The Minister of the Environment, Dr Nick Smith, today announced plans for the future governance structure of the Canterbury Regional Council, commonly known as ECan. The elected council was sacked in 2010, following a report that found they had failed to achieve the Government’s objectives of converting the entirety of the Canterbury Plains into dairying. In their place, commissioners were appointed. Despite having 5 years to achieve the Government’s aims, the Commissioners have comprehensively failed their goals. A recent study found that just 36% of Canterbury’s fresh water was unsafe to drink, well below the Government’s aspirational goal of “no fresh water by 2020”. Another report from Lake Ellesmere / Te Waihora said that it took more than 25 minutes for a red-band gumboot to fully dissolve in the toxic water – over 5 minutes longer than the Government’s benchmark for acidic fresh water lakes. The Minister reiterated that the Government had set clear benchmarks for environmental degradation, and that ECan had repeatedly failed to meet them.

Dr Smith appeared at the news conference with his preferred appointment to run ECan, a GARDENA Classic Oscillating Sprinkler Polo 2500. GARDENA Classic will take over the role, following a Cabinet vote next Monday.

GARDENA Classic, the newly appointed ECan commissioner

Dr Smith said that GARDENA Classic was the obvious choice for the role. “She can spray water over here, she can spray water over there. That means that she takes turns between watering the farmers, and watering the latte-sipping townies. But if the townies keep piping up with these spurious complaints about voting and democracy, I am not afraid to adjust her range, so that she only sprays the farmers.” The Minister also highlighted the new Commissioner’s appeal to the younger generation. “In summer, we can put her down in the garden, and the kids can take turns running backwards and forwards through her. GARDENA Classic is the new, child-friendly face of ECan.”

Murray, a spokesperson for the activist group “Hippies Called Murray”, was disappointed with the appointment. “How can the Government claim to be acting in our best interests, when this is clearly just a stitch-up on behalf of Big Domestic Irrigation. I bet Bunning’s is behind this”, he said, before trailing off into a rant about the TPPA and Monsanto butter beans. When approached for comment, Buzz Babcock of the Confederated Farmers, South Canterbury Branch, gave a brisk “yee-haw!” before jumping through the window of his John Deere tractor and attempting to launch it over the south branch of the  Rangitata River.

Amongst all the other decisions at Council last week, they also voted down a roading project. A bunch of people are pissed about it – Waimak mayor, the NZTA – so the Press have gone in hard on the issue.

The city councillor responsible for overseeing transport in Christchurch is defending his decision to vote to pull funding for a crucial roading project. Cr Phil Clearwater heads the Christchurch City Council’s infrastructure, transport and environment committee and was one of seven councillors who last week voted to remove funding for the northern arterial extension and Cranford St four-laning from the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP).

The decision shocked both the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) and the Waimakariri District Council, which were expecting the city council to rubber-stamp the $50 million project they had been jointly planning for years.

I think the angle the Press are trying to run here is “this guy is in charge of transport, so why he no moar roads???” It’s nonsensical. Just because Clearwater is the head of the transport committee, that doesn’t mean he has to blindly vote for roading extensions. In fact, his experience as the head of this committee should suggest that he actually has more expertise on the subject, instead of him being singled out.

And singled out he is – though 7 councillors voted against it, he is the only one named. The other six don’t even get a mention in this. Clearly, the Press don’t like the People’s Choice councillors, whether it be their opposition to asset sales, or their defending of the Town Hall. All that said, this seems a remarkable ad hominem attack on one of the councillors who was just doing his job. As the story belatedly mentions at the end, there was public opposition to this project:

The city council received 45 submissions regarding the extension, with 37 expressing opposition.

If only the Press had access to the names of the 37 people who submitted against this, maybe they could do stories about them too?

This week, Christchurch will find out about the governance arrangements and the transfer of power from CERA to someone else. It’s meant to happen on Thursday:

Prime Minister John Key is expected to outline new power arrangements for the control of Canterbury’s quake recovery in a speech to city business people on Thursday. This will likely set the framework for how the Government hopes to run the recovery past April next year.

The first people to know about these proposed changes for how the city will run aren’t going to be the people who live here. Nope. It’s going to be the business people. Yeah, sure, this is just a lunch, and a safe place for Key to announce the changes. But it is so symbolic of the way this recovery is being handled, and in whose interests. If National cared about the people of the city, they could have held a joint announcement alongside the Mayor at the Council building. Or better yet, they could have gone to New Brighton and stood in front of the people who have been most affected by both the quakes, and the government’s handling of the aftermath.

But no, it will be done in front of a bland group of rich white men, who have been the biggest supporters of the government’s direction. I’m not surprised, but that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed as well.

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

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

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

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

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

But wait! There’s more!

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

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

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

The Once In A Lifetime crew are getting together tomorrow night for a discussion about housing in Christchurch. Full info is as follows:

Talking Heads #2: Anna Langley, Dr Alistair Humphrey and Garry Moore in conversation with Barnaby Bennett

6pm – 7pm, June 24th, at Switch Espresso, New Brighton Mall (opposite Fish n Chicken)
The team behind the book Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch is pleased to present the second edition of Talking Heads, a series of talks that explore the current state of play in Christchurch and expand upon some of the themes and issues discussed in Once in a Lifetime.

Join us out east for a discussion about housing: is there a housing crisis?

With our panel participants we hope to open up the conversation to look at some of the many issues that feed into housing: affordability, health and wellbeing, quality of housing and so on.

Barnaby Bennett, one of the book’s editors and architecture PhD student, hosts this event and will field questions from the floor.

Anna Langley is on the board of Tenants Protection Association and is a facilitator of a community hub which delas with social issues . Dr Alistair Humphrey is the Canterbury Medical Officer of Health and Garry Moore is a former mayor and runs the not-for profit Your Home, which buys houses in the east and moves them to sections elsewhere in Canterbury in an attempt to provide affordable housing to lower income families.

Copies of Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch will be available for $40.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

The Government’s handling of the rebuild hit a new low point, as the latest report from CERA into EQC repairs is propaganda that would make Kim Jun Il proud. After an MBIE report looked at 14 property repairs and found that 13 of them had issues, CERA commissioned an “independent report”. The methodology for this report is extraordinary:

[A] sample of 100 houses was chosen from a pool of 200 properties selected by the Earthquake Commission (EQC), IAG, Southern Response, and Housing New Zealand.

Homeowners with open complaints against EQC or issues that were still being remediated by EQR were exempt from the survey.

So the houses are chosen randomly from a pool which contains only houses that are offered up by the bodies managing the claims, and explicitly removes ones where there are complaints.

Allowing insurers to “self select” which homes could be included in the survey was “clearly ridiculous”, and homeowners were frustrated that many of their concerns were not being considered.

More than 65,000 homes had received earthquake repairs in Canterbury since 2010, but the four organisations were able to pre-select only 200 of those for the survey.

This is like Sepp Blatter saying that his hands are clean of corruption, whilst standing on a pile of brown envelopes, overflowing with cash. What did they think this was going to achieve? Did they think no-one was going to notice? This is the behaviour befitting the dictator of a bureaucratic Eastern Bloc backwater, not a supposed 21st century democracy. EQC, and the Minister responsible, Gerry Brownlee, need to be held to account for this farce.

“Power Lists” are the pre-Buzzfeed listicle that publications fall back on when they don’t have enough news for an actual story. They’re an arbitrary list, comparing people in different professions, walks of life, levels of influence, and giving them a ranking that can’t be justified. Having said all of that, as I watched the council debtate over the Town Hall last week, I couldn’t help but think: Lianne Dalziel is now the most powerful person in the city.

In ordinary circumstances, it might not be a surprise that the Mayor is the most powerful person – but these are no ordinary circumstances. Gerry Brownlee has dominated the political environment in the city since the quakes, completely emasculating the previous mayor, sidelining any opposition MPs, and marginalising his ultimately doomed Chief Executive Roger Sutton. But the decision over the Town Hall may be the point at which we look back and say that the Council took back the power.

Brownlee’s grasp on the city has been waning since before the last election. During the campaign, the Prime Minister announced that CERA was to be brought within his own Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – a sure sign that Key and English no longer trusted Brownlee’s handling of the recovery. While Sutton departed under a cloud, we’ve also seen a number of other high profile exits – Warwick Isaacs and Reid Stieven have also left CCDU and EQC, respectively. 

Post-election, Brownlee was also given the Defence portfolio, which has been an important but low-profile Ministry for some time. His handling of the deployment to Iraq has been a return to the cartoon buffonery that he was associated with pre-quake. I’d argue that his behaviour in the defence portfolio – arrogant, ignorant, bullying – is no different from his rule over the recovery. The difference seems to be that while he can get away with it in Christchurch, he can’t pull the same tricks in full view of parliament and the Press Gallery.

On the Town Hall, Brownlee has shown the disdain he has previously expressed for heritage buildings. He remarkably dismissed the independent report into the facility, whilst admitting he hadn’t read it. Back at the Council Chambers on Thursday, and Mayor Dalziel cross-examined her own council staff who presented the report, showing that not only did she read it, she understood it. She understood the heritage, the cultural, the environmental, and the financial implications of the decision. She could see that a full restoration of the Town Hall was the right call, in spite of the campaign from the Press, who repeatedly used their editorial and opinion pages to present a very one-sided case against it. Her experience and determination moved the windvanes of knee-jerk reaction – with two former talkback hosts sensing the changing breeze. Concillor Ali Jones voted for restoration, whilst her former NewstalkZB colleague Mike Yardley wrote on Friday that he too had become a convert after watching the Mayor’s performance.

This is but one decision, but bodes well for the campaign to bring control of the city back to the people who live and work in it. At the end of the month, the “transition plan” will come up for discussion. And there may be a transition of another kind; rumours abound that David Carter may be relieved of his terrible reign in the Speaker’s chair. The bad news is that his replacement may be none other than Gerry Brownlee. If this did come to pass – probably not before late this year or early next – then it would be left to Nicky Wagner to turn the lights out at CERA. It is into this void that Dalziel and her council are reaffirming their role as the primary determinants of the broken city’s direction. 

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

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

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

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

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,096 other followers