Archives for category: Cera

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 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.

About a month ago, the incredibly useful FYI.org.nz website was relaunched with help from the NZ Herald. I had a few ideas for OIA requests in my head, and once the site was up again, I fired them off. One of these requests was about the app produced by Future Christchurch, call “Chch Story“:

Chch Story, a brand new mobile app packed full of inspirational stories from real people who’re making their mark on the city, as well as anchor project updates and interesting facts and figures about the rebuild and recovery. Stories are geo-tagged, so when the app is opened, viewers will automatically see a map with the stories that are closest to them.
“Initiatives like Chch Story are bringing to life the stories behind the bricks and mortar and giving people the opportunity to see what’s happening in the medium they like best,” says Mr Ombler.

This app cost the best part of $80,000 to develop (GST exclusive). I also asked for the number of times the app has been downloaded, which was 1447 times. That works out as $54 per app. Try and find another app in the app store which costs $54. CERA is throwing money and people to get their version of the rebuild story out to the public, with their rugby-team sized communication department, and this well-meaning but expensive foray into the digital world. The paltry number of downloads shows just how interested the public is in the official take. It’s hard to reconcile the brightly coloured, optimistic version portrayed through the official channels with the empty sites and road cones of the central city. Throwing good money at an app is clearly not the way to generate any meaningful engagement.

UPDATE: to quote Barnaby:

$80,000 on an app 1500 people have downloaded. Thats twice as much as we spent making and printing 2000 copies of the 500 page our book on the rebuild.

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.

Barnaby has written a very long investigation about the Convention Centre, which you can read here. There is one of thing that doesn’t come up, which I have been thinking about. Pre-quake, and actually still to this day, the council-owned company V-Base runs conferences in the city. They also ran Lancaster Park. At the moment, their main conference facility is Wigram Airforce Museum. The new convention centre is done in a deal with Accor, who are meant to be running the conventions. What I’d like to know is whether this means that the government is putting money into a convention centre that will be run by a French company in direct competition with a company run by the ratepayer? If so, what does this mean for V-Base? Will the council have to wind it up, or will it try and out-compete? Seems like a relevant question to have answered before we spunk out $284 of public money.

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

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