You have until midday today to make a submission to the Council on the Long Term Plan. You may want to make a submission to tell them how you feel about say asset sales, or the arts budget, or cycle ways, or councillor’s facial hair. All you have to do is go here and fill in as much or as little as you want.

I heard the front page story from yesterday’s Press second-hand from some guys in the tea room. I’m paraphrasing, but it went along the lines of “bloody hell. You hear about this cycle way crap? They could take all the money their going to spend on the cycle ways and buy everyone a car instead”.

I thought that sounded like an idiotic, Chinese Whispers version of the story. But alas, it isn’t:

University of Canterbury finance professor Glenn Boyle and PhD student James Hill have analysed the Christchurch City Council’s business case for the major cycleways programme and say it is “excessively optimistic”.

Boyle said the 18,000 increase in cycling trips expected as a result of the new cycleway network roughly translated into an additional 9000 people cycling. For $156m, the council could buy all those people brand new Suzuki Altos.

This is what happens when finance professors – cost of everything, value of nothing – sit down to try and analyse social projects. It’s a waste of money! It doesn’t add up! The council is wasting your money!

You could spend $156 million buying 9,000 people who might cycle a car. Did you consider what the impact of 9,000 more cars on our already congested roads might be? Did you consider that people who cycle and don’t own a car, like me, don’t necessarily want to own a car? I like getting around on a bike, I pay rates, and I shouldn’t be treated as though I’m just a wannabe car owner, biking around because I’m cheap. I’m not. I’ve made a conscious decision to ride a bike around, and shouldn’t be penalised for that because a wonk economist can’t see the financial utility in someone with different ideals and values to himself.

On Tuesday evening, Canadian urbanist Charles Montgomery gave a couple of lectures about his thoughts on Christchurch. I wasn’t there – it was cheap Tuesday date night* – but it sounds like he had some good things to say. The headline was the Convention Centre:

Putting a convention centre in the middle of Christchurch’s city centre is a mistake, Canadian urban experimentalist Charles Montgomery says.

“If your interest is in creating rich, social, connected enviroments in your core you should be very wary of plans to drop mega structures into that fabric. Convention centres are notorious, because of their architectural requirements, for killing street life around their edges,” Montgomery said.

The response from CCDU director Baden Ewart is straight from the CERA play book. He also had some interesting thoughts about residential density:

Montgomery said Christchurch should be encouraging higher density housing and aiming to have far more than 20,000 people living in the central city because that would increase opportunities for people to connect socially, which was the most important ingredient for human happiness. Within the central city core and the eastern frame, there were tremendous opportunities to create the kind of density people loved, he said.

“Young people want more freedom. They don’t want to spend their lives mowing a lawn. They want more freedom to spend time with their friends and families, to go out, to access the riches of the city. How do you get that? By moving a little closer together.”

This is all great stuff and I’m glad to see it getting some attention. But it does bring up a point that was raised to me by former mayor Garry Moore a few weeks ago – Overseas Expert Syndrome. Moore described how when he was mayor, people were far more likely to listen to someone with a funny accent coming here and telling us things, than we are to listen to our own experts. Which I’m sure is a thing worldwide, but we New Zealanders, with our sense of inferiority of place, seem more susceptible to this sort of approach.

The irony of which is that one of our very own experts, Gap Filler co-founder and Once in a Lifetime editor Dr Ryan Reynolds, is currently in Copenhagen, where he is lecturing on urban design and activism. Maybe when he gets back off the plan, we should listen a bit more carefully to what he has to say.

* I went to see Dior and I, which was very enjoyable, much of this was due to the performance of Raf Simons. If you would like to come and see another suave european named Raf, then tonight I’m hosting a debate with council finance supremo Raf Manji on asset sales. It’s at 5:30pm at the EPIC centre. Free to come along, and hopefully informative! More details here.

Tomorrow night at 5:30pm, the team who brought you Once In A Lifetime are hosting their first “Talking Heads” evening. It will feature Councillor Raf Manji in conversation with myself about the council’s asset sales plan. I’ll be asking him some questions, and if you’d like your question asked, then fire me an email (James dot Dann at Gmail dot Com). It’s free to come along, and we might head out after for a beer and to continue the conversation. 

TALKING HEADS #1: ASSET SALES

Cr Raf Manji in conversation with James Dann. 

5:30pm at the EPIC centre, corner Manchester and Tuam St

Free to come along

Email any questions to me before hand 

Barnaby has written a very long investigation about the Convention Centre, which you can read here. There is one of thing that doesn’t come up, which I have been thinking about. Pre-quake, and actually still to this day, the council-owned company V-Base runs conferences in the city. They also ran Lancaster Park. At the moment, their main conference facility is Wigram Airforce Museum. The new convention centre is done in a deal with Accor, who are meant to be running the conventions. What I’d like to know is whether this means that the government is putting money into a convention centre that will be run by a French company in direct competition with a company run by the ratepayer? If so, what does this mean for V-Base? Will the council have to wind it up, or will it try and out-compete? Seems like a relevant question to have answered before we spunk out $284 of public money.

Property developers seem to be the most important people in the eyes of the government. The blueprint put them front and centre, limiting land supply to ensure that those within the frame didn’t lose value on their portfolios. The blueprint also strongly favours big developments, which has resulted in big name, big money developers taking on whole city blocks at a time. Some of these developers are relentlessly positive, such as Shaun Stockman:

His advice to people considering living in the central city is simple – “do it”.

“Enjoy the buzz of living centrally. It’s a perfect place to be for people who want an easy care lifestyle and there is something for everyone. The new city is a playground – just get stuck in!”

Something for everyone! The new city is a playground! Just get stuck in! The other developer who can usually be called upon for boosterism has a slightly different message:

High-profile property developer Antony Gough hopes offering pre-earthquake rents will lure tenants to his stalled central Christchurch precinct.

Gough, whose prime hospitality space, The Strip, was demolished after the quakes, said he would charge about $700 a square metre for hospitality space at The Terrace – “a third of what shopping malls are charging”. Hospitality NZ said Gough’s offer was generous but some developers thought it would still be too expensive for tenants.

A “few” tenants had already signed up but he would not say how many.

Demand has clearly not matched the optimistic expectations of those developing in the Cashel Mall area – this isn’t the first time that Gough’s development has stalled. While you have to admire him for pushing on regardless, the underlying economics of the situation should have alarm bells ringing at CERA HQ. As should this story from the Press:

Cristo Ltd has abandoned plans to develop the site of BNZ House in Cathedral Square, which it says is the subject of a dispute with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), and is looking for a buyer.

The building has become an eyesore, sitting half-demolished on the southern edge of the square for more than two years while developers and businesses head west to the banks of the Avon River.

Cristo director Stephen Bell said tenants were not interested in the site, stalling development plans for a multi-storey office building. “The high-end tenants you need to make a building like that, a fairly expensive building, pay, seem to have settled elsewhere and are not really interested in coming right back into the CBD. The possibility of building offices in the centre of the city now seems quite remote.”

Most of the development happening in the CBD is being led by families with a strong connection to Christchurch. The lack of outside investment in the city has always been a problem – but now that these developer families are pulling their money out, where does that leave the wasteland of a CBD? This situation – a CBD rebuild led by a handful of prominent developers – is exactly what the government wanted when they released the blueprint. People have been arguing since 2012 that this is what would happen if they went down this track. They’ve rejected such claims. This is their mess.

Rentals for more than $400s a square metre, which Bell said were needed to make a high-rise development on the BNZ site viable, were unsustainable, [Richard] Peebles said, especially when tenants wanted to be on the west bank of the Avon River and could do so for much less.

Knight Frank director of valuation Will Blake said existing developments had largely catered for office space demand, meaning the old CBD – Cathedral Square and surrounds – “could be in for quite a long period of not much activity”.

“It certainly does look like the central city has shifted to the west and become a bit more elongated rather than just clustered around the square.”

That the city has “shifted to the west” and that people want to be on the west bank of the Avon is telling – this means the developments on Cambridge Terrace and Victoria St. These developments have flourished precisely because they are outside of the area controlled by the blueprint. There is a diminishing business case, to put it in developer-speak, for returning to the CBD. I doubt this is what CERA wanted when they released the blueprint.

One of the things that struck me about the CERA response to the criticism of their Live Central campaign was how straight up wrong they were. Warwick Isaacs wrote a letter to the Press, which echoed the sentiments of Cr Jamie Gough, who said that there were no brown people in the campaign because no brown people lived in the central city (I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly). The thing is, that isn’t true. There are lots of brown people who live in the central city – they just don’t live in houses.*

Every Friday dozens of people head down to Latimer Square to get a hot meal from volunteers. These are many of the vulnerably housed people who call the streets of the CBD home. Many of them will stay in some of the shelters and church-led accommodation to the east of Madras St. Pre-quake, there were lots of properties that catered for these people. I remember that the front porch of the Grumpy Mole was often a prime spot for rough sleepers. Post-quake, it’s not so easy.

Following the cold snap of the last few days, the City Mission has put a call out for blankets because their night shelters are full to capacity. If you can help them out with a spare blanket or some cash, please do. And if you’re in a position of power, please stop pretending these people don’t exist in our city. They do. Any discussion about the residential future of the central city which fails to acknowledge the existence of people in poverty or people without a regular abode will only serve to reinforce these problems.

* I’m not for a minute saying that only brown people are vulnerably housed. There are all sorts of races down at the food van when I go by it on Friday evening, but I don’t stop to take pictures or count ethnicities.

Pps you can visit the Help The Homeless Chch page here

The debate around the council selling assets has largely been framed as the Mayor, Cr Manji and Cr Buck, against a rag-tag bunch of ideologues – aka the Labour-aligned, People’s Choice councillors. Though these 6 councillors publicly stated that they were against asset sales during their election campaign, and are now sticking to their promise, they have been criticised by the Mayor, Gerry Brownlee and the National Party, the Press, talkback hacks etc. But little if no attention has been given to the other 5 councillors who are supporting this plan. So what have they been up to?

Front page of the Press this morning we find Cr David East (Burwood Pegasus). Prior to being on council, he kept himself busy by running the local RSA into the ground:

When businessman Garry House, who is now executive-secretary of the club, was asked to help out the RSA in May 2012, he found: “GST had not been paid for four years. The club eventually had to pay the Inland Revenue Department a $25,000 penalty. Annual returns had not been filed for 2010 or 2011. Rates and power bills were long overdue.”

Clearly these are the appropriate pre-requisites for someone who is chairman of the council’s regulations and consents committee and a director of several council companies.

Cr Jamie Gough was most recently in the headlines for slagging off minorities and people with disabilities. He is a councillor, but is barely, if ever, in the news for actually doing councillor things. You might remember the time he got stupid drunk had a bad curry and forgot to pay for his taxi. Or the time he ranted about bogans for using public spaces. You won’t remember the time he made an impassioned speech about why he believes we should sell council assets – because he’s never made his reasons clear.

A search of the Press website for Cr Ali Jones will bring up a number of stories about her pre-council role as an advocate for people fighting Southern Response, as well as many from when she was a talkback host before that. Her most notable act as a councillor was voting against fixing a community pool. She still finds time to run her PR company though.

The Man Who Could Have Been Mayor, Cr Paul Lonsdale, has also been pretty quiet. He’s keen on carparks in the CBD, and is in favour of the Levis Skatepark. Finally, Cr Tim Scandrett, who’s most notable act since he’s been at Hereford St (and remember, we’re now more than half way through this term) is being heading up a subcommittee to look at council-run events.

These guys may all have their own reasons for voting for the sale of assets – the point is, we don’t know what they are. This isn’t just the Mayor, Cr Manji and Cr Buck voting to partially privatise or strategically refocus or whatever other Crosby-Textor spin they’re putting on this now. They are 3 votes – and they need 8. So if you live in one of these wards, and want to know why your councillor is voting to sell off assets, why don’t you ask them? People can disagree with the People’s Choice councillors position on an issue, but at least you know where they stand. For many of our quieter councillors, we sadly can’t say the same.

The Silent Five councillors, with their contact details (all publicly available on the CCC website)

David East – Burwood Pegasus,

388 1104 david.east@ccc.govt.nz

Ali Jones Shirley-Papanui,

941 7066 ali.jones@ccc.govt.nz

Jamie Gough Fendalton-Waimairi,

027 231 4393 jamie.gough@ccc.govt.nz

Paul Lonsdale Hagley-Ferrymead,

941 7064 paul.lonsdale@ccc.govt.nz

Tim Scandrett Spreydon-Heathcote,

941 7069 tim.scandrett@ccc.govt.nz

A couple of weeks ago, Nick Smith and the government decided to prolong the sham that is ECan until 2019. When announcing that there would be a “mixed government model”, he went on to say that democracy was “too risky” for Canterbury. Of course what he means is that if the governance was returned to the people who actually pay the rates at ECan, then they would probably elect a council that would try and place some restrictions on the unchecked expansion of dairying across Canterbury.

Smith and the government always say this this is about “water management”, and that the previous council was “dysfunctional”. It was dysfunctional inasmuch as it was made up of a mixture of rural and urban councillors who disagreed about how to proceed with the exponential expansion of dairying in the region that they were responsible for. The government used the Creech report to play on this idea of “dysfunction”, and said that they were installing commissioners to ensure that “water management” was handled smoothly. It is notable that Smith, Adams et al always say “water management” – meaning allocation, not “water quality”.

Smith insists that the commissioners were installed to fix the dysfunction and put a water management structure into place. He insists that they’re doing that job:

“I am yet to meet a single Cantabrian who will not tell me the commissioners have cleaned up one helluva mess.”

And yet, even with that narrow remit, and without the nuisance of elections and democracy, they actually aren’t doing it:

Environment Canterbury (ECan) will not meet some of its water management targets for 2015, a commissioner says … Targets for 2015 included making sure at least 80 per cent of river bathing sites were clean for recreation, significant wetlands were restored, and increasing the area of irrigated land in Canterbury and/or the reliability of irrigation … David Caygill, one of two ECan commissioners on the Canterbury Regional Water Management Committee, said ECan was “on track” with several targets and needed “to do more work” in other areas.

A major target for 2015 was setting water quality limits based on nutrient levels for all 10 water-management zones – a task assigned to zone committees, Caygill said. “We have got limits in place across the region as a whole but [with] the work of tailoring those limits to particular catchments . . . we’re about halfway there,” he said.

Ecan did not have the scientific resources available to set limits across all the catchments at the same time, and consultation was time consuming, Caygill said.

(my emphasis)

So the government sacked the council and gave “water management” as their reason, and yet here we are 5 years later and they’re only halfway there? Doesn’t that suggest that the commissioner-led ECan is … what’s the word I’m looking for here … dysfunctional?

Despite the volatility in the industry, dairy is pretty much the only economic remedy that National wants to prescribe. Here in Canterbury, they’ve decided that they need a bit more time, and so have pushed-out the inevitable backlash at the ballot box out until 2019, to give their dysfunctional commissioners a bit more time. It’s also a signal, in this drought year, for the most environmentally vandalous farmers to push for irrigation in the most inappropriate areas. Across the country, however, the environmental toll is becoming unavoidable, as this excellent post from Dave Hansford makes all too clear:

Under the terms of the Primary Growth Partnership, ag minister Nathan Guy wants primary sector export receipts to double in value by 2025. Given that they have already wrung monumental production increases from their properties – an average 57 per cent per hectare between 1992 and 2012 – that demand in critical markets like China has flattened, exchange rates routinely swing against them, and international dairy prices tumbled more than 50 per cent last year, the only practical thing left for dairy farmers to do is to stock more cows.

The Government, like some Harlem pusher, is doing everything it can to coax farmers into still more expansion. It has adopted fresh water quality standards so lax they would give the filthy, lifeless Yangtze a clean bill of health. It removed the obstacle of a democratically-elected regional council in Canterbury that was proceeding on water issues with a caution mandated by voters. Instead, it installed pro-irrigation, agri-business-friendly “commissioners.” It has devoted $35m of taxpayers’ money to facilitating irrigation schemes. It granted agriculture exemption from the Emissions Trading Scheme on what is unfolding as a perpetual basis.

We need to realise that we’ve reached the carrying capacity of our paddocks; we need to combine best-practice farming techniques with scientific research, rather than ignoring all the evidence that happens to be inconvenient for the government’s agenda. We should be trying to farm smarter, not just trying to stick a dairy cow on a plot of grass, no matter how suitable it might be. And most of off, we need the government to get out of our way and let us make our own decisions about land use in Canterbury. It is laughable that Key can stand up and insist that we are fighting for democracy in the Middle East, whilst at the same time scrapping suffrage at ECan to pursue the most naked economic agenda.

Patrick Reynolds over at Transportblog has a post looking at two ads for development property in Auckland and Christchurch. It’s short so I’ll repost the whole thing:

For those interested in the divergence of development patterns in New Zealand cities it is hard not to be struck by this page in the weekend’s real estate section. Auckland is still growing out, but it is also growing up. Christchurch not so much, just out. Time will tell which model better suits the demands of this century. This also clearly illustrates how Auckland is an exception in NZ in more ways than just its size:

I was thinking about Christchurch’s sprawl issues over the weekend. We had an opportunity to restrict the sprawl of the city across the plains, but that horse has well and truly bolted. That horse now lives in Rolleston, commutes to work in Addington, and drops the kids at school in Riccarton on the way. And unless the government actively steps in to proactively encourage residential development in the CBD, I can’t see any end to this short-term urban planning.

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