Archives for posts with tag: CCC

I feel like I’ve woken up in the bizarro episode of Sealab 2021. Asked for comment about the financial situation at the City Council, Gerry Brownlee is happy to give his two cents, which, unsurprisingly, are that the CCC should sell more assets and spend less. Of course, Mr Brownlee doesn’t offer to help by say, putting in all the money that the Crown initially promised, or revising some of the vanity projects which he has bestowed upon the council. No, that didn’t cross his mind. Instead, we get this bizarre statement:

Brownlee said rather than putting rates up the council should be looking at its baseline, just as the Government had done when it was faced with the double whammy of the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquake.

“Whenever you are in a tight financial situation you have to look at your own expenditure profile and I don’t see evidence of that happening from the council.

“I think most people would be able to come up with some example of what they would see as fairly unnecessary expenditure,” the minister said.

When the government was faced with the double whammy of the financial crisis and the earthquakes … from memory, they gave $1.8 billion dollars to a failed financial company, slashed taxes, refused to introduce a special quake levy and borrowed money from overseas. Government debt, which was around $10b when National came to office in 2008, is now $100b dollars. That Brownlee would be giving financial advice to the Christchurch City Council, pretending he’s just “a regular ratepayer” is ironic enough; that he would try and site his government’s dismal economic record as some sort of example to follow is positively hilarious.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

the government and council in happier times

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

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

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

In a worrying development, the Press has joined up with the Taxpayers Union to push the latter’s asset sales agenda:

The Ratepayers’ Report found in the Canterbury region the Christchurch City Council was the worst-performing council in terms of operating expenditure, spending $3901 per ratepayer – well ahead of the national average of $3175.

“Worst performing” is an interesting term. I think they mean “spent the most money”. If a family of six spends $300 a week at the supermarket, and a retired couple spends $150, does that mean that the family of six are “worst performing”, or just that they have different needs? This is the sort of reductio ad absurdum rhetoric found in this piece. If only there was some major event that had happened in the city that had caused the council to increase it’s spending for some reason …

But wait! The CCC’s debt is set to increase as they take on the cost for the anchor projects of the rebuild. So to cut their cloth, the totally non-partisan Taxpayer’s Union recommends

The council data suggest that without more central government money, Christchurch City’s decision to keep assets such as the airport and Orion will need to be re-examined.

What a surprise. The CCC should sell off these assets, which produce a dividend that has kept rates in the city down, so we can build Brownlee’s egotistical anchor projects, like the Stadium and the Convention Centre – for which the business case remains non-existent.

The best-performing Canterbury council is Mackenzie District. It has the lowest average rates, the lowest operating group expenditure per ratepayer, the lowest group liabilities per ratepayer and the lowest staff to ratepayer ratio. “It appears to be a slick operation,” Williams said. “Ratepayers in Christchurch City and Waimakariri may want to consider why their councils do not appear to be providing the same value for money as Mackenzie District.”

The Mackenzie Country is a lovely place. It is also the home to a mere 4,000 people. So to compare the operation of New Zealand’s second biggest city to that of a district which has the same number of people as a well-attended speedway event is beyond a farce. Ratepayers in Christchurch City and Waimakariri may also want to consider whether they enjoy council services such as pools, gyms, kerbside recycling, cultural events and other such things which are provided in cities.

Speaking of the Mackenzie Country and the Taxpayers Union, yesterday I received a response to my OIA about the businesses cases used by the Crown Irrigation scheme. I asked for them to provide me with a business case for their decision to invest in the CPW scheme. The papers released by CIIL have almost every single word of substance redacted.

Screenshot 2014-06-11 11.11.49 Screenshot 2014-06-11 11.12.05

It’s a joke. So the taxpayer is putting $6.5m into an irrigation scheme, and we have no way of finding out how it is being spent, what the business case was, what the returns might be. Surprisingly, the silence from the Taxpayer’s Union over this unaccountable spending of taxpayer money has been deafening.

 

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.

The Press reports on the Council’s finances:

Council finance committee chairman Cr Raf Manji said he was adamant that ratepayers would not have to wear any extra financial burden as a result of a forecast increase in the council’s operating deficit. The council was forecasting an operating deficit in the 2013/14 year of $17.5 million but it is now likely to be $26.9m in the red by the end of this financial year.

While the numbers aren’t great, it is so positive to see someone with financial acumen in charge of this. Cr Manji seems to have jumped into the business of the council with energy and intelligence – such a contrast to the last couple of terms. But the best part of this story is the final line:

Cr Jamie Gough said the performance report made depressing reading.

This shouldn’t be so depressing for Cr Gough – he was, after all, part of the council that presided over crisis after crisis. He voted in support of Parker and Marryatt, and somehow, is the only councillor to survive at the ballot box. What should be more depressing for Gough is that in 3 months, Cr Manji has done more than Gough managed to do in a whole 3 year term.

A couple of odds and ends from the Press today. Firstly, Johnny Moore’s column, in response to his column last week asking why we’re so apathetic. There are a number of reasons for this, but one that struck me is that the sprawl of the city works quite well in countering the concentration of people that you need for a vibrant protest. This was a problem before the quakes, but in the few occasions where we could put a critical mass of people into a smallish area, that was often enough to start attracting more people. That said, 10’s of thousands of people poured into Hagley Park to see Christmas in the Park, so I guess it still happens if it’s the right cause.

Secondly, the cost-sharing agreement between the council and the government seems to be under a bit of strain. While on the one hand, it could result in the CCC being forced into selling off assets to pay for things (which I think would be bad) it could also lead to the council questioning some of the projects that the previous council prioritized, such as the stadium, convention centre and building a new library, rather than repairing the old one (which I think would be good.) It certainly seems like this issue is in a state of flux at the moment.

This is a cross-post of my most recent piece, which went up at the Daily Blog on Saturday.

A change of seasons, and a mysterious smell hangs in the air over Christchurch. No-one quite knows what it is. Could it be the change of council, alongside the change in the seasons? Is this the Canterbury Spring? In one of the least surprising elections of all time, Lianne Dalziel coasted into the mayoral chambers without even breaking a sweat; along with her came a swag of new councillors, many from the left, many with some innovative new ideas. It wasn’t just talk though – one of her first actions was to put a stop to some of the excessive spending that seems to have characterised the arrogant, out-of-touch attitude of the Parker-led administration. Just this week, the first council meeting was opened up to the sunlight of the livestream. Not much happened, but it was the principle of the thing. We could watch nothing happen, from the comfort of our own homes. We could watch it later, if we had something else to do, like, say, work.

The council isn’t the only thing that is showing signs of changing – the big man may be for turning. Incoming councillor Raf Manji is leading the voices questioning the wisdom of the “green frame”. I’ve written about it before, but this is the large amount of land that was going to be bought up and converted into green space on the centre-east part of the CBD. Except now the green elements are being watered down, with buildings and projects being added. The grand artifice of the blueprint, with it’s digital flyovers and shiny brochures, is starting to crumble. The revelations about EQC intentionally excluding people from it’s surveys was not taken well by Gerry, who has been less than supportive of his chief executive, Ian Simpson. Even the recovery’s most vocal cheerleader, Peter Townsend from the chamber of commerce, has admitted that we are only 3-5% of the way through the rebuild. Coming up to 3 years after the February quake, that simply isn’t good enough.

In the middle of this dynamic time, the Labour party made the bold choice to have it’s annual conference in Christchurch. I was on the organising committee for the conference, and it certainly wasn’t easy to hold it here. We could have done it somewhere else, and it would have been much, much easier for everybody. But we stuck with it, and made sure it happened here – because it meant something to the party, to give something back to the city. The organising committee was then rewarded by the party for their work hosting, with some bold policy announcements which will help the city get out of this rut.

The announcements at conference – KiwiAssure, plus extra Kiwibuild in the east, red zone temporary accommodation and the New Brighton revivatlistation – are all designed to benefit Christchurch East, but the also single the end of the phoney war that has been going on over the rebuild. “Don’t politicise the rebuild” has been the catch-cry since February. These announcements show that Labour isn’t afraid to make some bold decisions. The Christchurch East by-election is high stakes, for both Poto Williams and David Cunliffe. A win onNovember 30 wont just be a vindication of the change of leadership; it will be the next step towards winning back Christchurch, and ultimately the Treasury benches, in 2014.

Finally, just 22 years after Al Gore invented the internet, the Christchurch City Council has taken the on-ramp and is now hooning down the information super highway. Yes, we have live streaming!

It’s probably gonna be real boring, but it’s the thought that counts, right? The stream is cutting in and out a bit for me – but a few teething problems are to be expected. Have a look here.

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