Archives for category: CCC

At the end of June, the Prime Minister came to Christchurch to announce what is probably the most important document for the city’s recovery since the Blueprint. It’s the Draft Transition Recovery Plan, and it’s about the transition of power from the government (via CERA and CCDU) back to local authorities in Canterbury. It’s so important that the government decided the public only needed 30 days to read it, think about it, and make submissions on it. The full document is here, and I’d recommend that you try and give it a read. I don’t just mean Christchurch residents. Everyone in the country should have an interest in this, and anyone in the country can make a submission on it. There are some good bits in the document, like this:

International research shows that, for recovery to be sustainable in the long term, it needs to be ‘owned’ and led by local communities and institutions. Central government leadership and coordination of the recovery, through CERA, was needed in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, but the time has come for central government’s role in the recovery of greater Christchurch to evolve.

It is hard to resolve the intentions of the paragraph above with the recommendations of the report. Though advocating for local and community ownership of the recovery, the main thrust of the Draft Transition Recovery Plan is to give CERA a change of name, to Regenerate Christchurch, then put that in charge for another 5 years. The responsibility for the Residential Red Zone will go to Land Information New Zealand; another lot of powers currently held by CERA will move across to MoBIE. While saying things like “the central city is at a critical point and requires a step-change in approach to ensure its recovery”, this document suggests an entrenchment of the status quo. It’s a recipe for disaster, with Head Chef Brownlee being joined by Sous Chef Joyce.

We’ve got just over two weeks to make submissions, and tell the government that this just won’t do. I’m sure they will try and ignore us; we need to get thousands of submissions in on this, so they can’t ignore us. While none of the suggestions put forward in this document are ideal, a group of us have formed around the idea of Option 3+. Option 3 suggests that the to-be-created rebuild entity be led by the Christchurch City Council, not the Government. We’ve started a campaign to get as many people are possible to submit in support of this idea. We’ve called it Option 3+, as we think that while Option 3 is the best of the three proposals, we would like to see more than that. If you’re submitting, you might want to say you’re submitting in support of Option 3, plus additional community feedback, or plus an additional focus on the suburbs. You can check out the Facebook group to see what other people want for the city.

There are a number of ways you can provide feedback, including via email, going to the website, or hitting them up on Facebook. You’ve got until 5pm, Thursday the 30th of July.

They’re one of our societies most maligned groups, never asking for anything, never getting the breathless media coverage they so clearly think they deserve. But the property developers of Central Christchurch are going to the public this winter, to ask for your money to help them to realise their dreams of seeing their egos manifest in glass and concrete. Yes, that’s right – if you’re a taxpayer or a ratepayer, or even better, both! – these old, white, rich men want your money to help fund their vanity projects. That’s right, for a just the price of a cup of coffee, you could be helping one of Christchurch’s monied elite to construct the convention centre you didn’t ask for, or the retail centre you’ll never be able to afford to visit. Don’t delay, donate now!

Yesterday, as the council debated the budget, and headed towards an asset sell-off we’ve been told is a the only way to balance the books, they also found time to relieve property developers of the contributions they provide to council. This move was led – of course – by Cr Gough, the nephew of one of the main benefactors of this change, Anthony Gough:

Cr Jamie Gough, who led the push to scrap the development contributions, said effectively the council was making the central city a “DC-free zone”.

It was signalling it would “never be cheaper than it is today” to build in central Christchurch.

I’m sure Jamie knows this, so it doesn’t really need repeating, but the main reason why it is prohibitively expensive to build in central Christchurch is that the cost of land is so high, because the government used the Blueprint to buy up land and artificially limit land supply. This was what the developers wanted – but now they are complaining that the costs are too high. The Blueprint was a document that gave a small group of influential developers what they wanted (government intervention to prevent the collapse of central city land values, and thus the collapse of their property portfolios), and now they have successfully lobbied for a broke council to scrap one of their much-needed income sources.

But wait! There’s more!

Clearly feeling emboldened by the Council rolling over and letting them scratch their bellies, these brave developers are now demanding money from the Crown for delays to the Convention Centre:

City Owners Rebuild Entity (Core) spokesman Ernest Duval said the more the project was delayed, the more money would be needed. There was a natural increase in construction costs of about 8 per cent a year, he said, “It will cost more simply to build the exact same thing that was planned in 2013 because of rising construction costs.”

The government is already pouring at least $284m into something that no-one asked for and many have questioned whether we need. While there have been delays, we still haven’t seen a business case for the project. We don’t know how it’s going to operate. Instead of ploughing good money into a giant hole the size of two city blocks, it makes sense to wait. But these asshole developers know a sweet deal when they see one, and feel like they might as well try their luck at the Taxpayer ATM. For a bunch of people convinced that the free market will fix the central city, they aren’t too proud to repeatedly milk the public teat for money. These winklepickered parasites need to jump in their Maseratis and take a long drive on a long road out of this town. We will survive without them. There are plenty of good people who can rebuild this city without repeatedly blackmailing the place they’re claiming to save.

The landfill out in Burwood, where much of the demolition waste from the CBD has ended up, looks like it will continue to accept more rubble from the city for a while to come:

The slower than expected pace of demolition and increase in volume of material meant Christchurch’s Burwood Resource Recovery Park was likely to operate longer than its planned September 2017 closure date, Transwaste Canterbury chairman Gill Cox said.

“We’re not talking years and years of extensions. The demolition will stop at some stage. It will come to an end,” Cox said.

That end is not yet in sight. The first building built in the CBD after the quakes is set for demolition soon:

The original building on the corner of Manchester and Worcester streets partially collapsed in the September 2010 earthquake. It was one of the first city centre buildings to be rebuilt after the February earthquakes, reopening three years ago at a cost of cost $3.3 million. Demolition of the new building will start in the next two weeks to make way for a government plan to widen Manchester St by 9 metres.

The Mayor has questioned why the building was allowed to be built, given that it was now set for demolition. She also called the demolition “a terrible waste“. It does seem certifiably potty that in 2015 we are knocking down a perfectly functional building to widen a road. However, noted architectural historian and design aficionado Mike Yardley doesn’t think there is an issue, as the building doesn’t meet his high aesthetic standards. While you might have thought that he wrote the phrase “by-passed of personality, let alone any semblance of imagination” about himself, he did in fact direct it at the Westende Building. Yardley much prefers the work of the visionary Gough the Elder, and his accomplice, Gough the Younger.

While the Westende Building may not have the details to impress our most learned commentators, its value is more symbolic than aesthetic. Here we have the first building in the city post-quake being erased from the map for the sin of having the temerity to exist before the map itself did. This building is impeding progress – and progress is expanding Manchester St to become 6 lanes wide. And into the grander scheme of the East Frame fall the fates of a number of other buildings – including the old IRD building. Though currently slated for demolition, Barnaby Bennett argues convincingly in this opinion piece that it should be saved, and used as a facility to house artists, studios, NGOs and other groups that are desirable to the make up of a vibrant city. It’s similar to an argument I made last year around saving the buildings we had that were still standing. If there is a way to re-use these buildings – and one that makes economic sense – then we should be doing whatever we can to ensure it comes to fruition. As the Mayor said during the recent Town Hall debate, “the greenest building is the one still standing.”

As you may have seen, the council voted this afternoon 12-1 in support of the full restoration of the Town Hall. I think it it’s a marvellous decision, which makes cultural, historical, and financial sense. I was there for about an hour and a half, which included a presentation from 4 council staff to the council, and then a council debate. I think I saw 5 or 6 of the councillors speak before I left, and got the decision via twitter (though it was clear which direction the vote was heading).

The presentation from the council staff was comprehensive, and a number of the councillors said that they were swayed by it. I think that’s good – it is what the council staff are there to do. Essentially, it comes down to this slide, of which I have a very blurry picture of:

The costs to the council of the various options are outlined. As you can see, the most expensive option for the council is actually to knock down, and build new. The two partial options still cost more than half of the full resotration, but only provide the city with half of the facilities. Yet, if you have been following this story via the Press, which is the place where most people get their Christchurch news, you wouldn’t have seen that. I wrote about this on Monday, but I think it needs to be said again; their coverage has been very unbalanced, and I can only assume there was a deep lying resentment for the building. They implied that full restoration of the Town Hall was financially irresponsible, when in fact, the scenarios they endorsed were actually more irresponsible. I had a conversation with my grandmother on Tuesday night, in which she repeated the points made by the Press editorial. I took her through the numbers, after which she agreed that it did make sense. But so many more people will have just taken the paper’s word for it, and I think that is a real shame.

This isn’t just a one-man conspiracy theory; the Mayor herself made it clear that she was disappointed in the reporting of the numbers contained in the report. She said that there was a perception in the media that restoring the Town Hall was the most expensive option, when in fact it was the cheapest. This was the first time I’d been to see the council in action this term, and I was very impressed with the way that she ran things. She clearly understood the issues at hand, and asked a series of very detailed questions of the council staff who presented. She made a number of points which hadn’t made it into the wider public discussion about the building. She was keen to point out that the greenest building was one that was repaired, rather than one that was knocked down and sent to landfill – a sentiment I wish the government had embraced. She also questioned how the cost-sharing agreement had budgeted a figure of $150m to build a 1500 and a 600 seat auditorium, as well as a replacement for the Court Theatre and the Symphony Orchestra, when another report showed that it would cost $190m just to build a 1500 seat auditorium.

The speeches in the debate from the councillors which I saw were very good. Andrew Turner said this was a pivotal decision for the city – and I think he’s right. It’s the Council saying “hang on – this is our city, and we’ll make informed decisions about how to best administer it”. It was quite emotional hearing Jimmy Chen talk about his citizenship ceremony in the Town Hall in ’99, and also seeing his daughter perform there as part of a schools music competition.  Glenn Livingstone said that he’d had plenty of emails from people, all in support. But the only dissenting voice he’d seen was from someone who hadn’t actually read the report – a not-too-subtle dig at the recovery Minister. Jamie Gough said that his gut couldn’t let him vote for this, and he didn’t feel it in his “heart of hearts” – but maybe he should stop listening to those organs, and use his brain when making decisions.

Yesterday, we had some rare good news about a heritage building: an independent business case supported the Council’s plan to restore the Town Hall. The numbers add up – in fact, it’s the best value proposition. That didn’t stop the sad but predictable chorus of opposition. Gerry Brownlee doesn’t think it’s a goer – but admits that he hasn’t actually read the report.

“It does have a ring of ‘it is too good to be true’ about it,” said Brownlee, who acknowledged he had not read the Deloitte report.

So the man responsible for the destruction of Christchurch’s built heritage doesn’t think the restoration is a goer, and he is basing that decision on literally nothing, as he’s too lazy to read the report. Why is his uninformed opinion even being quoted then?

But Brownlee’s opinion is uninformed and easy to dismiss. More concerning is the undying resolve of the Press Editorial to have the Town Hall demolished. In this editorial, they again question the decision, and back it up with a series of factual inaccuracies and half-baked agendas. Firstly, they muddy the figures about how much money is or isn’t available.

Under its insurance policy, if the building is repaired the council could get a payout of up to $68.9 million. If the building is not repaired, the payout would only be the indemnity amount of just over $32 million … But something other than full restoration may be possible. Restoring the auditorium and the foyer alone would cost $91 million. Restoring and reconfiguring the James Hay as a venue for symphony orchestra performances and the like would cost $109 million.

So the total cost for repairing the complex is listed at $127m – and yet the Press is advocating for two options which would see only half the building repaired, but cost much more than half of the full complex? This is also seems to be based on the assumption that if you knock down half the building, you get half the insurance money. If we’re generous, and assume that demo’ing the Town Hall but leaving the James Hay, results in a payout halfway between the repair and indemnity values, that puts the insurance payment around $50m (I think this is on the high side, but let’s play along). The council would still have to find $60m to restore the James Hay. Compare that with the difference between the full restoration cost ($127m) and the payout ($69m) and you find a similar sized gap ($60m). So the city ends up demolishing half of it’s best building for no apparent financial reason. This isn’t how the Press sees it:

Both of these lower-cost options would leave more for whatever is left of the idea of the performing arts precinct.

This seems to be the main reason for all these financial gymnastics.

The original plans for the precinct have long since evaporated but the council is still publicly committed to spending $30.5 million there. That is clearly not enough for any theatre or venue of any distinction, and probably would not be enough to lure the Court Theatre back to the centre of town.

So is the main goal of this exercise to “lure the Court Theatre back to the centre of town”? What no-one has sufficiently explained to me about the “Performing Arts Precinct” is why the ratepayer should be stumping up cash – in part generated by knocking down civic buildings – to try and lure a privately-run company to move their business back into town. The Court Theatre and the Symphony Orchestra might be Good Things®, but they are private businesses. Private businesses, which in the case of the Court, are doing very well in their new locations. The people who write the editorials at the Press, as well as the people who lobby for the Court like Felicity Price, don’t seem to think there is anything out of the ordinary about this.

More than anything, this reflects an ambition for those in power to see a privatisation of public space and the advancement of select private interests. The civic functions of the Town Hall complex – which was, on the 22nd of February, hosting two giant PPTA meetings – can be pushed to one side as the Right aim to frame this as an argument about “poorly used performance space”. The social and cultural benefits of a public space are near impossible to monetise, and thus don’t factor into the calculations of a Minister who will dismiss reports without even reading them.

I can only hope that the Council stays strong, and continues with the full restoration of the Town Hall this Thursday. Despite the best attempts of the Minister and the Press to make this a live issue, their arguments don’t stack up. A full restoration makes financial sense, it makes architectural sense, it makes cultural sense. More than that, it makes sense symbolically, in both showing that the Council still has the power to control the direction of this city, and that in the face of so much needless destruction of our built heritage, Christchurch can pull together to restore one of our greatest buildings.

The deadlines for a number of the apparently critical anchor projects were pushed out late last week. If you’ve read this blog, you know what my feelings are on those projects, so I won’t go into them again. However, there was one thing that especially concerned me: the cost. The delays were to three projects – the convention centre, the metro sports facility, and the Margaret Mahy playground. When defending the decision, Gerry Brownlee said that these were a billion dollars of projects and it needed to be done right.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the three projects would cost about $1 billion between them, and it was important not to rush them.

I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but when did these three projects get to a billion dollars? I’ve looked back through the costs to try and find the original estimates. The playground is budgeted at $20 million. Metro Sports is meant to be around $225 million ($147m CCC + $70m Crown). The convention centre is meant to be around $500 million, with $284m of that being Crown money. Those of you with School C maths will have worked out that those totals come to $750 million, which is a full $250 million short of a billion. We know that the Prime Minister can’t rule out the Convention Centre cost rising – is that what is being signalled here? With the Council under the pump to sell assets or raise rates, it must be incredibly dispiriting to be working with a government that can’t even manage their end of the bargain without the costs blowing out by a third.

An opinion piece from Felicity Price ran in the Press last week, putting the case once again for the Council scrapping the Town Hall and spending the money on a performing arts precinct. Price used to be involved with both the Court Theatre and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and documents the hardship that people in the arts in Christchurch are going through.

Right now, our city’s musicians, actors and all the people they rely on for the show to go on, are enduring some pretty appalling conditions. The Council and Cera need to get back together and come up with a solution that doesn’t have our actors and musicians freezing to death for the next five years or more.

Court audiences love the funky, vibrant theatre in Addington, love being able to park for free right outside and have a better view of the stage than at the cramped Arts Centre venue. But they don’t have to build sets wearing battery-heated Antarctic-issue jackets and fingerless gloves, or get headaches from the strip lighting while they either freeze or fry in the poky portacabins out the back where wardrobe, ticket sales and admin are based.*

I’ve bolded that particular sentence, because I think it highlight’s Price’s argument. In her view, it is the responsibility of either the Council or CERA to come up with a scheme to stop actors and musicians from freezing to death. Call me old fashioned, but I thought it would have been the responsibility of the employer to ensure the wellbeing of their employees. As Price mentioned on a number of occasions, arts attendances are higher than they were pre-quake. Huge amounts of money were donated by individuals and businesses to help arts organisations. And yet, calls from these organisations – privately run organisations, I should add – for hand outs from the public continue with a depressing regularity.

If the attendances are up, as boasted about in the article, then surely you should be putting some of that revenue towards improving the wellbeing of your staff, or looking to improve your premises. But instead of taking responsibility, Price suggests that the already cash-strapped Council should be finding money in it’s budget to build facilities for a professional theatre company. While she is claiming that Court technicians are metaphorically freezing to death, the Council is having to debate whether it will put money towards people literally freezing to death. To me, this shows how detached from reality, and hand-out dependant, some of the top-level arts bureaucrats in this city have become post-quake (speaking at Gap Filler event a month or so ago, Jenny Harper suggested people submit to the Long Term Plan, asking them to postpone infrastructure works for another year or two so she could have her art acquisition budget restored.) Artists are notorious for having their heads in the clouds, but you could argue it’s the administrators – not the practitioners – who have taken leave of their senses.

* I am willing to bet that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people working in the building industry in Christchurch right now who suffer similar, if not worse conditions, every time the weather packs it in. But they don’t have PR people extolling their virtues in sympathetic opinion pieces in the Press, so they don’t count.

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.