Archives for posts with tag: Gerry Brownlee

Do you remember the CERA Community Forum? It’s ok if you don’t. It was set up soon after the quakes, before rapidly fading into obscurity. In late 2012, a group of MPs – including one L Dalziel – signed an open letter which called it a farce;

The community forum put in place to allow such consultation has become a farce with Mr Brownlee or Roger Sutton having attended only a handful of times.

I had to check to see if it still exists – and yes, apparently it still does. So what does it do? Well:

The Community Forum has been established by Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to provide him with information and advice on earthquake recovery matters.

Simple. Well, Mr Brownlee didn’t attend a single meeting of the community forum last year. His proxy, Amy Adams did attend, but only for 8 of the 18 meetings. Roger Sutton only attended two meetings all year. How do I know this? Well, it’s all available in the meeting notices, which are available here.

Summaries of the proceedings of Community Forum meetings are available below. These meeting notes are prepared to assist the wider community to understand the issues the Forum has discussed. The meeting notes have been released under the Official Information Act 1982. Where information has been withheld under that Act this is clearly identified, and will be reviewed on a quarterly basis to check whether the reason for withholding is still valid.

Frequently, the names of people attending the meetings themselves are redacted from the minutes. I find it remarkable that these people – public servants from CERA, CCDU, CCC and ECan – should be given anonymity when they turn up to a meeting with what is nominally a forum made up of the people they are meant to serve. In some instances, the minutes of virtually the whole meeting have been withheld. According to the rationale which the CERA website itself gives, the purposes of the forum are to:

A – provide him (Gerry Brownlee) with information and advice on recovery matters

B – (disseminate notes from the forum to) assist the wider community to understand the issues the Forum has discussed

On point A, the Minister didn’t bother to attend a single forum in 2013; his Chief Executive Roger Sutton went twice, and his associate Minister went less than half the time. It must be quite hard to fulfill the stated objective of providing him with information when he doesn’t bother to show up. On point B, it is hard to see how the public gets any benefit from documents that are redacted to the point of uselessness.

This whole sorry mess seems to be a good example of CERA’s modus operandi; set up a body to give the impression you are being responsive and engaging (communities! interaction!) then let it wither and die through a combination of bureaucracy and negligence. It’s hardly a demonstration of good-will and genuine engagement when a body set up to represent the community communicates with the public through reluctant, redacted minutes provided under the Official Information Act.

The Community Forum is a needless farce which should be disbanded; CERA should instead focus on open and transparent communication with Community Boards, the Council, and existing community and interest groups.





I’ve covered the travesty that is the impending demolition of the Majestic on the blog a few times, but as I was walking past yesterday, realised that most people won’t be as familiar with the area as I am. The more you know about the area, the madder the decision becomes. I’ve made up a couple of maps, with three buildings highlighted on them: The Majestic, The Excelsior and Shooters.

2D majestic

The Majestic is on the corner of Lichfield and Manchester St. I and others have written about the history of the building itself. It is currently in the process of being prepared for demolition, with the main reason given being that the land is required for the “accessible city” part of the CCDU Blueprint. In other words, they want to knock down the building to widen the road by 9 metres. You could argue that in a 21st century city, creating a 20 metre wide road actually makes a barrier that is less accessible to the pedestrians who are meant to be living in the frame on the east of Manchester St. You could argue that, and you’d be making a good argument, but it would be an argument that would be ignored by the powers that be.

You could also argue that CERA seems to have an irrational grudge against the Majestic. For example, just 25 metres south of the Majestic is the facade of what was the Excelsior hotel. This building is now literally just a facade, propped up by stacks of shipping containers which stick right out into the eastern lane of Manchester St. As you can see from the photo, this is a current impedance to traffic on Manchester St, but CERA would rather concentrate their energy and wrecking ball on the Majestic, which poses a theoretical, future impedance to traffic.


Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see the Excelsior retained and rebuilt. It was a lovely old building, and the corner of High St in front of it was a pleasant, under-utilised part of town. However, I think it shows the lie of the CCDU’s actions; it is both a higher safety risk, and a bigger traffic problem than the Majestic, and yet there seems to be none of the hastiness to have its future resolved.

3D majestic

Just one block further up the street, on the corner of Cashel and Manchester, is the lamentable Shooters bar. Unlike either the Majestic or the Excelsior, Shooters has very few, if any, redeeming features. It is a fairly horrible tilt-slab building that used to be the home of one of Christchurch’s more notorious booze barns.


I can’t imagine anyone will be chaining themselves to the fake cattle skull on the front of this building anytime soon. However, I have heard nothing from CERA regarding their intentions for this building. Perhaps they are planning to widen the road by 9m where the Majestic is, then run a chicane down past Shooters? Or maybe they have some sort of grudge against heritage buildings, and they are using whatever excuse is convenient at the time to pursue their agenda?

At this point, it’s hard to argue that the Minister doesn’t have some sort of grudge against he he famously termed “old dungers”. There is a comprehensive list of Christchurch’s heritage buildings here, of which over 235 have now been destroyed. CCDU acquired the building, and then CERA used the section 38 provision to request demolition, which means that there is no recourse through legal means to object to this process. CERA have also refused to release the engineering report for the building, despite saying they would when asked by the CCC in December. An OIA request has now been lodged to try and access this information. The reason given for the building’s destruction – which I’d argue is a spurious one – is that it is required to implement the “accessible city” part of the Blueprint plan, but at this rate, one has to wonder whether there will be any city left to access when Gerry and his mates are done.




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.




While the people of the city were trying to deal with a 1 in a 100 year weather event, they may have missed another rare occurrence: an apology from Gerry Brownlee. After he launched a bombastic attack on the Christchurch Labour MPs, labeling them “despicable” for a photo that was taken with leader David Cunliffe and Aranui resident Dot, he was forced to back down. Labour’s Earthquake Recvoery spokesperson Ruth Dyson put it well when she said this:

He should have checked his facts before he came out swinging. It is astonishing that only now he has stumbled upon a further 85 cases of elderly and vulnerable Cantabrians in rebuild limbo. Three years on he has yet to grasp the magnitude of the number of people who are still stranded in wrecked homes and want to move on.

Brownlee’s behavior in the last couple of weeks has been even more aggressive than usual. On Saturday, he launched an extraordinary attack at the council with an opinion piece in the paper.  Just this morning, he was at his belligerent best, talking over quake and flood victims on Nine to Noon. After three years of nature doing it’s worst to the people of this city, they need their political representatives to treat them with respect, not contempt. If Brownlee can’t see that the people of this city are at their wits end, and that shouting isn’t going to help anything, then maybe he should think about passing the portfolio on to someone who still shows some empathy to the poor, patronized people of Christchurch.

As most of you will probably know, Christchurch has been battered by an horrific storm for more than 24 hours now. It went from being a “once in 50 year” event to a “once in a 100 year” event. While the rains are starting to ease now, the clean up is yet to start – especially for those in the hardest hit areas of St Albans, Richmond, Shirley and Mairehau. It’s an unfortunate, unnecessary reminder that as we head into our fourth year after the quakes, there are still people who are living in cold, damp, crowded conditions whilst they wait for a resolution. Surely after 3 years, even having one person in this situation is one person too many. But far from actively working to resolve the issues, EQC seem to be deliberately obfuscating:

As Christchurch endures flooded streets, NBR is still awaiting a response to questions about long-awaited flood plain modelling and flood remediation in Christchurch sent to EQC a week before today’s devastating flooding. EQC spin doctors are hampering the process, attempting to stonewall NBR’s reporter with a complaint over “aggressive questioning”, according to EQC stakeholder communications manager Iain Butler.

Perhaps even more worrying than the delay itself is the attitude of the EQC and their communications manager:

“We are working away on what I consider a comprehensive response to Chris’s questions but I would like some assurance that the final product of this exchange will be fair, balanced and accurate – in other words, some intervention from head office may be required before the final article goes to print.”

Some intervention from head office. This sounds to me as though the EQC want to have editorial control over what a newspaper writes about them. This is a frankly Orwellian response to what were valid questions asked by a journalist simply doing their job. Instead of trying to constantly stifle and suppress information, EQC needs to be far more open and up front. I have friends who live in a TC3 area around Avonside, whose claim has been further held up waiting for the flood plain modelling. They, and others like them, have a right to know what is happening to their house, and soon – before there is another natural disaster, be that flood, snowstorm or earthquake. EQC – and the Minister responsible, Gerry Brownlee – need to remember that they serve us, not the other way around.

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.

And now it’s time for our weekly update from property developers saying that things aren’t exactly rosy:

A lack of tenants to fill pricey new office buildings is a “total disaster” for the central city, a property developer says. Property developers warn buildings with “A-grade” rentals in the central business district cannot compete for tenants against cheaper, already-completed developments elsewhere. The warning comes as some developers and investors take their plans and money elsewhere in the face of high construction costs, reluctant tenants and uncertainty over car parking.

This is just the latest grumbling in the growing discontent about the (lack of) commercial development in the CBD.

Long-time Triangle Centre landlord Michael Ogilvie-Lee recently dropped his concept for a $100 million office and shopping centre between Colombo, High and Cashel streets. Others to have abandoned major plans include the McFarlane Group, which sold land between Gloucester and Armagh streets; the Goodman Group, which had approval for a $350m precinct at the Bridge of Remembrance, but did not buy the land; and Anthony Leighs, who had plans for five City Mall buildings but instead sold his land to the Government.

But it’s ok! Gerry says … relax. Apparently, a number of high-profile developers voting with their wallets and pulling hundreds of millions of dollars out of projects isn’t anything to worry about.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told The Press he had no concerns about the future of the CBD … “You have to be careful that the experience of one or two people doesn’t become the general view of all investors.”

If a developer who is building a top-level site, which is adjacent to the Council – and a stone’s throw from CERA, the Arts Centre and the Art Gallery – can’t find tenants, then Gerry should be worried. Instead, he’s got his head in the sand, willfully ignoring all the evidence that is dream of a castle is collapsing around him.

In the first part of this series I argued that the National Government has party-politicised the process of the rebuild by keeping the authority and decision-making to the responsibility of one Minister and Cabinet. This has not only led to an ongoing series of bad planning and management decisions (lack of heritage plan, endless delays to transport plan, overlapping governance structures with council), it has also put the government in the vulnerable position of not being able to change course as the situation has evolved. This reveals firstly a naïve political decision, and secondly creates a very dangerous situation for the city as post-disaster situations are defined by their uncertainty, and the idea that mistakes can’t be honestly admitted and acknowledged is problematic.

In this second part, I will look at how this poorly planned structure has in turn led to the appointed of the wrong type of people, and the wrong individuals in key positions.

From all reports CERA was full of amazing people doing amazing things for the first year after the quake. The immediate need to hire the best people, and the good will of the population to drop their normal jobs and commit to Christchurch assured an influx of talented people who – at the beginning – had the freedom to do their jobs well. I would put appointments like Roger Sutton into this category.

While it can only be expected that the nature of the jobs would change over the first few years after a disaster, what we see is a change from the appointment of the best possible people for the job to the appointment of managers that will follow orders and keep ‘things on track’. While competent management and project management skills are essential, they are not the only skills needed. The best example of this misguided approach to appointment is putting Warwick Isaacs in charge of the Christchurch City Development Unit (CCDU).

Warwick Isaac’s previous experience is 14 years at local government at the Timaru District Council and the Buller District Councils. When CERA announced his decision they said “Warwick will now use all of the experience and knowledge he has gleaned during his challenging year as CERA’s operations leader, to forge a new future for Christchurch.” So the experience Isaacs has gained from leading the demolition of around 1200 buildings is considered adequate to lead the most complex urban project in NZ History? Really?  CERA has failed in its appointment here, and the mismanagement of the past 18 months is evidence of this. The government should have appointed a designer or project leader with design knowledge, who also had extensive experience in governance and senior management. These people exist and they are highly skilled – and it is Christchurch’s loss that Isaacs has instead been leading the CCDU. This isn’t meant as a personal slight on Isaacs; it is a bit like employing a commercial fisherman to run the America’s Cup campaign. I’m sure Isaacs did a great job during the difficult Civil Defence and demolition stages, but leading an urban design authority is a highly complex task that requires experience and knowledge of how urban environments are constructed.

The lack of dynamic thinking, imagination, and adaptability within the CCDU is becoming increasingly evident. I think part of this is because of the stagnant mono-directional nature of how the government is running the process and the exclusion of the public and all our ideas.

I need to briefly address an issue of the public here before continuing to critique the nature of the appointments. Many of us have been criticising the lack of real public engagement in the planning processes. Minister Brownlee has directly responded to this criticism on a number of occasions, and in his defence, he does seem genuinely miffed by it. He asserts that the plan is based on the “Share an Idea” campaign and was honestly and genuinely based on this process. There are two big faults with this, and again it points to the fact that Gerry is a minister in a National Government – not someone with any serious experience with urban development or post-disaster planning.

The first is that engagement, like design, is about it iterations. It involves a movement of information back and forth between parties, and the information is steadily transformed and improved in this process. There are hundreds of ways of doing these processes. The Share an Idea campaign was one of them. One of the things that makes me most angry is when people assume that there are only two choices in these situations: dictatorship or consensus. This is bullshit and reveals a remarkable lack of imagination. We only need to look around our own lives with our family, loved ones, pets, gardens, and crafts to know that the world unfolds through careful negotiations, sacrifices and small moments of trust.  The consensus or dictatorship threat is created by those in power as a way to keep power.  An authority can consult and it not be binding – we do this all the time with parliament and it works very well. We can delegate small amounts of power to local boards and people and still keep control of the main infrastructure, as with happens with councils all the time.  We can work with community experts and stake holders – this is normal (and to CERA’s defence they do operate like this in some occasions).

The second fault with the thought that the Share an Idea campaign is enough is because they didn’t even look at the ideas that came out of that process. I OIA’d CERA and asked what was the methodology they used to interpret the data gathered from citizens during this process (the 100,000 ideas). Roger Sutton replied and said the CCDU Plan is based on the Council’s interpretation, and that they took this at face value. Yet they rejected this plan, took out key elements of it, and added a number of projects not mentioned in the Council scheme. So to summarise, CERA’s notion of community engagement is:

1. Get another organisation to gather information from citizens.

2. Never look at that data themselves.

3. Reject the plan they come up with that is based on that data.

4. Keep some suggestions, throw some out, and introduce some new ones without ever explaining the criteria for all this.

5. Don’t check the new plan with the citizens.

6. Don’t check the new plan with international experts.

7. Claim this is meaningful consultation.

Minister Brownlee – this is why we argue that you’ve never consulted with us about the plans for a new city, and why we get so frustrated when you claim you have.

But back to the lack of innovation in the plan. This is, I think, a direct result of the inclination to rely on project managers to run the rebuild process. Project management is a strange beast. At its best it provides people with great skills to achieve complex projects on time, within budget, and everyone is happy. At its worst it puts people who don’t understand the real values and priorities of projects, and who continually put things into boxes and gantt charts in an attempt to control the complexity of the world, and in doing so ruins all the subtlety involved in such a project.

Most project managers are taught and practice a thing called PMBOK, which is the Project Management Body of Knowledge. (You can pick when you are around project managers by the two things; 1. Dress shirts with vertical stripes, and 2. The ugly use of endless acronyms which they seem to use in an attempt turn project management into some time of medieval guild.)

PMBOK is a series of tools for delivering projects around the world. Given that the world revolves around project managers and their projects it obviously does its job pretty well and allows large and expensive projects to be delivered. However, there are a number of important criticisms of PMBOK, one being that it was designed during the Cold War. The world was a different place during the Cold War, and the project management system developed during this time was based on assumptions and values not always applicable now. PMBOK works in stable environments with a clear goal, a known budget and a desired time frame – and it works very well in these situations. This is why it is useful to pulling of projects like stadiums, corporate buildings, and Olympics. But it is not designed to function in an unstable environment where the stakeholders and users are not known, where budgets change, where the environment is dynamic, and where the goal is not always known. Basically, it is not particularly suited for post-disaster or complex urban environments.

By using project managers to lead the rebuild we are risking the future quality of this city and so many opportunities are being passed up because of the current desire to stick to plans that are already out of date. This isn’t meant as a criticism of the obviously hard working and talented project managers in Christchurch, but simply they are the wrong discipline to be leading this process. We need high level designers with experience in this type of thing to be leading with support from politicians who have the skill and public support to pull of brave and interesting decisions.

I’ve been consistently and almost obsessively attending public discussions, exhibitions, events, and activities on architecture and urbanism since arriving at the beginning of 2012, and I think it is telling that on not one single occasion have I seen either the head of the main urban design authority or its main designer at any of these events. There is a movement in this city that is gaining an international reputation for its creativity and innovation, and yet it is being almost totally ignored by those in charge of the rebuild.

Gerry Cyrus - Wrecking Ball

The new hit single from the Big Man who’s making a Big Hole in Christchurch buildings.

So in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes, the government gave itself extraordinary powers, and the rest of the parliament fell in behind. Today, Gerry Brownlee invoked those powers. Given what has happened down here, you would think there were a number of valid reasons for him to do so. Is he going to use his powers to rapidly build homes, to house the people of Christchurch who are in dire need of quality accommodation? Is he going to step in to speed up the EQC process, or to tell the insurance companies that he means business? No, of course not.

He is using his unprecedented powers so he can buy up the buildings in the east frame which refuse to sell to the Crown, so he can knock down those buildings to widen a road. Yes, that’s right. Extraordinary powers being invoked. To knock down buildings. So he can widen a road. Got a problem with that?

Owners who feel they have suffered a loss have the right to appear before Brownlee and appeal for further compensation.

So if you’ve exhausted every other avenue, you can go before the Minister, the wonderful, enlightened Minister, who is so convinced about this that he has invoked his powers so he can do so, and plead your case personally. I know we joke about Lord Brownlee, but this is beyond a joke. Send help. Send help now.


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