Archives for category: Cera

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.

As I write this, the World Cup opening ceremony is about to kick off in North Hagley Park. On Saturday, the Black Caps will start the tournament against Sri Lanka at Hagley Oval. I’m excited about the World Cup, about it being on New Zealand soil, and about our chances. I love cricket, but I won’t be going to any of the matches. On the eve of the tournament, I thought it was worth recapping why. There are two, related reasons for my stand. I realise it is all in vain, but hey, a moral stand is a moral stand. The first reason is the process that created the oval, and the second is the political significance of the oval itself.

In a recovery littered with shoddy deals, I’d argue that the process that led to the creation of the oval is the shoddiest of them all. The government dropped it into the Blueprint plan, to the surprise of the ratepayers, the council – in fact, to the surprise of everyone but Canterbury Cricket. Canterbury Cricket had been lobbying for years for a new, council-subsidised ground, with little success. After the quakes took out Lancaster Park – a venue that hadn’t been used for test cricket for years, due to the rise of boutique test grounds that are better catered to the smaller crowds the 5-day draws – they saw the opportunity to push for what they had always wanted, but were never going to get: a piece of Hagley Park. The Earthquake Recovery Act and the emergency powers bestowed upon Gerry Brownlee were the perfect opportunity for what was essentially the privatisation of publicly-owned land by a small group of old white men.

The Christchurch City Council – which nominally looks after the land, for the benefit of all citizens of the city – deferred the decision to the Environment Court. Whilst the decision was before the Court, the ICC announced the host venues for the 2015 World Cup. Christchurch was given not only the opening game, but the opening ceremony. However, this was contingent on Hagley Oval being built. So the ICC was prejudging both the Environment Court and the Christchurch City Council, presenting the Oval as a done deal.

Once the go-ahead was given, the cost of the development then became an issue. Budgeted to cost $20 million, Canterbury Cricket only had $500k. It was then revealed that they got $3 million from the Earthquake Recovery Trust, which was funded by donations from New Zealand and around the world in the immediate aftermath of the quakes to help people in need. Canterbury Cricket managed to stretch the meaning of “people in need” to cover building a sports ground. The decision of the Environment Court which gave approval to the project placed conditions on the Oval, which the Cricket World Cup then argued were too strict and tried to have relaxed. My guess is that after the World Cup, they will use the success of the venue during the tournament to argue to further relaxations of the restrictions placed on the development, including more permanent seating.

For the Boxing Day test against Sri Lanka, the ground looked great, and hosted some great cricket. I never doubted that it would. When you put a ground in the middle of Christchurch’s most loved park space, it’s going to look amazing. For most people around the country, they won’t know anything about the political battle over Hagley Oval. The broadcast from Hagley Oval, with a full embankment, BMac taking the bowlers to task, and the commentators full of praise for the ground was just what the government would have wanted. Though they’re sports commentators, not political ones, they were all universal in their praise of the Oval, Canterbury Cricket and Lee Germon. While they might think that they don’t get involved in politics, their normalisation of a locally controversial project was implicitly political. Any mention of the opposition was dismissive, and no-one from the Hands of Hagley group was given a right-of-reply. That’s not the point of cricket commentary – which is exactly why this project is so important to the government. It presents a controversial political development, from a long series of controversial political developments, as an apolitical thing. In a point made more succinctly by Danyl at the Dimpost, this is National’s strategy:

Hooton ascribes part of Key’s popularity to his preeminence as a commentator on light-entertainment shows across New Zealand media. More FM, Breakfast TV, Seven-Sharp, etc. Critically these are (a) news sources for ‘median’ or persuadable voters and (b) they’re formats in which Key can assert his version of any news story unchallenged, and then go on to tell funny stories about the All-Blacks.

While this isn’t an example of Key himself being in the commentary box (John Howard styles), having five days of continual media coverage of a development that was made possible by the government bending the rules is something money simply cannot buy. To have the commentators saying things like “this is the final step in the recovery of Christchurch*” sows that seed in the minds of people who probably haven’t given more than a minute’s thought to Christchurch since 2011. No-one gets to ask the commentators whether they’ve visited New Brighton, or walked through the empty space in the CBD, or talked to a family still dealing with EQC. When the national news media generally only covers one story from Christchurch per bulletin, the World Cup opening has been and will be the good news story coming out of Christchurch for the next week, and will probably overshadow the 4 year anniversary of the February 22nd quake.

Which brings me to the opening match. We will hear worldwide television viewer numbers breathlessly repeated – one billion people around the world! The Oval will look a picture, and the message will be clear: the recovery is over, and Christchurch is ready for business. Which is a great message to put out there – it’s just unfortunately not true. The rebuild is so much more than just one sports ground – but people are already conflating the two:

The government will no doubt be hoping that the launch of the World Cup will convince most people that Christchurch is fine again. The Prime Minister’s message was that “Christchurch is back in business” – business being the highest achievement in the eyes of this government. But “business” doesn’t mean that everyone is adequately housed, or being treated fairly by EQC, insurers or repairers. So by all means enjoy the cricket, and enjoy the Oval. But just don’t think that because 22 men are running around on some nicely coiffured grass that the Recovery is by any means over.

* Sky’s commentators literally have no idea what they are talking about. When the drone camera pointed out east to show the old Lancaster Park, Craig Cumming said “I had no idea that was still there”.

So it’s been a long time between posts. That’s a little to do with me having a proper job, and a little to do with post-election exhaustion. I’d like to think I will be writing a bit more regularly in the coming months, but I’m not going to promise anything. However, a few thoughts have been rattling around in my head, so I thought I’d put pen to paper, and words to blog.

The best of the rebuild 2014:

The deconstruction of the Pallet Pavilion

In the same way it went up, the Pallet Pavilion came down in an orderly fashion, with assistance of hundreds of volunteers. After hosting scores of events over two summers, Gap Filler knew that the pavilion had done it’s time, and as proactively as they put it up, they pulled it down again. The pallets, veggie bins, plants, and pretty much anything else was put back into use. Even in it’s deconstruction, the Pallet Pavilion set a great example for the projects going on around the city.

Food Trucks

One day, as I left my house for work, there was a taco truck across the road. Literally straight across the road, sitting along in the wasteland of rubble and weeds where McKenzie and Willis used to be. I know that food trucks are very “on trend” at the moment, but here in Christchurch, they are more than just an excuse to sell overpriced burritos to hipsters; they’re a necessary part of the hospitality ecosystem. When cheap rentals are hard to find, and you don’t know where the demand is going to be in a still sparsely populated CBD, a semi-movable truck is the perfect solution. This year saw the rise of the food truck in Christchurch, from Loco’s on St Asaph St, to the Food Collective at the Commons, to the launch of food truck Fridays in the Square, where at least a dozen trucks converge, and bring plenty of energy back to a dead space.

New bars and eateries

In addition to the food trucks, we’ve seen the addition of plenty of more permanent, more serious establishments. While many of the bars will rise and fall, hopefully the eateries will stay around for a bit longer. Johnny Moore’s BrickFarm and the St Asaph St Coriander’s are both excellent, and will surely see a good return on the risk they took to open in the centre of the city.

WORD festival

For a brief period in late August, the centre city was buzzing again. Authors, poets, cynics, journalists, musicians and hangers-on all descended on poor, broken Christchurch for a short period, and made it feel a live again. The programme was so well put together that picking out highlights is almost redundant. But even more important than the people who spoke was the – and I’d like to find a better word, but I can’t – vibe of the event. While it might have only been temporary, it was a reminder of what the city could be at it’s best – and why we should keep struggling on.

The demise of Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton was always the happy face of a bad organisation; now he’s the creepy face of a bad organisation. With him gone, we can stop pretending that CERA are our benevolent overlords, just doing what’s best for the city, and see them are the reactive, unimaginative, bureaucratic brakes on the recovery that they really are.

Free Theatre

The gymnasium at the Arts Centre opened up cautiously mid-year. Free Theatre have been experimenting with the space, with plays and other events. More importantly than that, it shows the success of the forward thinking repair model that the Arts Centre have put in to place. The site is a hive of activity, with dozens of tradespeople going about their business everyday. Parts of the centre will be opened in stages. It shows that heritage buildings can be repaired, and that it can work financially. Other organisations could learn much from this.

The Cricket Oval

Grassy banks, beautiful setting, done on the cheap and in record time. What’s not to like?

The worst of the rebuild in 2014

The Cricket Oval

I’ll probably write more about the rights and wrongs of the oval another time, so will limit myself to this: the fact that the government could utilise it’s emergency powers to get this built in such a short time, for a small amount of money, and using public land, shows just how little they care about those people in vulnerable housing situations since the quake for whom they have done less than nothing to alleviate their suffering. They jumped through legal hoops to get this built, whilst at the same time, forced the Quake Outcasts to take them through the court system just to try get a fair payout for the land which they compulsorily acquired. There is no better symbol for the inequity of the rebuild than the Hagley Cricket Oval.

Council Asset Sales

The City Council’s debt position is quite magical: somehow, it is both So Serious that we must consider selling off profitable assets, but yet Not Serious Enough that we should reconsider any of the monumental anchor projects which the government is forcing on the ratepayers. Whoever the government tasked with softening up the Mayor and the Press has done a great job, so this looks like a done deal now, despite any reasonable objections.

Victoria Square re-development

Nothing shows the ineptitude of the CCDU better than their proposed Victoria Square redevelopment. Take one of the few bits of the central city that isn’t broken, and then propose a way to fix it. I sit down at Vic Sq for lunch, and there are often dozens of others doing the same. Yup, some of the pavers look a bit dated. But when you consider that most of the rest of the city is either gravel or chain-link fences, it’s pretty good. That the idiots at the CCDU would not only consider doing this, but also spend $7m from what we are told is a very tight budget into it shows how totally out of touch they are. It’s a case of the egos at the CCDU wanting to exercise their power over the council – and we’re the ones who have to pay for it.

The Convention Centre

A completely unjustified waste of public money and public land. A massive public subsidy being given to a handful of cosy developers, who have been pushing for this since before the Blueprint even came out. If this gets anywhere near completion, it will just go to show how docile and complicit the shattered population of the city has become.

Needless demolitions

As we move into 2015, we are still watching as historic buildings are being pulled down across the city. One high profile example was the Majestic Theatre. It was demolished this year, to make for road widening. The block that it was on, bordered by Lichfield, Madras, Bedford Row and Manchester St, now has no buildings on it, and no plans for any buildings to go on it. That sums up the ambitions of the men behind the bulldozers; knock it down, don’t worry if there’s nothing planned to replace it.

Empty new builds

The rise and rise of the glass facades along the Victoria St / Durham St corridor is one of the brightest spots of development in the city. Each week it seems like the soil on a new site gets broken. But if you’re going down there to marvel at the new buildings, stop and take a look at how many of the completed sites are tenanted. You’ll notice that much of the space is yet to be leased. Whole floors, even whole buildings are sitting there, untenanted. The Potemkin Offices of Victoria St may look like progress, but this highly speculative development is yet to even peak.

The Middle Class Rebuild

In the last year, there have been a number of projects which have been celebrated as the “best thing to happen since the quakes”. The cricket oval and the Isaac Theatre Royal are two examples that spring to mind. These are good things, no doubt. But they also speak volumes about who the rebuild is serving. Cricket and opera are two of the most rich, white people pursuits on the face of the planet. Everyone living in Christchurch has had a rough time in the last few years, including the rich white people. If they feel like it’s time to put the rebuild behind them, to enjoy the cricket and the ballet, that’s great. But there’s a danger in forgetting that as the north and west of the city move into a post-rebuild phase, some parts of the city have barely been touched. If you go out to New Brighton, you’d be forgiven for thinking the quakes were 4 weeks ago, not 4 years ago. As we approach the anniversary, prepare for the government to tell us that we’re moving on, that the hard work has been done. Prepare for many, many people to agree with them. But also spare a thought for the people who rarely have a voice, the mute underclass of National’s burgeoning have-nots.

photo via Hayden EM

photo via Hayden EM

8 Days till the election, and there are lots of things on. Tuesday, we had the Ilam candidates debate on CTV. It was the only chance to talk about Ilam issues with the sitting MP, and I think it was a pretty good discussion. You can watch it here. On Wednesday, we had the only Ilam candidates debate. All the candidates have known about it for ages, at least a month. Yes, it’s a busy photo – but it was pretty disappointing that only 3 of the candidates standing in the electorate were there. And of course, the only MP to have held the seat, Gerry, wasn’t there.

There was a reporter from Radio New Zealand there, and one from the Press, who filed this story. The organiser, Len McCrane, said this:

We would have loved to have Gerry here. He sent his apologies. He prefers to do meetings on street corners than to come to something like this.

The thing is, street corner meetings aren’t anything like candidate debates. I’ve been out doing some street corner meetings myself. They are a very different beast. You pick a corner, preferably high traffic, and stand around talking for 15 minutes as confused passers by wonder what’s going on. They are primarily a visibility exercise. You don’t get to do them for 2 weekends every three years and then pretend you’ve been accountable to the people you purport to represent.

There is a pattern emerging. He declines the invitation to the only public meeting with the candidates in the electorate he represents. He refuses to turn up to Campbell Live’s show on the 4th of September, despite them asking him repeatedly and giving him plenty of notice. The thing isn’t, Brownlee isn’t opposed to fronting to the press about issues – tonight, he’s appearing on Prime in a transport debate. He just wants to be able to do it on his terms. Rather than turning up to a debate and getting booed, he’d rather not turn up at all.

The problem with that – not only for Ilam, but the whole country – is that 8 days out from the election, we haven’t had a serious discussion about the rebuild of Christchurch, about the role of CERA, or about EQC. The only time it was really touched on was during the second half of the Press debate, where David Cunliffe ran through Labour’s policies for the city whilst John Key barely feigned an interest in the city he grew up in. Key’s only major announcement was to confirm that if re-elected, Brownlee would retain his portfolio as CERA Minister. What would Key or Brownlee do? We don’t know.

I’ve said this time and time again, and I guess you must be bored of it, because it doesn’t seem to make a difference. But I’ll restate it again, just for kicks. We’ve got a week until the election. The recovery of New Zealand’s second biggest city following a major natural disaster should be the number one election issue, but the Minister responsible for overseeing the “recovery”, part of the Government that campaigned on “Rebuilding Christchurch” in 2011, are going to the polls without announcing a single substantive policy about how they are going to turn this man-made disaster around. I’ll repeat: NOT A SINGLE SUBSTANTIVE POLICY*.

You, the taxpayers of New Zealand, are largely paying for this. Close to 16 billion dollars. Do you know how your investment is going? Do you care? Do you just believe the Prime Minister when he says that the city is “booming, almost full“? We, the citizens of Christchurch, are having to live this – and if you’re sick of hearing us whinging about EQC and insurance and the recovery, well, you have no idea how miserable we’ll get under a third term of National.

* merging CERA into the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet isn’t a policy; it’s an admission of failure

So last night I was in the front row of the audience at the Press leader’s debate between David Cunliffe and John Key. It was an exciting occasion and great to have so many people interested in politics in the Ilam electorate. I went with my parents, my grandmother and my great aunt – the latter who both live in Merivale, but vote very differently! I think watching it in the room is quite different to what happens on the lifestream. Firstly, it was VERY loud. Both the debaters, and the crowd. Key got a warm welcome but DC’s was louder. The two men talked over each other quite a lot, which wasn’t the most satisfying auditory experience.

James at the debate - photo by Patrick Gower (http://i.instagram.com/p/sb7DqFCA5S/)

James at the debate – photo by Patrick Gower (http://i.instagram.com/p/sb7DqFCA5S/)

Key started really angrily, and talked over David a lot. Most questions seemed to be given to Key for 30 seconds, for him to then talk for 90 seconds, then passed on to David for 30 seconds, at which point Key started sniping at him and not allowing him to answer. While I’ve seen some people comment that they thought the (lack of) moderation was fine, it made for a number of occasions where both men just talked over each other, as if the first person to stop talking was less of a man or something. Key’s question about CGT on houses in a trust did seem to catch David, but he was right to check and see. It’s a complicated issue and it’s worth being right on it.

As with the first debate, most of the commentators seemed to make up their minds about “who won” based on the early exchanges. Key was definitely much weaker in the second half. This was because if focussed on Christchurch issues, and National’s record on this is poor. When he announced that Gerry Brownlee would be CERA minister after the election, this was received with boos. There was laughter when he claimed that the CBD was “booming and almost full“. There was confusion when he started telling Press editor Joanna Norris about an advertorial supplement that will appear in the paper next week. And when he said that the government wouldn’t want to “run roughshod” the Anglican church (when talking about the Cathedral) one was reminded of some of the other institutions that this government has run roughshod over – including ECan and the CCC.

Cunliffe spoke well on these matters, as he has done over the last 3 months of the campaign in the city. He knows that Labour’s policy is popular here, as he has been down here to announce it, and has talked with hundreds of residents who are in difficult situation. Instead of just making light of people’s real hardship like the Prime Minister, Cunliffe has showed an empathy that Key lacks. While the media in Auckland and Wellington might have called it one way, the people in Christchurch were only presented with one leader who understands the issues in this city, and it wasn’t the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister announced today that if re-elected, after the election, he would look to merge CERA into the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. This is an admission that the CERA model – authoritarian, dictatorial and deaf to the concerns of the people it claims to represent – has failed, and failed absolutely. This is what people in this city have been saying for years. When Labour announced that we would introduce a board of governance, and look to wind CERA down in 2016, National said that CERA was working just fine. Nothing has changed since then, but National know how unpopular CERA and it’s Minister are in this city, and are trying to stop the bleeding of votes.

Given what we have seen from the Prime Minister’s office through the Dirty Politics saga, it is the last place that should be running a city. The last thing Christchurch needs is another layer of bureaucracy in a city on another island. Control of the rebuild needs to be passed back to the people, by strengthening the role of the CCC.

It also raises questions for Minister Brownlee, who has been given a vote of no confidence from the Prime Minister just weeks out from the election. He’s been in charge of the rebuild for almost 4 years, but has proved to be most effective at demolition, not construction. Many people I meet in the electorate tell me that while they will be voting for National, they can’t bring themselves to vote for Mr Brownlee. It will be calls like that from National’s base that have forced Key’s hand.  But for the PM in his home city, it is too little, too late.

On August 7, the Prime Minister was in town to announce the convention centre plans. This was done in a special marquee that was erected on the site, and to a very select group of delegates. I used an OIA to ask CERA how much hosting this shin-dig cost; almost $16,000. This was an event for around 90 people; this works out at around $170 a head (on the taxpayer). I’m sure Key and Brownlee thought that the convention centre announcement would lead the news. Instead, their trip to Christchurch was derailed by the real hardship that their government is responsible for, as Paulette Barr approached the PM directly with her case.

On the PM’s trip to Barrington Mall last week, he was again approached by a resident at wit’s end. This pattern will repeat each time he visits the city until he does something to address the growing divide between those who have done ok through the quakes, and those who are still battling on a daily basis. Whilst Key and Brownlee eat canapés, there are people in this city living under canopies. Mr Brownlee needs to explain to the public of Ilam and Christchurch how he can justify spending almost $16,000 on a swanky party for him, the PM and a few exclusive guests, to announce a facility that very few residents of this city will ever have a need to use. If Mr Brownlee spent more time in the electorate he represents, he’d know that his constituents don’t care about convention centres: they want their houses fixed, their EQC claims sorted, their rents to stop increasing at double digit rates.

I’ve written about the idea of the Convention Centre before, but it seems relevant to do so again given that we now know some of the facts around it. So, to recap:

  • it will be build by a consortium of Carter Group, Ngai Tahu, and Plenary Group
  • the taxpayer will pay $284 million
  • the consortium will pay the remaining $200 million +
  • it will take up most of the area between Victoria Sq and Cathedral Sq
  • it will have a 2000-seat conference facility, hotels, residential development, hospitality and retail outlets
  • the facility will be run by Accor, an international convention centre and hotel chain which has hotels in the CBD (Novotel and Ibis)

Here are some other facts, not considered relevant:

  • the previous Christchurch Convention Centre, which opened in 1997, cost $15m to build and could host 2,250 people
  • the Auckland convention centre, being constructed by SkyCity as part of a controversial deal, will be able to host 3,500 people and is costing $402 million to build. That consists of $87m on land, and $315m for the build and fit out

christchurch-convention-centre-precinct-avon-river-view-letterbox

But probably the most intriguing aspect is the involvement of Plenary Group. Despite claims of a competitive tender process, they appear to have been the only company involved in the tender since earlier this year. They are a mysterious Australian company which specialises in PPPs (public-private partnerships) and have built a number of convention centres in Australia and Canada. Michael West at the Sydney Morning Herald has done some digging to try and find out how they work, with limited success:

The three investment bankers [John O’Rourke, Ray Wilson and Paul Oppenheim] parted way with the Dutch giant ABN Amro in 2004 and set up Plenary Group to invest in, develop and operate privatised assets in partnership with governments … Although a few entities within its burgeoning corporate empire do disclose, Plenary’s ultimate financial position is unknown. A byzantine maze of companies winds to a cul-de-sac: a private trust controlled by the three Plenary principals and associated entities.

Stepping back from any argument around the merits of the convention industry itself, CERA and Gerry Brownlee need to be more forthcoming with the public about the amount of their money that is going into this. Who will ultimately own the facility? Why are the council not going to operate it, as their subsidiary VBase did with the previous centre, and currently do with the Wigram Airforce Museum, which doubles as a conference facility? Given that more than half of the funding is from the public, will more than half of the benefits accrue to the public? How will the taxpayers know whether they have got a good return on their $284 million investment? How come it is going to cost more than 30 times more to build a 2,000 seat facility than it did in 1997? The public of Canterbury, and indeed the whole country, need to see a compelling business case for this convention centre before any money from the public purse is committed to it.

 

The Press ran a feature at the weekend that looked at the City Council’s finances, and the man who has a lot of the responsibility, Raf Manji. Undoubtedly, this is a very complicated subject, but since the release of the Cameron Partners report it has been simplified down to “we have to sell assets.” That’s not the only conclusion that one could reach from reading the report, but it is one that suits the government, who have been trying to sell off council assets since pretty much as soon as the quakes started, almost four years ago. However, John McCrone does go and talk to someone else, Christchurch accountant Cameron Preston. Between the two of them, they do a good job of explaining how we got into this situation:

On the infrastructure repairs, the council’s position was that a total of $3.4b of public works was needed to bring Christchurch’s roads and pipes back to their pre-quake level of service. But KordaMentha notes the Government unilaterally capped its “60 per cent” contribution at $1.8b. A maximum figure was named. Once the council’s 40 per cent share was calculated off that, it effectively lopped $400m off the infrastructure budget, bringing the agreed spend back to $3b.

Some 83 road, sewer and water projects got axed from the council’s priority list to make this work.

However, now – because the money actually does need to be spent says the council – the missing millions have just reappeared to haunt the accounts as the largest part of its $800m balance sheet black hole.

So $400 million went missing from the infrastructure budget from the start, and everyone knew that it was needed. The government knew it was needed, and knew that there was no room in the CCC’s budget. They knew that if the CCC were to act responsibly, they would have to find this $400 million, and that in doing so, this would create a “black hole” and a “crisis”. Then the pressure goes on the council, and the “sensible heads” like Manji to do the “reasonable thing” and sell assets. Job done. The $400 million to raise from asset sales is suspiciously similar to the $400 million that went missing from the infrastructure budget in the cost sharing agreement.

Brownlee, Parker and Joyce, put the final touches on burying the council

the government and council in happier times

But what about the other $400 million in the council’s $800 million block hole, you might ask? Well, you might like to consider some other items that were forced upon the council in the cost-sharing agreement. $253 million for a stadium (a project that will be controlled by the Crown, not the council that is paying for it). $147 million for the Metro Sports Centre – another council-funded, Crown-controlled asset. And funnily enough, that’s $400 million right there.

This isn’t a crisis; it’s a bait and switch. The government has skimped on infrastructure, and then forced the council to spend money on assets with weak or non-existent business cases. They’ve forced the council into a corner, and are now trying to tell us the only way out is asset sales. It’s not. They’ve trimmed money from the rebuild budget so that they could make their surplus, and then turn around and say they can afford to spend $300 million on a behemoth of a conference centre.

This “crisis” is a key example of just how this government are running the rebuild, and a strong signal of how they plan to continue if given another term. We can’t afford another 3 years like this. Every vote for Labour in Christchurch is a vote that says that we want an inclusive, people-focussed recovery; every vote for me in Ilam sends a signal to John Key that the rebuild isn’t working.

It depresses me to be writing this piece again. I thought we had put all of this to bed last year. Unfortunately, after the council suggested that the project was on hold, the opinion pages of the Press were once again filled will ill-informed pieces calling for the Town Hall to be pulled down. Then, some sanity. Former Arts Editor Chris Moore wrote this piece in last Friday’s art section, which summed up much of what I had been meaning to say.

There’s a widely held misbelief that the cost of retaining the town hall will prevent the construction of a series of glittering arts palaces custom-made for individual organisations. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch … The sense of entitlement accompanying proposals for the arts precinct is mind-boggling. Some individuals and groups should remember that tooth fairies do not exist.

Richard Dawkins fills the Town Hall for a lecture on evolution in 2010

Gerry’s opposition to the building is well known. We don’t know reasons for his stance; he may just hate brutalism, or internationally recognised architecture, or culture in general. The most likely reason is that he wants to knock down the Town Hall and take the insurance money, then spend it on the Performing Arts Precinct (PAP). Spending money on PAP gives him another opportunity to leave a lasting memory of his magnificence; the CCC voting to save the Town Hall means that he can’t.

The PAP is weirdly considered to be a replacement for the Town Hall; it’s not. The Town Hall does play host to a lot of arts and cultural events, such as the orchestra, choirs, theatre and the like. But it is much more than that. It was often used for conferences, with the air bridge that linked it to the Convention Centre. It hosted speaking events; I remember seeing Robert Fisk speak in the Limes Room as part of the Writer’s Festival a few years back. It had a multitude of rooms, of a variety of sizes, that could be used by a whole range of people for whatever they might think of doing. The PAP doesn’t do that.

What we’re seeing with the PAP is a bunch of very specialised cultural organisations within Christchurch seeing the dollar signs in Gerry’s eyes and putting their hand up for a bit of it. They think that if they play their part, and whinge about how awful the Town Hall was, then when the money starts flowing, it will come their way. It ain’t gonna work like that. There is a chance that if the CCC does knock down the Town Hall, they may just use the money to pay down debt. No one gets a building.

The bizarre thing about this saga is how it has been reduced to a few voices from the arts community siding with Gerry against the Council and heritage advocates. If Gerry does win, and the Town Hall is knocked down for the benefit of a handful of commercial arts organisations, what does the council do without a Town Hall? I mean, we, as a city, are still going to have a Town Hall, right? They will have to find the money somewhere to build a new one. And no, an auditorium in a convention centre run by a casino doesn’t count. We are on the verge of losing the icon of our city – the Cathedral – and the symbol of our civic and cultural lives. The people who came before us in Christchurch had the foresight to leave us with two fantastic buildings, and yet we are on the cusp of watching the last of our cultural history disappear because we left a philistine the keys to the bulldozer.

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