if you can believe that. But the final straw was the land price in the city, which Gerry still seems to think is a success.

One of the things that was of concern to Christchurch immediately after the earthquake was the potential value of CBD land. People were talking about completely abandoning it. What the CCDU has done through the acquisition programme and through the blueprint . . . they’ve managed to preserve those [land] values and in any disaster situation that’s quite an achievement.

Congratulations Gerry. You’ve managed to preserve the land value in a disaster situation. Your prize is a seat on the rebuild bus that travels around the CBD, where baffled, forlorn tourists can look out upon acre after acre of bare land. Land that has been left bare, because no-one can afford to build on it. Because developers have chosen to build outside of your area of control, so they don’t have to deal with the rules and regulations you’ve placed upon them. The arts organisations that are meant to be the tenants of the Arts Precinct can’t afford to be in the city, despite the government buying the land and significant charitable donations. The most significant innovation in the innovation precinct is a volunteer-run community garden which is only as secure as their 30-day lease allows.

The din of alarm bells at CERA should be deafening. The Blueprint is an unaffordable, unattainable, unnecessary restriction that is stifling the recovery of Christchurch. The Minister needs to put his pride to one side, and accept that it is time to reevaluate the rebuild, before it is too late.

 

via Porcupine Farm

 

While the big news with regard to the rebuild has been the scaling back of the Arts Precinct, this is just one part of a wider narrative that sees the grand plan unravelling. Since I wrote my column in the Herald at the weekend, we’ve had the news that Antony Gough’s Terrace Project is taking a wee break, that the Arts Precinct is being scaled back, and that the CCDU is paring back it’s land acquisition. These stories illustrate the point that I made on Sunday; that the rebuild is happening outside of CERA’s control, and that the Blueprint hasn’t worked in the way it was meant to.

The Arts Precinct announcement has been a long time coming. The original plan depended on the Town Hall complex being knocked down, so that the money from it’s insurance payout could be use for this new precinct. Once the council had resolved to restore the Town Hall – which was in August of las year – the rest of the project was always going to have to be scaled back. It is just a shame that CERA’s thinking wasn’t made public earlier, as it could have helped inform the debate around the Majestic Theatre. A restored Majestic could have* brought a beautiful building with a strong cultural history back into the discussion about the wider arts community’s needs. Instead, the demolition proceeds regardless.

There was an interesting comment in the NBR piece on the precinct:

However, the arts precinct has other hurdles to surmount – the Court Theatre, Symphony Orchestra and the Music Centre are pivotal tenants and they have indicated they cannot afford high rentals required in new buildings.

I’m not sure where this leaves the project. If the three key tenants of the project have indicated that they can’t afford the rent for a new building, then what is the plan? If we (the council / the government / both) are going to have to subsidise the rent for these tenants, isn’t that a discussion we should be having? It may be that the arts fall victim to Brownlee’s land-grab, which has pushed the land prices in the central city to a point where they can’t afford to be based in it.

At this point – almost two years after the plan was released – I think it would be a good idea for the involved parties – particularly the CCDU and the cash-strapped Council – to have a bit of a stocktake of where the Blueprint has got us. Best-practice planning means that things aren’t set in stone; strong leadership means making the tough calls about changing direction, rather than just ploughing on regardless. It is not too late to reconsider some of the anchor projects in the plan.

*The Majestic could still be saved, if they ordered an immediate halt to the demo. But they won’t

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.

Glenn Conway has the breakdown on the costs of running CERA, which provide some interesting figures:

It spent $647,571 on public information campaigns.

It seconded 12 communication staff for various periods at a total cost of $1.1m.

It awarded 13 $1m-plus contracts, the biggest being a $10.5m deal with Opus International Consultants and the second largest involving a $6.4m contract with Hawkins Construction.

Twenty staff resigned, a turnover of just over 10 per cent.

The highest paid staff member, apart from chief executive Roger Sutton, was paid between $360,001 and $370,000. The lowest 21 paid staff were each paid between $40,001 and $50,000.

Two staff have credit cards that each have a $10,000 limit

Cera’s lease of the HSBC Tower cost $1.4m, up about $500,000 on the previous year. Catering costs were $390,000.

Gerry doesn’t make it easy to avoid the obvious punchline.

The Cathedral.

The battle for the Cathedral marches on. It struck me late last year how incredibly sad it will be if the current cathedral is destroyed because the idea of an empty flat site right in the heart of the city fills me with dread. So my preferences for the Cathedral are:

1. I love public debate, but any sane city would have never seriously considered knocking a central icon and landmark such as this down. The church should never have given it up so quickly, and the government should never have given it ‘demolish it or we will orders’. In any normal city it would have been utilized by the church and the state as a symbol of strength, resistance and renewal.

2. If substantial parts of it are to be demolished, then I think there is a reasonable argument that these can be reinvented. If this is so, then there should be a public discussion around this, and a large international competition to find the best designers and the best ideas. The process where Warren and Mahoney designers flew around the world with some church people to look at great cathedrals, and then draw a new design to entirely rebuild the church, is about as offensive as the designs they came up with.

3. My personal favourite of new ideas is the one developed by Sir Miles Warren (independently of his old firm) to construct Gilbert Scott’s original timber design on the site, using parts of existing building and contemporary timber technology. This idea seamlessly combines:

  • a: The history of the site. It was originally a timber design but this wasn’t considered formal enough for a cathedral at the time.
  • b: Demands contemporary innovation, and timber technology is what we are getting good at.
  • c: Allows the Church to resolve some of the problems the old church had
  • d: it would utilise the very real skill of one of the few great NZ Architects.

4 – 98. Anything else.

99. The current option to get Warren and Mahoney to do the new church with no competition is about the worst move the church could have made, and hopefully they show some sense to move on from this.

The recent announcement by the historic places trust (HPT) is interesting and clever. Like many other organisations post-quake the HPT have, I think, found themselves overwhelmed and without enough resources or heroes at central government to help them do their jobs properly (it would be nice if the Minister for Heritage showed some interest into the biggest lost of building fabric and heritage buildings in NZ history). So the HPT is trying to make up for lost ground with this, and good on them for showing some political guile by offering to broker talks between the Great Christchurch Building Trust and the Anglicans.

The GCBT has struggled to make it publicly known that they have offered to pay immediately for the make safe works on the cathedral and to take all responsibility for fundraising if the church chooses a restoration project. This is an extraordinary offer which should remove most of the fair concerns the church might have about financial doom (I struggle to understand the position of the church. If they really don’t care about buildings or status then they should use all the insurance money to build a series of small community support, health, and spiritual centres around the city to directly support parishes, and sell the land back to the crown. Now that would be brave. But don’t claim community and then spend the money on a new expensive centre for worship.)

What I find funny about this recent initiative and the Mayor’s quick support for it is I think it has gained momentum because the Bishop is currently out of the country and not able to comment. So while the cat is away the mice will play and hopefully some quite real political momentum has developed towards a form of beneficial compromise (I still hold out hope for options 2 or 3 at least).

Those are my thoughts on the river and the cathedral. They are both amazing forms that hold their own place in the city, and yet point to other larger entities – the church towards the sky, the heavens, and Rangi, while the river runs out to the ocean and Moana. It will be interesting to see how these two projects unfold this year.

The River and the Cathedral.

In the first two parts of this series I argued that the government made a mistake by keeping CERA so close to cabinet and central government, and thus lost the ability to change and adapt in the face of uncertainty. I also contended that since CERA was established in 2011, the wrong structure has been used and the wrong people have been employed. In this third part I will look in depth at one of the government-led projects to illustrate the larger points. Tomorrow, in the second half of this part (part 3.5), I’ll touch on the Cathedral and the recent risk that peace might actually break out on this troubled project.

The Avon River Precinct and the Cathedral are perhaps the two most emblematic projects in the city. They adorn the city logo, and they have since the quake both been badly mismanaged and, sadly, come to represent the worst of the post-quake response -rather than the best that we have seen in other parts of the city.

The River

In the first instance, it annoys me that this project is called a precinct. A river isn’t a precinct; a precinct is an area in a city with walls or a defined edge. A river is a boundary (with many varied edges at different points) not something with arbitrary edges 30 metres from its banks. This isn’t really important, but the plan might be taken more serious if it didn’t abuse language so carelessly.

After the quakes in 2011 the Christchurch City Council was tasked with developing the city plan. They started the Share an Idea campaign, got lots of public (but not much stakeholder) input, and then made their plans. These plans were then rejected by the government, who then developed their own 100-day plan.

As part of this Council staff developed an idea to substantially reconsider and redevelop the Avon River within the 4 avenues. This would change the relationship of the city to the river, and to substantially upgrade its ecological and cultural value as a river. A brilliant idea, and one that CERA to their credit have always strongly supported. They have supported it to the extend that central government is funding the $100 million dollar project, almost as a gift to the city. This is great, and really quite exciting.

CERA included this in the 100-day plan, writing a brief and putting it out for tender. This is where I’d argue that things started to go wrong. Their first mistake was that the brief was never developed with the people that use the river. This is a $100 million dollar urban space project, one of the biggest public space projects in New Zealand history. It is one that will probably define the future feeling of the city – and CERA in all their strange silo’d wisdom decided there was no need for public consultation at all.

In the first part of this series I went into why public consultation is important politically. But it is important to point out on a design level that public input is not just a political imperative, it is how designers really understand what they are supposed to do with a project. No commercial or corporate designers would ever do something this big for their users without working with them first to develop the ideas behind it. It has any number of guises: brief development, user testing, participatory design, collaborative design, public engagement, prototyping, and many others. There are a hundred different ways that the public could have been involved and ideas could have been tested – many of which don’t take much time or money. Instead, we heard from CERA that “they don’t have time to talk to everyone in the city about the River”. Hands are placed firmly on foreheads and the project goes out for tender.

This is a big project, and so all the best people in NZ submitted for the job – as did many world leading architecture and landscape architecture firms. Just before Christmas 2012 the winners were announced with much fanfare. To no one’s surprise Opus were picked as the consultants for the engineering, but to everyone’s surprise a medium sized and not very well-known British firm BDP were announced as the designers. You can look at their work here.

I’ve heard from 8 sources that they were chosen almost entirely because they put the lowest fee bid in, and one person said this wasn’t the case. Both stories are depressing. In the first some of the top designers in the world and New Zealand were denied a role in a project because someone else said they charge lower fees. When dealing with housing or commercial projects fees are important, as the margins are so tight that the amount the designers charge can be the survival of the project. Not so on big projects like this; the difference in fees between firms will be marginal, but the difference in design quality can be huge. Why not spend an extra million on a project to make sure that the other 99 million is going to be well spent?

This sort of decision making goes back to the point I made in the 2nd article in this series, that the people in charge of the CCDU and CERA don’t understand design and urbanism, and so end up penny pinching at exactly the wrong points. It’s odd because this is the logic that gives people like Marryatt and Sutton such big salaries, and yet for some reason it doesn’t apply to designers. If this wasn’t the lowest fee bid for the project, then god only knows why they’d picked them to lead it over some other project designers. Option A is misplaced values and Option B is incompetence. Take your pick.

As the year goes on a number of developments start to unfold. It is announced that an Art Trail will be built along the river, and SCAPE is given the job of working with the artists on this.

The CCDU announces that a small part of the river park will be build first, this uninspiring part of the river is now finished and is called watermark. CCDU’s blurb says:

“Stemming from over 100,000 community suggestions via the ‘Share an Idea’ campaign, ‘Watermark’ aims to deliver on aspirations for a ‘Green City’ and align with the broad design principles of Te Papa Ōtākaro:

  • promoting a healthy river
  • a fully accessible environment
  • an integrated cultural narrative
  • good economic potential.”

I’ve been in the education system for almost 25 years now and don’t have a clue what the last two points are supposed to mean – must be a project manager thing.
Around October 2013 rustles of discontent start to be heard. 9 months of preliminary design work has been submitted to CERA, and they aren’t happy. It turns out not doing public consultation, under cooking the brief, and giving the project to an overseas firm with little cultural knowledge of Christchurch wasn’t the best idea. At this point alarm bells seemed to have started ringing. The Council staff are brought back into the fold, new designers are engaged to work ‘with’ the British firm, and there is belated effort to consult a slightly broader stake-holder group. There was even a temporary attempt to get some public feedback via the CCDU website.
I was invited to one of these meeting, and I was astounded by the ratio of people that seemed to have been working on the project versus the quality of what was being presented. I was seated at table with a variety of stake-holders and a senior designer from BDP. When I tried to politely point out that the new Margaret Mahy park not only goes over the centennial pool, but also completely erases the Elsie Locke park next to this, and that this was a strange form of cultural erasure (weird because Elsie and Margaret were good friends) the senior designer said he’d only learnt of this 2 days ago. That’s over 9 months into the project. I can only speculate what other cultural assets of the city are being erased through bad management and poor briefing. Luckily the media got wind of this and CERA promptly jumped to attention – as they do when things become about publicity rather than participation.
Originally the entire Avon-Ōtākaro River Area between the 4 avenues, and the entire east frame, was part of this job. I remember thinking at the time this is a huge risk giving that massive job to one firm, especially one from overseas. Now it seems the project is being split up into smaller areas along the river with slightly different groups developing each area, which is much more sensible.

So what can we learn from this project? It confirms my suspicions from the first two parts of this series; that CERA and CCDU are not putting the right people in the right jobs and that stupid (and really expensive) decisions are being made as a result. The saving grace of this is that there is thankfully at least some quality control going on, so this project has been radically overhauled before it was too late. The sad thing is that it was so predictable and in the process the public has been denied a role in what could have been an incredibly meaningful and important part of the healing of the city. This was a chance for the people to collectively develop a new identity for Christchurch, rather than having it done on our behalf as it is presently.

The Press leads this morning with yet another high-profile inner city redevelopment being scrapped. This time, it’s the glass monstrosity that was proposed for the old Triangle Centre site.

Long-time Triangle Centre landlord Michael Ogilvie-Lee has dropped his concept for a $100 million sculptural glass-wrapped office and shopping centre between Colombo, High and Cashel streets. The land has been bought by CHC Properties, jointly owned by fashion retailer, investor and rich-lister Tim Glasson, and fellow Hallenstein Glasson shareholder and chairman Warren Bell.

Aesthetic concerns aside, this should set alarm bells ringing in the CERA head office, if not the Beehive. Just a couple of weeks short of the 3 year anniversary of the February quake, and the rebuild of the city is increasingly becoming a vanity project for the city’s mega-rich.

With several projects shelved in the 18 months since the Government’s blueprint for the city’s retail core was unveiled, local rich-listers look like being best-placed to get plans off the ground. Glasson was estimated by the National Business Review’s 2103 Rich List to be worth $85m. Antony Gough, whose family’s wealth was estimated at $300m, is the only landowner with construction under way around City Mall. Philip Carter, listed as Christchurch’s richest man with $120m, has plans to build a precinct on land between Colombo, Cashel, High and Lichfield streets. Also hoping to start building soon is Nick Hunt, who is holding insurance payouts for lost buildings but has not yet confirmed a tenant for his Cashel Square precinct.

Look, I don’t have anything against the super-rich (ok, I do, but now’s not the time for that…) But should we be leaving the rebuild of the country’s second city – and the primary driver of the country’s economic recovery – to the whims of people for whom money means nothing? The National Party pride themselves on their business acumen and economic management, and yet have not been able to create an environment that attracts investment. There are tens of billions of dollars from insurance payments; dozens of businesses, with thousands of workers, that want a new home in the CBD – so why are developers giving Christchurch the cold shoulder? And why is no-one talking about the economic implications of the chronic mismanagement of the rebuild? Sure, growth in Canterbury might be the main driver of the country’s projected growth this year, but imagine what that growth would look like if the rebuild was being managed even half competently?

 

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