Archives for posts with tag: CCC

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.

“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.

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.

You have until midday today to make a submission to the Council on the Long Term Plan. You may want to make a submission to tell them how you feel about say asset sales, or the arts budget, or cycle ways, or councillor’s facial hair. All you have to do is go here and fill in as much or as little as you want.

Tomorrow night at 5:30pm, the team who brought you Once In A Lifetime are hosting their first “Talking Heads” evening. It will feature Councillor Raf Manji in conversation with myself about the council’s asset sales plan. I’ll be asking him some questions, and if you’d like your question asked, then fire me an email (James dot Dann at Gmail dot Com). It’s free to come along, and we might head out after for a beer and to continue the conversation. 

TALKING HEADS #1: ASSET SALES

Cr Raf Manji in conversation with James Dann. 

5:30pm at the EPIC centre, corner Manchester and Tuam St

Free to come along

Email any questions to me before hand 

The debate around the council selling assets has largely been framed as the Mayor, Cr Manji and Cr Buck, against a rag-tag bunch of ideologues – aka the Labour-aligned, People’s Choice councillors. Though these 6 councillors publicly stated that they were against asset sales during their election campaign, and are now sticking to their promise, they have been criticised by the Mayor, Gerry Brownlee and the National Party, the Press, talkback hacks etc. But little if no attention has been given to the other 5 councillors who are supporting this plan. So what have they been up to?

Front page of the Press this morning we find Cr David East (Burwood Pegasus). Prior to being on council, he kept himself busy by running the local RSA into the ground:

When businessman Garry House, who is now executive-secretary of the club, was asked to help out the RSA in May 2012, he found: “GST had not been paid for four years. The club eventually had to pay the Inland Revenue Department a $25,000 penalty. Annual returns had not been filed for 2010 or 2011. Rates and power bills were long overdue.”

Clearly these are the appropriate pre-requisites for someone who is chairman of the council’s regulations and consents committee and a director of several council companies.

Cr Jamie Gough was most recently in the headlines for slagging off minorities and people with disabilities. He is a councillor, but is barely, if ever, in the news for actually doing councillor things. You might remember the time he got stupid drunk had a bad curry and forgot to pay for his taxi. Or the time he ranted about bogans for using public spaces. You won’t remember the time he made an impassioned speech about why he believes we should sell council assets – because he’s never made his reasons clear.

A search of the Press website for Cr Ali Jones will bring up a number of stories about her pre-council role as an advocate for people fighting Southern Response, as well as many from when she was a talkback host before that. Her most notable act as a councillor was voting against fixing a community pool. She still finds time to run her PR company though.

The Man Who Could Have Been Mayor, Cr Paul Lonsdale, has also been pretty quiet. He’s keen on carparks in the CBD, and is in favour of the Levis Skatepark. Finally, Cr Tim Scandrett, who’s most notable act since he’s been at Hereford St (and remember, we’re now more than half way through this term) is being heading up a subcommittee to look at council-run events.

These guys may all have their own reasons for voting for the sale of assets – the point is, we don’t know what they are. This isn’t just the Mayor, Cr Manji and Cr Buck voting to partially privatise or strategically refocus or whatever other Crosby-Textor spin they’re putting on this now. They are 3 votes – and they need 8. So if you live in one of these wards, and want to know why your councillor is voting to sell off assets, why don’t you ask them? People can disagree with the People’s Choice councillors position on an issue, but at least you know where they stand. For many of our quieter councillors, we sadly can’t say the same.

The Silent Five councillors, with their contact details (all publicly available on the CCC website)

David East – Burwood Pegasus,

388 1104 david.east@ccc.govt.nz

Ali Jones Shirley-Papanui,

941 7066 ali.jones@ccc.govt.nz

Jamie Gough Fendalton-Waimairi,

027 231 4393 jamie.gough@ccc.govt.nz

Paul Lonsdale Hagley-Ferrymead,

941 7064 paul.lonsdale@ccc.govt.nz

Tim Scandrett Spreydon-Heathcote,

941 7069 tim.scandrett@ccc.govt.nz

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.

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