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Oh dear. In a sign that Christchurch is returning to it’s pre-quake normality, residents in an expensive-but-tasteless suburb are banding together to protest the arrival of – get this – an old house. The horror, the horror! Picking up a salvageable house from a damaged section is good for the seller, is good for the buyer, is good for the government, is good for the environment – but it might be a slight inconvenience to the neighbours who live in a 9 bedroom house and might be able to see this eyesore out the side of a window in the second upstairs ensuite.

Travis Country, which I had never been to, and am now adding to my “never visit” list, is a subdivision with strict covenants preventing certain dwellings:

Travis Country properties are subject to a covenant prohibiting “any dwelling other than a new house” on its sites. It also specifies houses must have a floor area of at least 190 square metres and not have steel garages or any fence made of, or appearing to be made of, iron.

Must have a floor area greater than 190 square metres? While they’re at it, they might as well add a clause “must deliberately build a house twice as big as needed, needlessly ramping up the property market and making it as difficult as possible for first home buyers to enter the market”. The average house size in New Zealand is 149m^2, so this subdivision requires that every house must be at least a third bigger than the average New Zealand house. 

The data on house sizes in that link was from 2011, so may be slightly out of date, but it should be noted that of the top ten districts with the largest houses, two of them (Selwyn and Waimakariri) are the boom suburbs on the outskirts of Christchurch. In Westmorland, the hill suburb where I used to have a paper round, the average size is 236m^2. How many rooms in these giant houses sit empty, whilst Christchurch still has people living in garages and cars?

I get this. Other people are annoying. Having neighbours sucks. Being part of a body corporate is difficult. So is working in an open plan office. Rather than develop relationships with other people, sometimes you just want to have your own room / office / house / suburb / island / planet. But as the population of the planet continues to increase, and more and more people choose to live in cities, we have to find ways of living better togather. Instead, these giant babies are choosing to live in giant houses in satellite suburbs, closing the gates on other people. The council, the government, whoever, needs to stop letting these insane covenants being placed upon subdivisions, before our city devolves into a collection of far-flung gated communities spread across the plains. 


A couple of weeks ago, Nick Smith and the government decided to prolong the sham that is ECan until 2019. When announcing that there would be a “mixed government model”, he went on to say that democracy was “too risky” for Canterbury. Of course what he means is that if the governance was returned to the people who actually pay the rates at ECan, then they would probably elect a council that would try and place some restrictions on the unchecked expansion of dairying across Canterbury.

Smith and the government always say this this is about “water management”, and that the previous council was “dysfunctional”. It was dysfunctional inasmuch as it was made up of a mixture of rural and urban councillors who disagreed about how to proceed with the exponential expansion of dairying in the region that they were responsible for. The government used the Creech report to play on this idea of “dysfunction”, and said that they were installing commissioners to ensure that “water management” was handled smoothly. It is notable that Smith, Adams et al always say “water management” – meaning allocation, not “water quality”.

Smith insists that the commissioners were installed to fix the dysfunction and put a water management structure into place. He insists that they’re doing that job:

“I am yet to meet a single Cantabrian who will not tell me the commissioners have cleaned up one helluva mess.”

And yet, even with that narrow remit, and without the nuisance of elections and democracy, they actually aren’t doing it:

Environment Canterbury (ECan) will not meet some of its water management targets for 2015, a commissioner says … Targets for 2015 included making sure at least 80 per cent of river bathing sites were clean for recreation, significant wetlands were restored, and increasing the area of irrigated land in Canterbury and/or the reliability of irrigation … David Caygill, one of two ECan commissioners on the Canterbury Regional Water Management Committee, said ECan was “on track” with several targets and needed “to do more work” in other areas.

A major target for 2015 was setting water quality limits based on nutrient levels for all 10 water-management zones – a task assigned to zone committees, Caygill said. “We have got limits in place across the region as a whole but [with] the work of tailoring those limits to particular catchments . . . we’re about halfway there,” he said.

Ecan did not have the scientific resources available to set limits across all the catchments at the same time, and consultation was time consuming, Caygill said.

(my emphasis)

So the government sacked the council and gave “water management” as their reason, and yet here we are 5 years later and they’re only halfway there? Doesn’t that suggest that the commissioner-led ECan is … what’s the word I’m looking for here … dysfunctional?

Despite the volatility in the industry, dairy is pretty much the only economic remedy that National wants to prescribe. Here in Canterbury, they’ve decided that they need a bit more time, and so have pushed-out the inevitable backlash at the ballot box out until 2019, to give their dysfunctional commissioners a bit more time. It’s also a signal, in this drought year, for the most environmentally vandalous farmers to push for irrigation in the most inappropriate areas. Across the country, however, the environmental toll is becoming unavoidable, as this excellent post from Dave Hansford makes all too clear:

Under the terms of the Primary Growth Partnership, ag minister Nathan Guy wants primary sector export receipts to double in value by 2025. Given that they have already wrung monumental production increases from their properties – an average 57 per cent per hectare between 1992 and 2012 – that demand in critical markets like China has flattened, exchange rates routinely swing against them, and international dairy prices tumbled more than 50 per cent last year, the only practical thing left for dairy farmers to do is to stock more cows.

The Government, like some Harlem pusher, is doing everything it can to coax farmers into still more expansion. It has adopted fresh water quality standards so lax they would give the filthy, lifeless Yangtze a clean bill of health. It removed the obstacle of a democratically-elected regional council in Canterbury that was proceeding on water issues with a caution mandated by voters. Instead, it installed pro-irrigation, agri-business-friendly “commissioners.” It has devoted $35m of taxpayers’ money to facilitating irrigation schemes. It granted agriculture exemption from the Emissions Trading Scheme on what is unfolding as a perpetual basis.

We need to realise that we’ve reached the carrying capacity of our paddocks; we need to combine best-practice farming techniques with scientific research, rather than ignoring all the evidence that happens to be inconvenient for the government’s agenda. We should be trying to farm smarter, not just trying to stick a dairy cow on a plot of grass, no matter how suitable it might be. And most of off, we need the government to get out of our way and let us make our own decisions about land use in Canterbury. It is laughable that Key can stand up and insist that we are fighting for democracy in the Middle East, whilst at the same time scrapping suffrage at ECan to pursue the most naked economic agenda.

When I was clearing out some things recently, I found an old disposable camera that was left to me by a Swedish friend when she left the country. It still had more than 20 exposures left on it, so I took some pictures of the city, as it was in December 2014. It took me a while to get it developed, as it’s quite hard to find a place that actually processes film these days (Photo and Video in Merivale was the place – thanks guys). They may look a bit grainy and hipster, but that’s not a filter – it’s just a basic camera. It’s a brief, selective snapshot of the city four years on from the quakes.

Author reflected in window of work site

Author reflected in window of work site

Square peg, round hole

Square peg, round hole

Diggers in wait

Diggers in wait

Rainbows over the rebuild

Rainbows over the rebuild

Top of the dome

Top of the dome

Pigeon friends (building since demolished)

Pigeon friends (building since demolished)



Blue bridge on a grey day

Blue bridge on a grey day (art work by Mike Hewson)

This morning, Councillor Glenn Livingstone posted this to Facebook:

Screenshot 2014-06-12 13.53.18

Then this story appeared on the Press website:

which provoked this response from Raf Manji:

So it looks like all that praying paid off.


from CCC draft Recovery Plan

from CCC draft Recovery Plan

Last night, I was reading back over the CCC’s draft recovery plan aka the document that came directly out of the Share an Idea process. It talks about the “transitional city”, and has some predictions. Remember that this was released in December 2011. This is what was predicted for 2014:

  • Demolition work will be completed
  • Infrastructure will have been assessed and be operational
  • Vacant sites will be bringing new life into the Central City
  • Retail businesses will have returned and pockets of the Central City opened up, creating new retail precincts that wait to be discovered
  • Restaurants and bars will have returned to the Central City, extending the enjoyment of the redeveloping city into the evening
  • Life will have returned to Cathedral Square with businesses re-establishing back in the heart of the City
  • The Central city will be alive with lots of transitional/temporary projects and activities – music, arts and theatre – bringing people to the Central City and providing inner city residents with plenty to do in their neighbourhood
  • Council’s LTP will have prioritised key Central City Plan projects and funding to support the Central City
  • Private sector investment in rebuilding will have kick-started the recovery in many areas throughout the Central City
  • Public sector organisations will have returned to the Central City. Staff will have a growing number of activities to entertain them
  • The Central City will continue to evolve on a daily basis with new activities and businesses
  • Community involvement will continue on recovery projects as concepts and sites are developed
  • Investigations and implementation work on the Metro Sports Facility, new Central Library, Convention Centre, Papawai Ōtakaro, Public Art Network and slow core will be underway
  • The feasibility study on Light Rail will have started
  • Incentives for private sector investment will be operating

Obviously, subsequent to this, CERA came in over the top and established the CCDU. One of the reasons given for doing this was that the council wasn’t getting on with things fast enough. Well, you can look at list and see that CERA haven’t done anything to improve the speed at which things get done in this city. The only different really is that CERA don’t even publish timelines, as they know that they bring a level of accountability which they’d rather avoid.

As many of you will know, I ran, unsuccessfully, to be the Labour candidate for Christchurch Central. While I’m disappointed not to have been chosen, the party has picked someone who will make an excellent MP for the electorate in Tony Milne. I’m proud of the campaign that I ran, and the effort that I put in. I am post proud of the speech that I gave on the day, which I am reliably informed was a rousing call to arms. In lieu of a video from said speech, I present the text from it below.

Good afternoon, my name is James Macbeth Dann and I’m here to talk to you about why I think I should be the next Labour candidate for Christchurch Central.

I’d like to acknowledge our party president, Moira Coatsworth, our former mayor, people’s choice councillors and community board members, and Megan Woods. I’d also like to acknowledge my parents, grandmother, aunt and uncle, as well as my partner Hannah and her family.

It is my belief that Central is the most important electorate in the country at the moment; it is a symbol of the destruction wrought by the quakes which has been beamed around the country and the world – but it is also a symbol of the failure and broken promises from the National-led government. Brownlee and his accomplices have presided over a man-made disaster, far worse that the one caused by mother nature, and I believe that I am the best person to lead Labour and Christchurch Central towards a resolution.

The rebuild should have been an opportunity to show how we, as a nation, can create a new vision for a fairer, more equal, more sustainable way of living in the 21st century, and yet this chance has been squandered. The hope and optimism that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the terror has now dissipated, almost completely, under the weight of disappointment with a lack of progress, frustration and obfuscation from EQC and insurance companies. Thanks to the resounding success of the People’s Choice team at last year’s local body elections, we now have a council that are ready to address the realities which the city faces. Despite being thrown a hospital pass by the previous administration, Lianne Dalziel and her council are trying to approach the significant issues the council faces with a maturity and responsibility not seen often in this city, post-quakes. Their approaches have fallen on deaf ears. I believe that the parliamentary opposition can no longer afford to stay silent on these issues: we need to provide more support for the council, who are of course representing the people of this city.

Further to this, Labour needs to start outlining what it will do differently if and when it forms a government after the next election. Would we continue with CERA in it’s existing format? How would we improve EQC, or work with insurance companies to ensure a better outcome for all parties involved? What is our position on the suburban expansion into the fertile farmland around the city, and the impacts it will have on our transport infrastructure? Would Labour support the anchor projects as they stand currently on the Blueprint, and if not, what would we do differently? After asking myself these questions for many months, I decided that the best way to have them answered was to put my name forward and ask the party as a whole.

I grew up in the south-west of the city, in an idyllic semi-rural setting. After my schooling at Hoon Hay Primary, Manning Intermediate – a victim of Parata’s needless restructuring – and Cashmere High School, I went on to Otago University. Here I studied for a BSc in Biochemistry, as well as a BA in Classics. I then returned to Christchurch, where I completed a Masters in Cellular and Molecular Biology. It was during this time that I first got involved with Labour in the Port Hills electorate. I’ve been helping Ruth Dyson and her team since before the 2008 election, and have been Chairperson of the Port Hills LEC since 2010. Working with Ruth, Martin and others has taught me invaluable experience on not just how to run a campaign, but how to run a winning campaign. But now, it’s the time for me to come back to Christchurch Central.

I’ve lived in Central for much of the last decade. I would have been a voter here at the last election, were it not for the quake destroying my flat on Lichfield St. It also took out the place I lived before that, in Cashel St, and the one before that, in Poplar Lane. But now, my partner and I are back living in town. We both walk to work – which is equal parts depressing and exciting. Every day, buildings are coming down, and the plants are getting slightly taller. As the plants grow, so does the anger – anger at the lack of progress, anger at the government prioritising pet projects over people, anger as we come to realise that dreams we had of rebuilding a better Christchurch are fast slipping from our grasp.

Every morning when I leave my house, I’m confronted by the broken mess on High St, the old McKenzie and Willis. So much history and heritage, propped up by struts and shipping containers. A reminder of both the city a hundred years ago, and the city three years ago. A monument to creativity, and to everyday, human stories. The quake wiped these buildings off the map, but the government’s inaction has written them out of our cultural history.

Under Helen Clark’s leadership, the arts and culture portfolio was a personal interest to her. Since then, we have struggled to get much cut through in this area. Where were we when so many of the cities beautiful heritage buildings were pulled down? I would like to see the Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio once again be as strong as it was under Helen, and my experience will be useful towards that. I’ve spent a decade making, releasing and performing independent music, up and down the country. I know what its like to be a part of this small industry, an industry that is so vital to our identities as New Zealanders. I’m also well connected in the contemporary and visual arts scene within the city. I’m good friends with a number of artists, curators and practitioners, and a board member of the Physics Room, the South Islands’ only artist-run contemporary arts project space.

Along with music and visual arts, I’ve had a key role in a number of the transitional projects that have brightened up our city since the quakes. I was the first artist to perform at the very first Gap Filler, held on the old South of the Border site on Colombo St, in November 2010. Since then, I’ve stayed involved with a range of transitional projects, including FESTA and the urban farming project Agropolis. While there are many things about this city that can be frustrating and bleak at times, the creative, dynamic energy that is best expressed through these unexpected ways in something that assures me that the future of the city is still one of positivity and progress.

The redrawn central will be an electorate of communities and contrasts. In the south, it will start at the Heathcote, the river that runs past my parent’s back yard. The electorate then moves through Beckenham to Sydenham, where my grandparents raised four boys on a plumber’s salary. In the north we have St Albans, where my partner’s sister lives with her two children, around the corner from the house where my mum grew up. Slightly across to the east is Shirley Boy’s High School, where my father has taught for over 30 years. But in the middle is an aching gap, a mess of gravel and road cones where a city once stood. This is where I live.

Central has been a starting point for some brilliant Labour MPs. Geoffrey Palmer was one of the best legal minds to ever step foot in the house – and his long shadow still hangs over the party. Lianne Dalziel showed after the quakes just how valuable a strong, vocal, passionate local representative can be – and now she’s one of our brightest hopes for cleaning up the mess at the CCC. When Tim Barnett was the MP, he promoted important social legislation, such as the prostitution reform bill. Christchurch Central has had a long tradition of charismatic, visionary MPs, and this is a tradition in which I want to follow.

My writings on my site, rebuildingchristchurch, have been read 10’s of thousands of times, all around the world. I’ve written over 100,000 words in almost 300 posts since September 2010. This isn’t just me talking to my keyboard. The success of the site has seen my writing feature in the Press, the Herald, and have a column in the Christchurch Mail. The site has also been picked up by the Guardian, as the only New Zealand blog to feature in their Guardian Cities site. So what, you might say. Well, I’d argue that this is important. The Labour Party hasn’t enjoyed the greatest run in the media of late – including some mistakes of our own making. I already know how to work with the media, to write a speech, a blog or a press release. I know how to write something tailored to a particular audience. I know how to get cut through on twitter, or how to get reach on Facebook. These are skills that the party desperately needs right now, and not only do I bring them, but I can work to up skill others.

I want to run a campaign that puts the rebuild back into the political discussion. Now is the time for the opposition to offer a real alternative, to step up and let people know that there is a point of difference between us and the failed policies of Brownlee and Key. On February 23rd, 2011, John Key said this:

On behalf of the Government, let me be clear that no one will be left to walk this journey alone. New Zealand will walk this journey with you. We will be there every step of the way. Christchurch; this is not your test, this is New Zealand’s test. I promise we will meet this test.

More than 3 years on, with thousands still struggling with EQC and their insurance companies, our most vulnerable people being told that the “free market” will sort out their housing issues, and with a central city that looks more like a war zone than a rebuild zone, I think we can say that this is a test which Key has failed. It’s time for a change, and I believe I’m the right man to usher that change in.

What are our priorities? Should we be building a $500 million stadium when the Crusaders can’t fill their temporary one on a week by week basis? Is it fair to take the money from two pools in the east – Centennial and QEII – and put it towards one complex on the south west of the city? But for me, the biggest outrage is the Eastern Frame, not far from here. The Government is spending over $600m of taxpayer money with the express purpose of limiting land supply, so that land owners within the frame don’t see their portfolios lose too much value. This shows exactly where this government’s priorities lie; they will spend hundreds of millions to maintain the real estate portfolios of their rich lister mates, whilst residents in the suburbs shiver towards a fourth winter post-quake. It’s socialism for the rich, but capitalism for the poor. This is John Key’s New Zealand, but it’s a world away from the egalitarian, caring state in which he was raised.

I don’t want to live with another 3 years of a Key Government. Even worse, I don’t want to suffer through another 3 years of Brownlee botching recovery. But we aren’t going to change this government without changing ourselves. We need to be bigger and bolder. We need to be braver. Most of all, we need to be better. Better than the Nats, better than the Greens. Better than we are at the moment. It’s no secret that Labour lost the last election in Christchurch. Central was held by Labour for 65 years until 2011 – but that wasn’t the worst result. No, that would be Labour’s performance in the Party vote. We got 26.7% across the city – which is even less than our dismal return nationally. The boundary changes are better for Central than they are for some other electorates, but that doesn’t mean that we can be complacent. In Beckenham, which is proposed to be added, Ruth’s personal popularity saw her get 44% of the candidate vote. However, Labour got fewer party votes than National. We got fewer party votes than the Greens. We got 22% – a percentage that we associate with Tory strongholds like Halswell and Fendalton.

If Labour is to have any chance at this election, then we need to win back not only Central, but the party vote across the city. This will be no easy feat – but the government’s mismanagement of the rebuild has left the door ajar; we, as a Labour team, need to swing that door wide open, so that there is no-one in the country who is not aware of National’s shameful neglect. We need to reach out to the communities that have become disengaged with Labour – and disengaged with politics – and show them that this is a party that has the ideas, the conviction, and the people to look out for them.

If you support me, I can promise you this: I will bring you new members. People from the Greens. People from National. People who fell out of love with the Labour Party in the 1980s and haven’t forgiven us. People who are disengaged and don’t think politics is for them. I’ll bring them in. I’ll bring in money. I’ll throw garage sales and movie nights and art auctions. I’ll hit up my neighbours, workmates, and friends. I’ll make sure we have enough money to run the campaign that we need to run.

I’ll hit the streets. From Sydenham to St Albans, from one end of Colombo St to the other. I’ll knock on every door that I can. Most importantly, I promise you this; I will win back Christchurch Central for Labour, by running on a platform that reflects what Labour is about. I’ll put people before pet projects; communities before convention centres, and equality back into EQC. The earthquakes stopped Christchurch’s heart, and the National Government has done little to get it started again. If you support me, I’l put the heart – the people, the caring, the relationships back into Christchurch Central, and in doing so, back into the Labour Party as well.


One of Amy Adams’s major projects is the reform of the RMA. Rob Hosking has an interesting profile on her and her reforms. It’s worth considering the Federated Farmers response to these proposed changes. Here is a press release from about a year ago, when the change proposals were announced:

The proposed reform is closely aligned to Federated Farmers 2008 reform package.

Federated Farmers has for a long time tried to get the balance right between what the public wants to protect and what that means to someone who wants to use their land. The RMA in our view currently leans too far towards protection. Our members will welcome the proposed inclusion of “the benefits of the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources,” in a revised section 6.

A newly drafted section 7, focussing on the efficiency of council process, could require councils to consider “an appropriate balance between public and private interests in the use of land”. Every council should ask itself that same question every time a decision is made.

The changes that Adams is proposing are “closely aligned” to the reforms that Federated Farmers asked for in 2008. According to the Feds, the current RMA “leans too far towards protection” and they welcome wording which euphemistically refers to efficient use of resources, and the dropping of the phrase “the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values”. These proposed changes have been criticised as shifting the balance too far towards the economy, at the expense of the environment. One of the most prominent critics was no less than the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright. Here is a joint release from 50 councils who submitted on the changes (ECan is notably absent from the group). The submission notes “strong concerns raised by the majority of submitters that proposed changes will harm the environment”. Forest and Bird weren’t exactly keen on it either:

The proposed weakening of the environmental safeguards in the Act’s purposes and principles are disappointing, unfounded and unrelated to the government’s objectives for simpler and consistent planning that leads to greater housing affordability.

Nor were Fish and Game, who commissioned Sir Geoffrey Palmer – the original architect of the RMA – to write a report on the changes.

In his report for the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, Sir Geoffrey’s expert analysis clearly shows that the Government’s proposed changes ‘will significantly and seriously weaken the ability of the RMA to protect the natural environment and its recreational enjoyment by all New Zealanders’

There is widespread opposition from a broad-range of groups about the impact that these changes will have on our environment. The common theme seems to be that these changes are designed to make it easier and faster to extract resources (read: water). So is the Minister of the Environment acting in the best interests of Federated Farmers, or herself? Or are they one and the same?

I was going to write a few more questions about the Amy Adams post from yesterday, but Rob Salmond at Polity has already covered most of what I was going to say – and included a handy flow chart! I recommend you pop over and check it out.

Yesterday, we discovered that Amy Adams owns part of Canterbury Plains Water, a firm that is running irrigation schemes in Canterbury. This is important because it reveals two potential paths through which Adams could use her public office to enrich herself, and her husband, and other family members. Those two paths are:

Through participating in government decisions that are explicitly about CPW; or
Through participating in government decisions about the management of freshwater resources in Canterbury. These affect the profitability of CPW and the value of its shares, which gives rise to a conflict of interest under the Cabinet Manual (2.61).

In addition to what Rob has brought up, there are a couple more questions I’d like answered. Was she at cabinet when the decision was made to create the Crown Irrigation scheme? Did she participate in discussions at a cabinet level about this policy which sees money from state asset sales given as a subsidy to irrigation schemes?

Adams is also leading the charge to gut streamline the Resource Management Act. What effects will these changes have on dairy farms? Will they make it easier or harder to get resource consent for taking water from rivers? What about consent to discharge effluent into waterways?

I think there are still a few outstanding questions here that should be easy enough for Minister Adams to answer if she is so adamant that this is nothing more than a smear campaign.

This is a heart-felt, heart-breaking piece of writing from Isabel Hitchings, who lives in the “Flockton Cluster”. I can’t do much more than strongly recommend that you read it. The situation over the last few days has shown that complex the post-quake recovery in the suburbs is – and that we are still failing too many people as a nation.

The government is considering banning farming from near major rivers. Great news! Except it’s not the government of clean, green, 100% Pure New Zealand – it’s China:

Mr Chen said the Chinese government is considering banning or restricting farming along China’s major rivers – as the effects of pollution are too severe. He said farming was a major cause of pollution and the pollution downstream effect was particularly exaggerated.

This government’s attitude to the environment seems to be completely ass-backwards; massive expansion of dairying, sold on the back of our “pure” reputation to a country that is more worried about water pollution than we are.