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.

I was on the plane to Auckland on Saturday, and instead of reading more of my boring book I flicked back through a series of older newspaper articles that I’ve meant to read for a while. One was this piece from the head of Warren and Mahoney, Peter Marshall. He is talking about housing in the eastern frame, and is pretty boosterish about it. He says that we should be building affordable housing – great!

Christchurch has apartments now on the west side between the central city and Hagley Park but they are fairly high end.

“What was missing was an affordable townhouse which is where that is going to be pitched.”

What is affordable?

“$500,000, $600,000, there might even be some less.”

THIS GUY THINKS THAT $600,000 IS AN AFFORDABLE HOUSE. JUST THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A BIT.

Ok.

Are you still digesting that – I’ll give you another moment.

Right.

To put that in context, here are some other numbers:

Whereas the average house price before the quakes had been around $310,000, an average new home including land would now cost between $450,000 and $550,000.

Those figures – from the Salvation Army – come with this additional, understated comment:

“This difference is likely to be the continuing source of housing stress for many households for many years to come.”

If you take the mid-point of that latter bracket – $500,000 – then the average house price has gone up $190,000 in 5 years. That is pretty much 10% a year, each year since the quakes. If people’s wages had been going up 10% a year, I think we’d know about it. They haven’t. Saying that things aren’t as bad as they are in the Auckland housing market is irrelevant; here we had a major disaster, and the government has a duty of care to ensure that the people of Christchurch suffer as little as possible.

Despite repeated warnings of a housing crisis, National refuses to accept that there is anything wrong. And why would they? They are the party of property prices; they returned a stunning result in Christchurch at the last election, and I reckon that is in large part due to many, many people feeling very good about the increasing value of their property portfolio. That this dude can say that $600,000 – twice what the average house cost just five years ago – is an “affordable” home with a straight face shows how totally broken the market is.

No-one is going to provide affordable housing that is actually affordable for the people who need it. In the short term, this will serve the government and it’s allies; the head of the CCDU Warwick Isaacs is about to leave so he can join Stonewood Homes, a builder of cookie-cutter landfill subdivisions in which half the houses failed their inspections. In the long term, Christchurch will become a city that is only affordable for the homogenous, white middle-class that CERA depicts in their advertising, whilst the poor, the working class, the migrants, the students and the people who generally make cities interesting places to live give up on the White Man’s Dream and head for greener pastures.

And here’s a contrast with the previous post – a story from the Washington Post about the success of parklets – when carparks are converted to mini-parks, touched up with a bit of greenery or some furniture.

Remove parking, the argument goes, and business will wither. The reality, though, is more complicated …

For the last few years, Philadelphia has converted a handful of parking spots in front of neighborhood businesses into temporary “parklets” no bigger than the spac e that might fit one or two cars (these tiny interventions are now popular in a lot of cities). Records from adjacent businesses show sales went up about 20 percent immediately after the parks were installed, relative to right beforehand.

Christchurch is in a slightly different situation; instead of converting parking spots to little parks, we should be having a debate about the number of carparks – on street and off street – we should be embedding in our city plans. But we’re not. Instead, we have business “leaders” insisting that carparks are essential to the rebuild; the only dissent is around how many carparks we are talking about, and who should pay for them.

If you go back to the Share an Idea consultation, one of the ideas that came out of this was that the central city had become too “car-centric”. You don’t need to take my word for it – here’s Bob Parker:

“We recognise that the car-centric city we had become needed some change.”

Big issues around the world, such as climate change, brought additional pressure to the plan, and the city needed to become a leader in sustainability. The plan proposes changing all the inner-city one-way streets into two-way routes. [Parker] outlined some of the key ideas that came from the public during that process, including the need for more green spaces and the desire to become a “more iconic place” and create “a more human-scale environment.”

In 2011, the people who live in Christchurch chose a “City in a Garden”; in 2015, the handful of people who run this town have replaced that with a “City in a Carpark”.

As a white middle class dude who likes to spend too much on clothes, I’m often shopping at Ballantynes. I probably pop in every week or two, just to keep an eye on what’s new, what’s good and most importantly, what’s on sale*. I wander in on my way home, or bike over on a Saturday morning. So I was pretty surprised when their new head said the idea that people would bike to his store – as I do – was “crackers”. Talking about the central city and the insatiable desire for car parking, new Chairman Bill Luff said:

The idea that people are going to use public transport and bikes is crackers.

Ballantynes wanted to appoint a visionary new chair, but instead they plumped for a guy who thinks the idea that people would walk, bike, or use public transport to visit his store is crazy. The store is literally across the road from the current bus exchange, and will be diagonally opposite the new bus exchange. Thousands of people go through there every day – maybe they could try and do something to attract some of that custom, rather than whinging and hoping the council stumps up for millions of dollars of infrastructure for their benefit. They have a privileged position in a pedestrian mall, which thousands of people walk through each and every day. Luff then pretty much issues threats to the council:

I come back to my old hobbyhorse. I’m not going to risk another cent of shareholders’ money unless we have some confidence that we have that infrastructure in place and that comes back to visitor car parking.

I’ll definitely be thinking twice before spending any money with a company who thinks so little of people who don’t drive an environmentally destructive Merivale tractor to get to their store.

* I haven’t bought much from Ballys for a while. The last thing I got was some Yeastie Boys beer that was stupid cheap because it was close to its us-by date. Their range has definitely suffered post-quake, and while I try and support them, it’s harder and harder when there is little that I like.

Last week, I looked up the Live Central Christchurch website, after a giant billboard for it went up opposite the Commons. It is a remarkable piece of propaganda from the CCDU, and the homogeneity of it has caused a few, much deserved, heckles.

A reader who contacted The Press called it “outrageous”.

“Look at how white and middle-class they seem to think the people who will be living in the future Christchurch are. It’s really quite offensive how narrow this demographic is,” he said.

This was followed by some sensible comments from Cr Johanson, and some idiot utterances from Cr Gough:

Cr Jamie Gough, who lived in the central city until recently, took the reader’s point but said the promotion deserved credit for avoiding “social engineering”. It did not offend him.

“This is just real-life people enjoying living in the central city. Sometimes, real isn’t always the most politically correct,” Gough said.

Gough said some even stupider things on his Facebook, which Moata has rightly skewered, and you should all read along. What Gough fails to understand, whilst he bandies about comically-meaningless terms like “PC gone mad” and “social engineering”, is that Live Central’s vision, and his support for it is social engineering. This is someone with a history of bigotry, who famously slagged off a large proportion of the city’s population as bogans just because they went to the beach at the same time as him. Asking him for a nuanced take on socio-political issues is like milking a cow and expecting to get eggs. The people in the picture might be real people who really live in the CBD, and he may not see a problem with that.

He should.

That the people selected for the campaign are uniformly white, middle-class and largely in the same age bracket is the problem. We know that New Zealand has a very diverse – and diversifying – population. We know that there are significant numbers of people with disabilities. We know that we have an ageing population. So to have a subset of people – even if they do really live in the CBD – which doesn’t acknowledge any of these things is ‘social engineering’ in itself.

I disagree with Moata on some things though; I don’t think this is a good campaign. Aside from presenting a white-washed view of living in the CBD, it white-washes the reality of central city living. I’ve lived in the CBD since December 2013, and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty weird. I’m not the only one who thinks that. While you would expect a promotional website to be bullish, some of the claims are closer to bullshit. The purpose of the site is to attract people to live in the CBD; to encourage that, they have listed a bunch of residential developments. None of these projects seem to be at the “affordable” end of the scale, which makes you wonder whether there are enough upper middle-class people who wanted to live in the CBD for them to be able to reach their 20,000 person target.

As a central city resident, I’d love to see more people live here. It would improve my quality of life markedly; more people would mean more shops and cafes. It’d mean that we’d be more likely to be listened to about issues that directly effect us. But this half-hearted, homogenous campaign looks to be a reflection of the CCDU’s commitment to making this happen; a poorly thought-out attempt at making something happen through marketing. If CERA genuinely wanted more people to live in the central city, they could address the main factor preventing this happening – the cost of land. Maybe then we can see a campaign in another 5 or 10 years that more accurately reflects the diversity that makes up 21st century New Zealand.

This is a really good post on Christchurch’s future cycling infrastructure. I don’t have a huge amount to add to it, but would suggest you read it, if you prefer your cycling analysis to be backed up by research rather than based on wild speculation and grudges against bikes:

Even if the costs have blown out to ~$160 million, a quick calculation shows that the Benefit/Cost Ratio of the total cycleway programme in Christchurch is conservatively at 7:1 – a pretty good business case in most people’s eyes … Just for comparison, the much-vaunted Southern Motorway extension ended up costing $140 million for a projected Benefit/Cost Ratio of about 2.4:1

Hear no evil and speak no evil have left the building … will see no evil be on the way soon? One can only hope. i_smell_bacon_wee_wee

I feel like I’ve woken up in the bizarro episode of Sealab 2021. Asked for comment about the financial situation at the City Council, Gerry Brownlee is happy to give his two cents, which, unsurprisingly, are that the CCC should sell more assets and spend less. Of course, Mr Brownlee doesn’t offer to help by say, putting in all the money that the Crown initially promised, or revising some of the vanity projects which he has bestowed upon the council. No, that didn’t cross his mind. Instead, we get this bizarre statement:

Brownlee said rather than putting rates up the council should be looking at its baseline, just as the Government had done when it was faced with the double whammy of the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquake.

“Whenever you are in a tight financial situation you have to look at your own expenditure profile and I don’t see evidence of that happening from the council.

“I think most people would be able to come up with some example of what they would see as fairly unnecessary expenditure,” the minister said.

When the government was faced with the double whammy of the financial crisis and the earthquakes … from memory, they gave $1.8 billion dollars to a failed financial company, slashed taxes, refused to introduce a special quake levy and borrowed money from overseas. Government debt, which was around $10b when National came to office in 2008, is now $100b dollars. That Brownlee would be giving financial advice to the Christchurch City Council, pretending he’s just “a regular ratepayer” is ironic enough; that he would try and site his government’s dismal economic record as some sort of example to follow is positively hilarious.

The council today voted to flog off another $200 million of ratepayer owned assets, bringing the fire sale total to $750m. On top of this, they are talking about rates increases of 33% over the next four years. Less than a year ago, this is what Cr Manji had to say about rates rises:

The Cameron report suggests rate rises could be in order – more income to allow the servicing of more debt. Despite earthquake levies being added by the previous council, Christchurch still has some of the country’s lowest rates.

But Manji says it is clear that further rate hikes are politically unacceptable. “That would be a huge flashpoint. You’ve got to remember what people have been through over the past four years. They’re stretched emotionally more than you could ever imagine.”

However, Manji agrees with Mayor Lianne Dalziel that a sale of council assets – or rather finding strategic partners to take a 25 per cent share in the holding company – makes eminent sense. This alone could knock $400m off that 2019 hump.

A week is a long time in politics. However, I struggle to see how we’ve gone from “rates rises or asset sales to raise $400m” in August 2014 to “rase rises AND even more asset sales to raise $750m” less than a year later. And yet despite the Minister promising a review of the cost sharing event by December during the election campaign, we’ve not heard anything about this, which could ease some of the burden on the council. The ratepayers of Christchurch are being played, both by the council and the government, who are selling off productive assets and running down our social housing stock, whilst refusing to back down over less-than-essential anchor projects such as stadiums, convention centres and sports centres.

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