Archives for posts with tag: Gerry Brownlee

I have a guest post over at the Standard right now – Walking through the wrong door is the least of Gerry’s problems. Jump over there and read it in full!

What we need in Christchurch is more houses, now. Affordable, well-designed, well-insulated houses. Lots of them. This is why Labour’s Kiwibuild scheme will roll out 10,000 houses in Christchurch in the first 4 years. People have waited too long for the invisible hand. Labour believes that the government has a strong role to play in alleviating the considerable stresses in the Christchurch housing market. Not only do National deny that there is a housing crisis in Christchurch, they have left the rebuild in the hands of a man who demonstrated at the airport last Thursday a level of arrogance that suggests he is completely out of touch with the people he is meant to be representing. While the PM may have chosen not to accept his resignation, the people of Ilam don’t have to: they have the chance to show Gerry the exit door on the 20th of September by voting Labour and voting for James Macbeth Dann.

 

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It depresses me to be writing this piece again. I thought we had put all of this to bed last year. Unfortunately, after the council suggested that the project was on hold, the opinion pages of the Press were once again filled will ill-informed pieces calling for the Town Hall to be pulled down. Then, some sanity. Former Arts Editor Chris Moore wrote this piece in last Friday’s art section, which summed up much of what I had been meaning to say.

There’s a widely held misbelief that the cost of retaining the town hall will prevent the construction of a series of glittering arts palaces custom-made for individual organisations. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch … The sense of entitlement accompanying proposals for the arts precinct is mind-boggling. Some individuals and groups should remember that tooth fairies do not exist.

Richard Dawkins fills the Town Hall for a lecture on evolution in 2010

Gerry’s opposition to the building is well known. We don’t know reasons for his stance; he may just hate brutalism, or internationally recognised architecture, or culture in general. The most likely reason is that he wants to knock down the Town Hall and take the insurance money, then spend it on the Performing Arts Precinct (PAP). Spending money on PAP gives him another opportunity to leave a lasting memory of his magnificence; the CCC voting to save the Town Hall means that he can’t.

The PAP is weirdly considered to be a replacement for the Town Hall; it’s not. The Town Hall does play host to a lot of arts and cultural events, such as the orchestra, choirs, theatre and the like. But it is much more than that. It was often used for conferences, with the air bridge that linked it to the Convention Centre. It hosted speaking events; I remember seeing Robert Fisk speak in the Limes Room as part of the Writer’s Festival a few years back. It had a multitude of rooms, of a variety of sizes, that could be used by a whole range of people for whatever they might think of doing. The PAP doesn’t do that.

What we’re seeing with the PAP is a bunch of very specialised cultural organisations within Christchurch seeing the dollar signs in Gerry’s eyes and putting their hand up for a bit of it. They think that if they play their part, and whinge about how awful the Town Hall was, then when the money starts flowing, it will come their way. It ain’t gonna work like that. There is a chance that if the CCC does knock down the Town Hall, they may just use the money to pay down debt. No one gets a building.

The bizarre thing about this saga is how it has been reduced to a few voices from the arts community siding with Gerry against the Council and heritage advocates. If Gerry does win, and the Town Hall is knocked down for the benefit of a handful of commercial arts organisations, what does the council do without a Town Hall? I mean, we, as a city, are still going to have a Town Hall, right? They will have to find the money somewhere to build a new one. And no, an auditorium in a convention centre run by a casino doesn’t count. We are on the verge of losing the icon of our city – the Cathedral – and the symbol of our civic and cultural lives. The people who came before us in Christchurch had the foresight to leave us with two fantastic buildings, and yet we are on the cusp of watching the last of our cultural history disappear because we left a philistine the keys to the bulldozer.

Gerry Brownlee’s rude, dismissive interview on Radio New Zealand this morning (here, from 16 minutes 30 seconds in) shows that the stress of the job is starting to get to him, says Labour’s Ilam candidate James Macbeth Dann. “In dismissing the valid questions of the interviewer, Brownlee left the people of Christchurch wondering exactly where the truth lies. Nothing is more important to people than the health of themselves and their family. There are some serious questions to be answered about the prevalence of asbestos in the rebuild, and people have a right to expect answers from the Minister.”

“This is a Minister who continues to deny that there is a housing crisis in the city, that the earthquakes had anything to do with the flooding in the Flockton basin, and is now questioning the Christchurch medical officer of health’s integrity.”

“The last three and a half years have been hugely stressful for everyone in Canterbury, and the Minister isn’t immune from that. If the stress is starting to affect the way he carries out his role as Earthquake Minister, then the PM should tell him to take a week off, like he did for Minister Collins. Maybe he could use the time to hit the streets of Ilam and reconnect with the people he represents. He’ll find that there are people in suburbs like Aorangi and Jellie Park that are doing it hard, struggling to cover the rent, to keep their families fed and warm.”

“I think it is also worth thanking the medical officer of health, Alistair Humphrey, for pursuing this issue. Asbestos can lead to very serious health issues in the future, and it is important that we look to prevent any exposure now, or the cost on the public health system will be much more extensive in years to come.”

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.

The Canterbury Labour MPs, candidates and councillors have been working together with David Cunliffe to work on a response to the flooding situation in Christchurch. We believe that the best way to approach this is to try and work in a collaborative, cross-party fashion. It is disappointing that Gerry doesn’t see it like that, and used this story in the paper to make political attacks rather than engage responsibly. If you’d like to read the letter in full, without his commentary, I’ve put it all below.

Prime Minister

A PROPOSED RESPONSE TO FLOODING

No-one could have foreseen what Cantabrians have and are still facing. This is made worse by the recent floods and landslips caused by flooding. Many residents are reaching breaking point.

The most important factor is the wellbeing of residents. We can do more to support them. We simply must act now and act together.

I believe all political parties should work in partnership with local authorities to offer immediate and enduring solutions and give confidence and certainty to the residents so that they can plan their lives and their futures. We recognise that those whose lives are in disarray need progress and certainty as soon as possible, while fair solutions that ensure beyond the next few months are also needed. We make the following suggestions which we would like to discuss further with you for the benefit of those affected.

Housing

There is a need to extend the temporary housing support for earthquake and flood effected residents. The Temporary Accommodation Support payment should cover all those displaced by flooding and flood-related landslip issues. There is an urgent need for more temporary accommodation.

Buy-out offer

We know that for some, returning to their homes will not be possible for some time. The only fair resolution is a buy-out option from central government. This should be made with urgency.

EQC/Insurance companies

The government needs to exercise leadership and direction of EQC and have direct engagement with insurance companies. Individual residents cannot be left to deal with these organisations on their own. The Residential Advisory service should be extended and resourced to deal with flooding cases. Support is needed for financial advice, counselling and advocacy, particularly for vulnerable people.

Immediate Solutions – Armed Forces

The resources of the Councils are stretched. Central Government could better support them and local residents. A secondment of resources from the Armed Forces would be appropriate and would provide immense reassurance and practical relief.

Clarification on roles and responsibilities

Cantabrians don’t need boundary battles. They need clarity over roles and responsibilities. An integrated unit dealing with the flooding issues comprising Councils, Health Board, EQC, insurance representatives, SCIRT, MfE and CERA should be established.

Clear guidance regarding building consents for properties in flood-prone areas must be provided. Statutory powers could be given in the implementation of the Natural Environment Recovery Programme.

Health

The Health Board needs to be resourced to support public health issues such as mould, toxic silt, sewerage and related health risks. The advice of your Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, has said that there are many ongoing mental health issues faced by Cantabrians.

Orders in Council

Labour will support Orders in Council to fast-track on remediation, provide certainty for residents and real progress on resolution.

A Flood Taskforce has been established and will report to Council soon. I believe that the points in this letter will be consistent with the taskforce findings and recommendations. However, I commit to genuine partnership with the Councils and working with your government to progress the recommendations.

This is a test for all of us. On behalf of Labour, we want to walk this journey with you, for the wellbeing of the people of Christchurch.

David Cunliffe
Labour Leader

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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