I’m not sure quite why it chose a Sunday, but this morning, John Key’s twitter account belched out three infographics about the Christchurch rebuild. They contain figures, numbers and some ticks, and are all in a soothing blue palate. But they aren’t very useful.

This one was about building consents. It shows a steady increase – although under the new CBD plan, the towers to denote Dec 2011, Mar 2012 and June 2012 would be prohibited from being built in the city, as they breach the 7-storey height limit outlined in the City Plan.

At the top of the graphic, it mentions the $3.9 billion spend up to the December 2012 quarter*. So why aren’t the Sep 2012 and Dec 2012 consent numbers included on the graph? Well, it’s because the December 2012 numbers are about 150 down on the September ones, so it wouldn’t much such a happy graph. So they just ignored it.

Update: I made the graph with the Sep and Dec quarters. Wasn’t hard to do – I even did the bars in a nice soft blue. You can see why they didn’t include the Dec quarter.

Total Consents in Canterbury

Another problem here is the scale – it looks impressive, as it comes off of a very low base. This base has been set low by the September and February quakes. I can’t imagine many people lining up to build after those events – and that’s what the numbers show. So this doesn’t really say much, as you’d expect that these numbers would increase. The problem with this info-graphic – and the other two really – is that they don’t place the numbers in any sort of meaningful context. Is 719 earthquake-related building consents in a quarter a lot?

An earthquake-ralted building consent is apparently any building consent (residential, non-residential, non-building) issued since September 2010. I’m not bored enough to go back and tally up all the building consents in Christchurch over the last decade, but I did find the numbers for residential building consents. They go like this:

New residential buildings for Christchurch city for the year to December:

2003 – 2542

2004 – 2492

2005 – 2095

2006 – 2240

2007 – 2375

2008 – 1282

2009 – 1248

2010 – 1492

2011 – 979

As you can see residential building consents have been falling for years. This graphic takes an arbitrary low point and calls it a baseline, without giving us any other context. And even then, the number of ERBCs from Dec 2010 through to Jun 2012 – 2,412 – is lower than the number of residential consents per year from the mid 2000’s. Or number for context – we’ve lost about 10,000 buildings since the quake.

All the consent numbers are on this page at Stats NZ, so if you like your figures hard and truthy, rather than soft and manipulated, that’s the place to go.

* this figure – $3.9 billion – can’t be just the value of earthquake-related building consents, as that is only $793.3 million since Sept 2010. I assume it includes other building work in Canterbury, but don’t know where the number is from. If the bars below show numbers for one thing, then the figure at the top should relate to the same data set. Bad form.

This one is probably the worst of the three. The figures have been cribbed from the Press lift out I mentioned above (which cites their sources as CERA, EQC, Stats NZ and SCIRT.) The figures are pretty much the same, though with some generous rounding up (the Press says 104km of wastewater pipe, National rounds up to 111km.) Again, the problem here is context. 21 km of fresh water pipe means nothing if you don’t tell us how much they have to repair. If there is 25km to repair, we’re almost there; if there is 1000km, we’ve barely started. SCIRT estimates that there is 51km of water pipe to repair – so almost half way. Pretty good. Wastewater damage is estimated at 528km, so about a fifth. Less good. Roading damage is listed as 1,021km, but the info graphic has gone for square metres of pavement. My suspicion would be that they have used that unit to make it sound more impressive.

The real red herring is the number at the top – $100m on 181 projects. Again, context. A dollar figure is completely useless unless you give us some context. This article in the Press lists infrastructure costs as up to $4 billion – which would mean that only about 1/40th of the job (by monetary value) have been completed in two and half years. Less impressive when you put it that way.

This last one is really ugly and kind of pointless, though I’m not going to argue with it as an info-graphic really. The cordon went up immediately after the quakes because there was an emergency. Then, a few months on, it was up to keep us safe, while they demolished buildings. As the buildings came down, so did the cordon. Many of the buildings that came down were unsafe, many were heritage buildings that could have been saved by a more enlightened dictator. There was another group of buildings that fell into a strange grey area, where they could have probably been fixed if the money (read: the insurance companies) had been right. Whatever happened, they’re gone now. Another way of saying this would be that they’ve demolished 9/10th of a city. Only 1/10th to go!

Final word has to go to Guy Williams, for this fantastic tweet in response to the PM.