Archives for posts with tag: rebuild
photo via Hayden EM

photo via Hayden EM

8 Days till the election, and there are lots of things on. Tuesday, we had the Ilam candidates debate on CTV. It was the only chance to talk about Ilam issues with the sitting MP, and I think it was a pretty good discussion. You can watch it here. On Wednesday, we had the only Ilam candidates debate. All the candidates have known about it for ages, at least a month. Yes, it’s a busy photo – but it was pretty disappointing that only 3 of the candidates standing in the electorate were there. And of course, the only MP to have held the seat, Gerry, wasn’t there.

There was a reporter from Radio New Zealand there, and one from the Press, who filed this story. The organiser, Len McCrane, said this:

We would have loved to have Gerry here. He sent his apologies. He prefers to do meetings on street corners than to come to something like this.

The thing is, street corner meetings aren’t anything like candidate debates. I’ve been out doing some street corner meetings myself. They are a very different beast. You pick a corner, preferably high traffic, and stand around talking for 15 minutes as confused passers by wonder what’s going on. They are primarily a visibility exercise. You don’t get to do them for 2 weekends every three years and then pretend you’ve been accountable to the people you purport to represent.

There is a pattern emerging. He declines the invitation to the only public meeting with the candidates in the electorate he represents. He refuses to turn up to Campbell Live’s show on the 4th of September, despite them asking him repeatedly and giving him plenty of notice. The thing isn’t, Brownlee isn’t opposed to fronting to the press about issues – tonight, he’s appearing on Prime in a transport debate. He just wants to be able to do it on his terms. Rather than turning up to a debate and getting booed, he’d rather not turn up at all.

The problem with that – not only for Ilam, but the whole country – is that 8 days out from the election, we haven’t had a serious discussion about the rebuild of Christchurch, about the role of CERA, or about EQC. The only time it was really touched on was during the second half of the Press debate, where David Cunliffe ran through Labour’s policies for the city whilst John Key barely feigned an interest in the city he grew up in. Key’s only major announcement was to confirm that if re-elected, Brownlee would retain his portfolio as CERA Minister. What would Key or Brownlee do? We don’t know.

I’ve said this time and time again, and I guess you must be bored of it, because it doesn’t seem to make a difference. But I’ll restate it again, just for kicks. We’ve got a week until the election. The recovery of New Zealand’s second biggest city following a major natural disaster should be the number one election issue, but the Minister responsible for overseeing the “recovery”, part of the Government that campaigned on “Rebuilding Christchurch” in 2011, are going to the polls without announcing a single substantive policy about how they are going to turn this man-made disaster around. I’ll repeat: NOT A SINGLE SUBSTANTIVE POLICY*.

You, the taxpayers of New Zealand, are largely paying for this. Close to 16 billion dollars. Do you know how your investment is going? Do you care? Do you just believe the Prime Minister when he says that the city is “booming, almost full“? We, the citizens of Christchurch, are having to live this – and if you’re sick of hearing us whinging about EQC and insurance and the recovery, well, you have no idea how miserable we’ll get under a third term of National.

* merging CERA into the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet isn’t a policy; it’s an admission of failure

So last night I was in the front row of the audience at the Press leader’s debate between David Cunliffe and John Key. It was an exciting occasion and great to have so many people interested in politics in the Ilam electorate. I went with my parents, my grandmother and my great aunt – the latter who both live in Merivale, but vote very differently! I think watching it in the room is quite different to what happens on the lifestream. Firstly, it was VERY loud. Both the debaters, and the crowd. Key got a warm welcome but DC’s was louder. The two men talked over each other quite a lot, which wasn’t the most satisfying auditory experience.

James at the debate - photo by Patrick Gower (http://i.instagram.com/p/sb7DqFCA5S/)

James at the debate – photo by Patrick Gower (http://i.instagram.com/p/sb7DqFCA5S/)

Key started really angrily, and talked over David a lot. Most questions seemed to be given to Key for 30 seconds, for him to then talk for 90 seconds, then passed on to David for 30 seconds, at which point Key started sniping at him and not allowing him to answer. While I’ve seen some people comment that they thought the (lack of) moderation was fine, it made for a number of occasions where both men just talked over each other, as if the first person to stop talking was less of a man or something. Key’s question about CGT on houses in a trust did seem to catch David, but he was right to check and see. It’s a complicated issue and it’s worth being right on it.

As with the first debate, most of the commentators seemed to make up their minds about “who won” based on the early exchanges. Key was definitely much weaker in the second half. This was because if focussed on Christchurch issues, and National’s record on this is poor. When he announced that Gerry Brownlee would be CERA minister after the election, this was received with boos. There was laughter when he claimed that the CBD was “booming and almost full“. There was confusion when he started telling Press editor Joanna Norris about an advertorial supplement that will appear in the paper next week. And when he said that the government wouldn’t want to “run roughshod” the Anglican church (when talking about the Cathedral) one was reminded of some of the other institutions that this government has run roughshod over – including ECan and the CCC.

Cunliffe spoke well on these matters, as he has done over the last 3 months of the campaign in the city. He knows that Labour’s policy is popular here, as he has been down here to announce it, and has talked with hundreds of residents who are in difficult situation. Instead of just making light of people’s real hardship like the Prime Minister, Cunliffe has showed an empathy that Key lacks. While the media in Auckland and Wellington might have called it one way, the people in Christchurch were only presented with one leader who understands the issues in this city, and it wasn’t the Prime Minister.

I’ve been up in Wellington for the last 24 hours, for the launch of my cousin Lotta’s book (which you can find more details about here) and so have been less connected that I usually am. So you may or may not have seen a couple of things that I’ve been involved in. The first was a post I wrote at The Standard, about the recovery (of course):

For so many of the people in this still-broken city, they feel that this is a journey which they have been left to walk alone. More than that, it is a journey which they are walking alone, into a howling headwind of government bureaucracy and ineptitude. Too often they find themselves fighting against the state, rather than working with them. One gets the impression that for all the visits and photo ops, Key just doesn’t get the situation down here.

The second was a feature by Philip Matthews in the Mainlander section of the paper, that interviews a range of Christchurch candidates, including myself:

In one way, Dann might have been an odd fit for Ilam, but in another, it was an ideal match. As earthquake recovery minister, Brownlee has been the chief target of Dann’s Rebuilding Christchurch blog. Now he gets to take him on in person. Dann is increasingly convinced that the blueprint is not working, and is too ambitious for a city the size of Christchurch. The widespread apathy in the city is just as problematic.

“We seem to be sleepwalking towards knocking down cathedrals, knocking down heritage buildings, knocking down a swimming pool to build a playground. National can say it has a mandate from 2011, but no one voted on a stadium, no one voted on a convention centre and no one voted on the frame.”

Yesterday morning, I had coffee with an economist who is writing a chapter for us for our book on the rebuild. We talked about a range of things, but what struck me was his analysis that without Christchurch, the economy would be growing at somewhere between 0 and 2%. Less than a day later, and Clint Smith tweeted this image:

NZ gdpIt’s a pretty simple image: Auckland has been about treading water, every where else is starting to go backwards, and the only thing that is giving the economy an illusion of growth is the money going into the rebuild in Christchurch. There are few things to comment on about that. Firstly, imagine how much better the Canterbury figure – and thus, the economic fortunes of the whole country – would be if the rebuild was being managed even half competently. The Government’s blueprint is a failure, with the only development in the city happening outside of the areas that are in control of CERA. The play which the government made for foreign investment has returned almost nothing, leaving development up to a handful of almost comically rich Cantabrians. It’s no wonder that investors are looking elsewhere, when the cost per metre for office space is more expensive in a city which looks like Post-Tito Yugoslavia than in the centre of Auckland.

Secondly, if New Zealand’s economy is a “rock star”, it is one that has drunk the contents of the minibar, soiled the bed, and thrown the TV through the ranch slider and into the pool. Now the hotel is getting new sheets and some double-glazed windows on insurance, but that isn’t the structural change that it needs. With the National Party’s self-proclaimed economic expertise – hand-outs to multinational companies with billion dollar balance sheets, a sad interdependence, both economically and politically, on the dairy industry, flogging off state owned assets to paper over the cracks in the budget – their economy is effectively based on fixing some broken windows in a city destroyed by a natural disaster. If they’re a “safe pair of hands” for the Treasury benches, then I’m a heritage building crying out for demolition.

A Stuff Nation assignment asks people to imagine their heart of the city. This particular vision tickled my fancy:

Hazel Oldham said she would like Christchurch to be a clean city without ”shabby shops”. ”I’d like to see some tough rules which require shops to sweep streets and keep exteriors painted and spotlessly clean,” Oldham said. ”There should be no junk drifting along streets and people should be paid to keep streets clean.”

Now, I’m not advocating for an intentionally dirty city, but this person seems to have no idea what makes a city tick. If you want spotless exteriors you could go and visit a mall – we have plenty of them. The only thing that makes central Christchurch interesting right now is the various states of decay that it’s in – new buildings popping up next to sites covered in rubble and wild flowers. The rebuild is going to take some time, so if you want a sterile city, I’d suggest you look somewhere else.

So the most powerful man in Christchurch – at least according to the Press – has taken to twitter to recycle this gem:

He asked people to retweet if they agreed – and while he got around 30, it’s hard to tell how many of them are genuine. Considering he has 83,000 followers, it’s not exactly a high percentage. Key was in the city today, visiting rebuild sites, and announcing the winner of a design competition for a playground. Across on the other side of town, the Phillipstown community was protesting the government’s decision to merge them with Woolston school. There were a number of politicians there – including Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson (Woolston school is in Port Hills), Lianne Dalziel, councillors Yani Johanson and Glenn Livingstone, as well as political studies lecturer Bronwyn Hayward. Notable by her absence was the MP who actually represents the area, Nicky Wagner. She was with the PM, tagging along as though she was John Key’s mullet – slightly behind, decades out of date, completely useless.

It’s this sort of uncaring negligence that is getting on Cantabrian’s nerves. While Key and his entourage go around cutting ribbons on hotel rooms and announcing playground competitions at private primary schools (does it really take the PM, at least two MPs and the mayor to make such a vital decision?), the people his government have left behind are out on the streets, working to save their communities from ideological indifference to their suffering.

You wanna roll out the big R word again? This shows how little you care about our plight. Cheryl Bernstein blogged about how we were sick of hearing that word IN AUGUST 2011. That’s practically 2 years ago. 2 years of empty promises, or patronising platitudes, of 100 day plans for the CBD and endless delays for residents. Compassionate, practical and resilient could describe our people in the immediate aftermath of the quakes, banding together, helping each other out. But if the PM had any idea what it was like to live down here, he would know that being practical doesn’t help when EQC won’t give you information about your own house, being compassionate isn’t easy when your insurer blames EQC, who blames the insurer, and being resilient isn’t much help when your fourth project manager rings to tell you that they need to come and do a 12th assessment of your house.

Resilience has two definitions. The first being the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like. I’m sure that’s what everyone who overuses it means. The second, though, is slightly different. “The power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched.” Christchurch is so far away from being returned to the original form, or even something that looks different but at least functions like it did before. Opening a hotel, a playground design cometition and a hollow tweet show that this government has run out of ideas on how to fix it.

 

Very interesting piece from Christchurch architect John Chaplin on the uncertainties of the residential rebuild program. He warns that we may not have learnt anything from the leaky building saga.

There are two interesting stories in the Press this morning that show the complete shambles that the rebuild of Christchurch has become. The first is about the escalating costs of construction. Worryingly, it suggests that due to rising costs, developers are eschewing fancy designs and pumping for plain old tip slab instead. Central city developers are having to compete with buildings in Addington, Victoria St and out at the airport, where the land is cheaper, and foundations are cheaper to put in. For the developers in the central city, this means that to build a premium office space, they are having to pay more than anywhere else in the country.

Think about that for a moment. Yes, we need to ensure that the buildings here are safe for future seismic events. But the buildings going up in Addington and Victoria St aren’t the most expensive in the country; this is a clear by-product of the CCDU blueprint, which deliberately restricted land supply for a select few developers. So while the plan was to artificially maintain the property prices for the lucky few, if they can’t afford to build on this land, it will soon lose it’s value again. Who is going to want to move their law firm into the most expensive office building in the country, when it is in the centre of a grey, broken wasteland, pockmarked by the occasional tilt-slab barn? The government should never have tried to prop up the property prices of their favourite developers; they should have let their beloved market determine what land was worth in the centre of a devastated city. That said, very little is happening in the middle of town, it wouldn’t be too late to just scrap the plan and start again.

Worryingly, the cost of building is expected to go up when they actually get around to starting it. 

David Wallace, who represents developer Devonia Holdings, expected costs would “ramp up further” once the city’s anchor projects began.

Ah yes, those “anchor projects”, like the stadium. The damned stadium. But wait, the stadium could *make* money, according to a new plan. Geoff Saunders, a lawyer who seems to have the ear of Brownlee, has pitched the idea of building office blocks into the stadium. Ok. He reckons they would make $11 million a year. Ok. This raises more questions than answers for me. First, who is building these office blocks? This relates to the question who is building this stadium, and who is funding it? This is a question that people have been asking ever since the blueprint came out. It seems that the government is going to force the council to build it, and force the ratepayer to pay for it. If that’s the case, and this is the design, then will the ratepayer then be expected to build office blocks too? 

You would have to assume that they were going to be built by the council, as otherwise, the purported $11 million would not be returned to the people. If they were built by another operator, and their value was contingent on their proximity to a publicly-funded asset, then why would we let them take the money?

But probably the biggest question I have on this is contingent on it’s success: if you can generate $11 million a year from 4 office blocks on this site, then how much could you generate if you just built offices, not a stadium? The jury is still out on whether Lancester Park can be salvaged, and no-one has produced a costed economic plan for the stadium. Looking at the picture that accompanies the story, I reckon you could fit 15 of these office blocks on the site; using the same maths as Saunders, this would pull in around $40 million a year. Also, you wouldn’t have to needlessly destroy heritage buildings like the NG Gallery one. You could even include some social housing in there, and bring some people back into the central city.

I realise that this is never going to happen; however, I think it’s important to bring the keep highlighting the idiocy that is the CCDU blueprint and all it’s unintended, yet highly predictable, consequences.

 

Gerry Brownlee has just released a statement on the legistlation that the government will pass to help with the recovery and rebuild.

Urgent legislation to help Canterbury recovery

The government will introduce legislation tomorrow to facilitate recovery work in Canterbury, says Gerry Brownlee, the Minister responsible for coordinating the Government’s recovery response to the Canterbury earthquake.

“Canterbury has been under a state of emergency for nine days following the earthquake. When the state of emergency is lifted, normal legislative requirements come back into force,” Mr Brownlee said.

“The building, local government and resource management acts are not designed for the special circumstances Canterbury faces. We don’t want recovery work being slowed or stopped by filling out paper work. That is why the government is introducing the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, to allow a seamless transition from the state of emergency.

“This temporary legislation will exempt or relax legislation as it applies to the emergency and recovery response. For example, sewage pipes that are cracked may be able to be diverted to ensure water supply remains safe and local councils aren’t liable for prosecution. If a heritage building needs strengthening urgently rather than waiting for resource consents and approvals the work could start immediately and consents would be granted retrospectively.”

The legislation will expire no later than 1 April 2012 and enables the government to use orders in council to ensure recovery operations can occur efficiently and without delay. It also creates a commission that includes the mayors of the three worst-hit districts – Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission will link decision makers on the ground in Canterbury directly with government Ministers.

“The state of emergency has allowed authorities in Canterbury to make decisions and act quickly in response to the calamity they faced.

“They have done well and the emergency state is passing. Special legislation is needed to ensure recovery work continues at pace,” Mr Brownlee said.

Over the last few days, the earthquake has slipped a little in media standing. It’s still top of the program, but we might get a couple of stories. By next weekend, it probably wont register at all. Almost conversely, with every day the problems for central Christchurch seem to get greater, not lesser. The cordon may have been lifted, but a huge number of streets, or parts of streets, are still closed. Many of them will be for weeks and months. I talked to a landlord a few days ago, who said it was going to take 3 months just to replace the windows on one, 6-storey office block. That’s just the windows. I am still not able to stay in my house, though the building itself is fine. We still don’t have power, 8 days later. It seems to be because of the number of buildings close by that will be knocked down – I guess it’s just easier to keep us out until that is done. Despite all the nice statements that the council and mayor make, inner city living is not very high on local government’s agenda.

Last week was largely a write-off for many people, no school for the kids, only essential hospital services, tradespeople trying their hardest to get everything up and ready. Monday the 13th will be different. People are trying to start the new week, to return to normality. Many people are going to realise just how long it will be before things return to anything like normal. Many businesses are trying to find office space that they can relocate to in the short term – although the worry may be that some central city businesses will never come back. The Alliance Francais, which teaches French to children and adults, as well as organising cultural and social events for Francophones in Christchurch, has it’s premises on Hereford St, not far from the Manchester Courts building. It is unable to open for teaching whilst the Manchester Courts building remains unresolved, so they are having to look for somewhere else to teach classes. They don’t know how long they will be unable to go back to their building.

There are up to 80 other businesses that are in the same situation, just because they are close to Manchester Courts. It is a terrible situation, as there is so much uncertainty. On the one hand, we need these businesses to be able to get back and open again, as soon as possible, with as little disruption as possible. On the other, I want to think that whatever can be done to try and save the Manchester Courts building is being looked into. I want all options to be exhausted: demolition should be an absolute last resort. I think that in the scheme of things, the Alliance Francais and other local businesses having to move for a couple of weeks is relatively minor.

However, as this sort of situation is likely to be being played out all over the city right now, I wonder whether there is a role for the government to play. No-one wants decisions to be rushed through, but there is understandable pressure from business owners to have those decisions made as quickly as possible. The government (and I think it has to be government – council simply doesn’t have the money) should step in and reassure small businesses that they will be covered, so that they don’t feel they have to rush back to work at a speed which jeopardises the future of our city. The Ministry of Social Development’s wage assistance scheme goes some way to easing the strain, but won’t be enough to stop small business owners worrying about loss of earnings, rent, replacing stock, loss of custom, all sorts of things.

While the rebuild and recovery of Christchurch needs to proceed quickly, that doesn’t mean that we should be rushing into bad decisions – as we may be living with these bad decisions for the rest of our lives.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 988 other followers