Archives for category: central city

As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t posted much on the site in the last few weeks. I often go through periods where I don’t update the site for a while, for whatever reason. This is one of those periods, and I’m not sure how it will last. The main reason for this is that I have a new role. I’m the breakfast host on radio station RDU. So my opinions are still around, you just have to listen out for them now. 7:30 – 9:30am weekdays, on 98.5FM (or via the internet, if you aren’t in Christchurch). It’s not straight-up politics or rebuild focussed show, but I will be trying to have discussions with many of the people who are shaping the city, and those who can step back and have a look at how things are going.

So for the time being, there may not be many updates here. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, or that I don’t have anything to say. Just that I’m a bit tied up with other things!

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Freerange Press are running a “Recovery Clinic” this weekend, at Smash Palace, from 12 till 6pm. When we released the book – Once in a Lifetime, if you’re keeping score at home – part of our rationale was that we’d have a continuing dialog about the city and recovery. So almost a year on from the book’s release, we’re having this clinic. We’ll have our one Doctor, Ryan Reynolds, as well as our two almost-doctors, myself and Barnaby Bennett. Completing the editorial team, Emma Johnson, organiser extraordinaire, will also be in the building. Plus plus plus! We’ve got some of the authors who contributed to the book coming down at various times in the afternoon. The idea for the afternoon is that you can come down and have a conversation with one or all of us about the state of the rebuild. Maybe you’ve got some ideas. Maybe you hated one of the chapters in the book and want to admonish us personally. Maybe you just like drinking beer and hanging around in pubs.

We will be selling copies of the book at crazy discount prices! There’s more info about the event here, and the Facebook event here.

Hope to see some of you down there!

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.

There is a Big Sports tour coming up in 2017, when the British and Irish Lions will come to New Zealand. They don’t do this very often – it’s usually once in every 12 years. Last time they came, in 2005, they played a test in Christchurch, and a tour match in Dunedin. This time, there is no test in the South Island at all, but two (2!) in Auckland. There has been much complaining from southern rugby fans about this, and the NZRU has responded that Christchurch doesn’t have the capacity to host a test in the current stadium. That’s clearly true. One of the main reasons that proponents for the $500m stadium have put forward is that if we don’t have said stadium, we won’t get this game, and that’s come to pass. Is $500m to guarantee one game every dozen years a worthwhile investment? I really doubt it.

But I feel for the people of Dunedin. They don’t have a hypothetical white elephant stadium; they have a bricks and mortar white elephant stadium. Still, they didn’t even get a test. They get a game against the Highlanders – but so do all the Super teams. So for all their ratepayers money, they’re no better off than Christchurch or Hamilton, which also get to see the Lions play against the Crusaders and Chiefs, respectively. This should have alarm bells ringing for the people of Christchurch though; the government still wants to spend $500m of ratepayer money on the boondoggle covered stadium, whilst forcing the council to sell assets to pay for it. In doing so, we’d get a big test each year, and we might get a test against the Lions. In 2029. This city simply can’t afford it. The idiocy of the stadium building arms race was covered comprehensively by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, and I recommend you watch that.

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.

Tim Hunter, the CEO of Canterbury Tourism, writes a stirring opinion piece about the pros and pros of the proposed convention centre. It’s his job to promote this boondoggle, so you can’t criticise him for that. You can criticise him for the very poor arguments he puts up. He says there are “eight compelling reasons”. Let’s go through them:

1. Job Creation

There is a long, convoluted paragraph which takes a bunch of hypothetical numbers, inflates them, multiplies them, and then uses this to say that it will create lots of jobs. I think you could go through all the assumptions, but rather than that, just look at the final sentence:

The good news is that many of these jobs will be available to students and younger employees on a part-time basis.

Good news? This is good news? Essentially, what he is saying is that $500m plus of investment is going to result in a handful of low-paid, part time jobs in the hospitality sector. This is not good news. There are many ways in which the government could better spend $300m if the outcome was “jobs”. They could start by putting that money back into fixing the city’s horizontal infrastructure, which would not only directly employ a large number of people, but would also improve the quality of life for everyone in the city, not just the few who attend conferences.

2. Significant economic benefits

Yeah. The economic benefits of convention centres have been wildly overstated. Probably the most comprehensive piece on this is from Gordon Campbell. But long story short – we’re a small country with a tiny domestic convention market at the arse end of the world, in which at least half a dozen regions are building conventions centres to try and attract hypothetical conventions away from the other centres. It doesn’t add up.

3. Government gift

The taxpayers of New Zealand are bestowing a “gift” upon Christchurch that they haven’t been asked to give to a city that hasn’t asked for it. Bizarre reasoning from Hunter.

4. Stimulating our knowledge economy

If the government wanted to stimulate our knowledge economy, then they would take this $300m and put it into the research and development sector. Hobnobbing at a $1000 plus registration conference might make the Minister for Business and Innovation feel good, but it doesn’t contribute much to innovation and development. This money could be put aside in a fund to stop some of our best Post-doc researchers from leaving the country when they don’t get a piece of the pittance of money that is available through competition research funding.

5. Tourism and hospitality boost

I don’t really see how this differs much from point number 1, except this is meant to help the hospitality sector over the quiet winter months. If your business can’t plan for things that happen every year, like the seasons changing, then I think you’re doing businessing wrong, and I’m not sure how a convention centre is going to magically fix that.

6. Investment catalyst

A good number of investors have new hotel projects planned for Christchurch that will only be activated once construction of the Convention and Exhibition Centre commences.

Another way of putting that sentence would be: “Philip Carter, brother of the current speaker of the house and one of the South Island’s richest men, is waiting to see if the government puts money into the convention centre that he is a partner in the construction of, before he invests to fix the hotels he owns which have been given favourable terms of operation.” That these hotels “will only be activated” once the convention centre begins sounds vaguely threatening, as if Murray McCully needs to come down with some sheep and a facilitation payment.

7. Attractive precinct design

Well, I think we can agree to disagree on this point.

8. More efficient

This centre is going to be more efficient than the last one, which was of course built less than 20 years ago for $15 million dollars. If a centre being built two decades later, for more than 30 times the cost of the previous one, wasn’t “more efficient” than the last one, then we’d have to find some new and more efficient ways to fire the project managers.

The central bus exchange opened yesterday. I went down at the evening rush hour, just to see how everything was going, and it seems to be fine. I’m sure there will be some initial teething issues, but I’d like to see how it develops. I have two questions. The first is how the zig-zag bus bay structure works. If you haven’t been there yet, what happens is the bus pulls into a docking bay, where people can get on and off. When the bus is ready to leave, it then has to reverse back into the circle, before heading out again. While I was there yesterday, there were maybe 4 or 5 buses in the complex, and they didn’t seem to be getting in each other’s way. I wonder whether that will stay the same when all of the complex is open.

Secondly, is there any capacity for intercity buses? I suspect the answer is no, but it would seem to make sense if the buses that leave the city for Dunedin or the West Coast – of which there aren’t a huge number – could also use the facility. That would make travel more convenient for travellers from around the country and around the world.