Archives for posts with tag: CCDU

Today, Dave Cliff was appointed as the new head of CERA, from now until when it is disestablished next year.

Former Canterbury district commander Dave Cliff, who became the face of policing after the Canterbury earthquakes, started his new role last month as head of Cera’s change management office.

Now, I don’t have anything against Cliff. But the appointment itself just shows the remarkable lack of diversity in the government’s appointments to leadership positions in the rebuild. It’s another white, middle-aged man. That’s not Cliff’s fault, but it has got to be beyond a series of improbable coincidences that there have been no women in positions of power. From the top:

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister

Gerry Brownlee

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Obviously the most important single figure in the rebuild, he’s increasingly concentrated power into himself. You can’t imagine a female minister behaving in the same way, calling heritage buildings “old Dungers”, or calling people “carpers and moaners”. His leadership is fatally masculine, like a grumpy middle-aged bloke who’s taken the car onto a back road, and steadfastly refuses to consult the roadmap that his wife is offering him.

CERA

Roger Sutton

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Headhunted for the role, he started as the “great white hope”, but ended up leaving under a cloud after claims of inappropriate behaviour.

John Ombler

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Respected public servant who wrote the CER act that created CERA, was it’s foundation Chief Executive until Sutton was appointed, then filled the role again after he left.

Dave Cliff

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CCDU

Warwick Isaacs

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After playing a key role in the demolition of the CBD, Isaacs was then given the job of heading the CCDU, the Central City Development Unit. He left that job, to run a company that makes franchise houses. This sounds like the plot to a particularly bad boring movie – but I swear it is all true.

Baden Ewart

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Ewart was a planner during the emergency response phase, then moved to CERA. He became CCDU deputy director in 2013, and is now the acting head, following Isaacs’ departure.

Don Miskell

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Co-leader on the “Blueprint” document that Brownlee commissioned in 100 days, after sitting on the CCC’s plan for 5 months without doing anything. Moved to CCDU in 2013 as a deputy director.

EQC

Ian Simpson

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The Chief Executive of the EQC, the government department that has a reputation similar to the shit that came out of the ground in the eastern suburbs during liquefaction events. Despite the security breaches, the tens of thousands of complaints, the shoddy workmanship and so on, still maintains the confidence of the Minister.

Reid Stiven

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The EQC home repair programme manager, Stiven was “the face of the commission and its Christchurch recovery work.” Left EQC in April.

Again, I don’t have anything against any of these guys personally. But you would think that in almost five years, they government would have appointed at least one woman into one of these roles. I mean, really, they should have appointed 5 women to these roles. And before all the MRA’s descend and tell me it’s about merit, are you legit saying that a woman in any of these roles could have failed any worse than any of these guys?

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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.

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.

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

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

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

UPDATE: to quote Barnaby:

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

I was on the plane to Auckland on Saturday, and instead of reading more of my boring book I flicked back through a series of older newspaper articles that I’ve meant to read for a while. One was this piece from the head of Warren and Mahoney, Peter Marshall. He is talking about housing in the eastern frame, and is pretty boosterish about it. He says that we should be building affordable housing – great!

Christchurch has apartments now on the west side between the central city and Hagley Park but they are fairly high end.

“What was missing was an affordable townhouse which is where that is going to be pitched.”

What is affordable?

“$500,000, $600,000, there might even be some less.”

THIS GUY THINKS THAT $600,000 IS AN AFFORDABLE HOUSE. JUST THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A BIT.

Ok.

Are you still digesting that – I’ll give you another moment.

Right.

To put that in context, here are some other numbers:

Whereas the average house price before the quakes had been around $310,000, an average new home including land would now cost between $450,000 and $550,000.

Those figures – from the Salvation Army – come with this additional, understated comment:

“This difference is likely to be the continuing source of housing stress for many households for many years to come.”

If you take the mid-point of that latter bracket – $500,000 – then the average house price has gone up $190,000 in 5 years. That is pretty much 10% a year, each year since the quakes. If people’s wages had been going up 10% a year, I think we’d know about it. They haven’t. Saying that things aren’t as bad as they are in the Auckland housing market is irrelevant; here we had a major disaster, and the government has a duty of care to ensure that the people of Christchurch suffer as little as possible.

Despite repeated warnings of a housing crisis, National refuses to accept that there is anything wrong. And why would they? They are the party of property prices; they returned a stunning result in Christchurch at the last election, and I reckon that is in large part due to many, many people feeling very good about the increasing value of their property portfolio. That this dude can say that $600,000 – twice what the average house cost just five years ago – is an “affordable” home with a straight face shows how totally broken the market is.

No-one is going to provide affordable housing that is actually affordable for the people who need it. In the short term, this will serve the government and it’s allies; the head of the CCDU Warwick Isaacs is about to leave so he can join Stonewood Homes, a builder of cookie-cutter landfill subdivisions in which half the houses failed their inspections. In the long term, Christchurch will become a city that is only affordable for the homogenous, white middle-class that CERA depicts in their advertising, whilst the poor, the working class, the migrants, the students and the people who generally make cities interesting places to live give up on the White Man’s Dream and head for greener pastures.

Last week, I looked up the Live Central Christchurch website, after a giant billboard for it went up opposite the Commons. It is a remarkable piece of propaganda from the CCDU, and the homogeneity of it has caused a few, much deserved, heckles.

A reader who contacted The Press called it “outrageous”.

“Look at how white and middle-class they seem to think the people who will be living in the future Christchurch are. It’s really quite offensive how narrow this demographic is,” he said.

This was followed by some sensible comments from Cr Johanson, and some idiot utterances from Cr Gough:

Cr Jamie Gough, who lived in the central city until recently, took the reader’s point but said the promotion deserved credit for avoiding “social engineering”. It did not offend him.

“This is just real-life people enjoying living in the central city. Sometimes, real isn’t always the most politically correct,” Gough said.

Gough said some even stupider things on his Facebook, which Moata has rightly skewered, and you should all read along. What Gough fails to understand, whilst he bandies about comically-meaningless terms like “PC gone mad” and “social engineering”, is that Live Central’s vision, and his support for it is social engineering. This is someone with a history of bigotry, who famously slagged off a large proportion of the city’s population as bogans just because they went to the beach at the same time as him. Asking him for a nuanced take on socio-political issues is like milking a cow and expecting to get eggs. The people in the picture might be real people who really live in the CBD, and he may not see a problem with that.

He should.

That the people selected for the campaign are uniformly white, middle-class and largely in the same age bracket is the problem. We know that New Zealand has a very diverse – and diversifying – population. We know that there are significant numbers of people with disabilities. We know that we have an ageing population. So to have a subset of people – even if they do really live in the CBD – which doesn’t acknowledge any of these things is ‘social engineering’ in itself.

I disagree with Moata on some things though; I don’t think this is a good campaign. Aside from presenting a white-washed view of living in the CBD, it white-washes the reality of central city living. I’ve lived in the CBD since December 2013, and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty weird. I’m not the only one who thinks that. While you would expect a promotional website to be bullish, some of the claims are closer to bullshit. The purpose of the site is to attract people to live in the CBD; to encourage that, they have listed a bunch of residential developments. None of these projects seem to be at the “affordable” end of the scale, which makes you wonder whether there are enough upper middle-class people who wanted to live in the CBD for them to be able to reach their 20,000 person target.

As a central city resident, I’d love to see more people live here. It would improve my quality of life markedly; more people would mean more shops and cafes. It’d mean that we’d be more likely to be listened to about issues that directly effect us. But this half-hearted, homogenous campaign looks to be a reflection of the CCDU’s commitment to making this happen; a poorly thought-out attempt at making something happen through marketing. If CERA genuinely wanted more people to live in the central city, they could address the main factor preventing this happening – the cost of land. Maybe then we can see a campaign in another 5 or 10 years that more accurately reflects the diversity that makes up 21st century New Zealand.

As I write this, the World Cup opening ceremony is about to kick off in North Hagley Park. On Saturday, the Black Caps will start the tournament against Sri Lanka at Hagley Oval. I’m excited about the World Cup, about it being on New Zealand soil, and about our chances. I love cricket, but I won’t be going to any of the matches. On the eve of the tournament, I thought it was worth recapping why. There are two, related reasons for my stand. I realise it is all in vain, but hey, a moral stand is a moral stand. The first reason is the process that created the oval, and the second is the political significance of the oval itself.

In a recovery littered with shoddy deals, I’d argue that the process that led to the creation of the oval is the shoddiest of them all. The government dropped it into the Blueprint plan, to the surprise of the ratepayers, the council – in fact, to the surprise of everyone but Canterbury Cricket. Canterbury Cricket had been lobbying for years for a new, council-subsidised ground, with little success. After the quakes took out Lancaster Park – a venue that hadn’t been used for test cricket for years, due to the rise of boutique test grounds that are better catered to the smaller crowds the 5-day draws – they saw the opportunity to push for what they had always wanted, but were never going to get: a piece of Hagley Park. The Earthquake Recovery Act and the emergency powers bestowed upon Gerry Brownlee were the perfect opportunity for what was essentially the privatisation of publicly-owned land by a small group of old white men.

The Christchurch City Council – which nominally looks after the land, for the benefit of all citizens of the city – deferred the decision to the Environment Court. Whilst the decision was before the Court, the ICC announced the host venues for the 2015 World Cup. Christchurch was given not only the opening game, but the opening ceremony. However, this was contingent on Hagley Oval being built. So the ICC was prejudging both the Environment Court and the Christchurch City Council, presenting the Oval as a done deal.

Once the go-ahead was given, the cost of the development then became an issue. Budgeted to cost $20 million, Canterbury Cricket only had $500k. It was then revealed that they got $3 million from the Earthquake Recovery Trust, which was funded by donations from New Zealand and around the world in the immediate aftermath of the quakes to help people in need. Canterbury Cricket managed to stretch the meaning of “people in need” to cover building a sports ground. The decision of the Environment Court which gave approval to the project placed conditions on the Oval, which the Cricket World Cup then argued were too strict and tried to have relaxed. My guess is that after the World Cup, they will use the success of the venue during the tournament to argue to further relaxations of the restrictions placed on the development, including more permanent seating.

For the Boxing Day test against Sri Lanka, the ground looked great, and hosted some great cricket. I never doubted that it would. When you put a ground in the middle of Christchurch’s most loved park space, it’s going to look amazing. For most people around the country, they won’t know anything about the political battle over Hagley Oval. The broadcast from Hagley Oval, with a full embankment, BMac taking the bowlers to task, and the commentators full of praise for the ground was just what the government would have wanted. Though they’re sports commentators, not political ones, they were all universal in their praise of the Oval, Canterbury Cricket and Lee Germon. While they might think that they don’t get involved in politics, their normalisation of a locally controversial project was implicitly political. Any mention of the opposition was dismissive, and no-one from the Hands of Hagley group was given a right-of-reply. That’s not the point of cricket commentary – which is exactly why this project is so important to the government. It presents a controversial political development, from a long series of controversial political developments, as an apolitical thing. In a point made more succinctly by Danyl at the Dimpost, this is National’s strategy:

Hooton ascribes part of Key’s popularity to his preeminence as a commentator on light-entertainment shows across New Zealand media. More FM, Breakfast TV, Seven-Sharp, etc. Critically these are (a) news sources for ‘median’ or persuadable voters and (b) they’re formats in which Key can assert his version of any news story unchallenged, and then go on to tell funny stories about the All-Blacks.

While this isn’t an example of Key himself being in the commentary box (John Howard styles), having five days of continual media coverage of a development that was made possible by the government bending the rules is something money simply cannot buy. To have the commentators saying things like “this is the final step in the recovery of Christchurch*” sows that seed in the minds of people who probably haven’t given more than a minute’s thought to Christchurch since 2011. No-one gets to ask the commentators whether they’ve visited New Brighton, or walked through the empty space in the CBD, or talked to a family still dealing with EQC. When the national news media generally only covers one story from Christchurch per bulletin, the World Cup opening has been and will be the good news story coming out of Christchurch for the next week, and will probably overshadow the 4 year anniversary of the February 22nd quake.

Which brings me to the opening match. We will hear worldwide television viewer numbers breathlessly repeated – one billion people around the world! The Oval will look a picture, and the message will be clear: the recovery is over, and Christchurch is ready for business. Which is a great message to put out there – it’s just unfortunately not true. The rebuild is so much more than just one sports ground – but people are already conflating the two:

The government will no doubt be hoping that the launch of the World Cup will convince most people that Christchurch is fine again. The Prime Minister’s message was that “Christchurch is back in business” – business being the highest achievement in the eyes of this government. But “business” doesn’t mean that everyone is adequately housed, or being treated fairly by EQC, insurers or repairers. So by all means enjoy the cricket, and enjoy the Oval. But just don’t think that because 22 men are running around on some nicely coiffured grass that the Recovery is by any means over.

* Sky’s commentators literally have no idea what they are talking about. When the drone camera pointed out east to show the old Lancaster Park, Craig Cumming said “I had no idea that was still there”.

So it’s been a long time between posts. That’s a little to do with me having a proper job, and a little to do with post-election exhaustion. I’d like to think I will be writing a bit more regularly in the coming months, but I’m not going to promise anything. However, a few thoughts have been rattling around in my head, so I thought I’d put pen to paper, and words to blog.

The best of the rebuild 2014:

The deconstruction of the Pallet Pavilion

In the same way it went up, the Pallet Pavilion came down in an orderly fashion, with assistance of hundreds of volunteers. After hosting scores of events over two summers, Gap Filler knew that the pavilion had done it’s time, and as proactively as they put it up, they pulled it down again. The pallets, veggie bins, plants, and pretty much anything else was put back into use. Even in it’s deconstruction, the Pallet Pavilion set a great example for the projects going on around the city.

Food Trucks

One day, as I left my house for work, there was a taco truck across the road. Literally straight across the road, sitting along in the wasteland of rubble and weeds where McKenzie and Willis used to be. I know that food trucks are very “on trend” at the moment, but here in Christchurch, they are more than just an excuse to sell overpriced burritos to hipsters; they’re a necessary part of the hospitality ecosystem. When cheap rentals are hard to find, and you don’t know where the demand is going to be in a still sparsely populated CBD, a semi-movable truck is the perfect solution. This year saw the rise of the food truck in Christchurch, from Loco’s on St Asaph St, to the Food Collective at the Commons, to the launch of food truck Fridays in the Square, where at least a dozen trucks converge, and bring plenty of energy back to a dead space.

New bars and eateries

In addition to the food trucks, we’ve seen the addition of plenty of more permanent, more serious establishments. While many of the bars will rise and fall, hopefully the eateries will stay around for a bit longer. Johnny Moore’s BrickFarm and the St Asaph St Coriander’s are both excellent, and will surely see a good return on the risk they took to open in the centre of the city.

WORD festival

For a brief period in late August, the centre city was buzzing again. Authors, poets, cynics, journalists, musicians and hangers-on all descended on poor, broken Christchurch for a short period, and made it feel a live again. The programme was so well put together that picking out highlights is almost redundant. But even more important than the people who spoke was the – and I’d like to find a better word, but I can’t – vibe of the event. While it might have only been temporary, it was a reminder of what the city could be at it’s best – and why we should keep struggling on.

The demise of Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton was always the happy face of a bad organisation; now he’s the creepy face of a bad organisation. With him gone, we can stop pretending that CERA are our benevolent overlords, just doing what’s best for the city, and see them are the reactive, unimaginative, bureaucratic brakes on the recovery that they really are.

Free Theatre

The gymnasium at the Arts Centre opened up cautiously mid-year. Free Theatre have been experimenting with the space, with plays and other events. More importantly than that, it shows the success of the forward thinking repair model that the Arts Centre have put in to place. The site is a hive of activity, with dozens of tradespeople going about their business everyday. Parts of the centre will be opened in stages. It shows that heritage buildings can be repaired, and that it can work financially. Other organisations could learn much from this.

The Cricket Oval

Grassy banks, beautiful setting, done on the cheap and in record time. What’s not to like?

The worst of the rebuild in 2014

The Cricket Oval

I’ll probably write more about the rights and wrongs of the oval another time, so will limit myself to this: the fact that the government could utilise it’s emergency powers to get this built in such a short time, for a small amount of money, and using public land, shows just how little they care about those people in vulnerable housing situations since the quake for whom they have done less than nothing to alleviate their suffering. They jumped through legal hoops to get this built, whilst at the same time, forced the Quake Outcasts to take them through the court system just to try get a fair payout for the land which they compulsorily acquired. There is no better symbol for the inequity of the rebuild than the Hagley Cricket Oval.

Council Asset Sales

The City Council’s debt position is quite magical: somehow, it is both So Serious that we must consider selling off profitable assets, but yet Not Serious Enough that we should reconsider any of the monumental anchor projects which the government is forcing on the ratepayers. Whoever the government tasked with softening up the Mayor and the Press has done a great job, so this looks like a done deal now, despite any reasonable objections.

Victoria Square re-development

Nothing shows the ineptitude of the CCDU better than their proposed Victoria Square redevelopment. Take one of the few bits of the central city that isn’t broken, and then propose a way to fix it. I sit down at Vic Sq for lunch, and there are often dozens of others doing the same. Yup, some of the pavers look a bit dated. But when you consider that most of the rest of the city is either gravel or chain-link fences, it’s pretty good. That the idiots at the CCDU would not only consider doing this, but also spend $7m from what we are told is a very tight budget into it shows how totally out of touch they are. It’s a case of the egos at the CCDU wanting to exercise their power over the council – and we’re the ones who have to pay for it.

The Convention Centre

A completely unjustified waste of public money and public land. A massive public subsidy being given to a handful of cosy developers, who have been pushing for this since before the Blueprint even came out. If this gets anywhere near completion, it will just go to show how docile and complicit the shattered population of the city has become.

Needless demolitions

As we move into 2015, we are still watching as historic buildings are being pulled down across the city. One high profile example was the Majestic Theatre. It was demolished this year, to make for road widening. The block that it was on, bordered by Lichfield, Madras, Bedford Row and Manchester St, now has no buildings on it, and no plans for any buildings to go on it. That sums up the ambitions of the men behind the bulldozers; knock it down, don’t worry if there’s nothing planned to replace it.

Empty new builds

The rise and rise of the glass facades along the Victoria St / Durham St corridor is one of the brightest spots of development in the city. Each week it seems like the soil on a new site gets broken. But if you’re going down there to marvel at the new buildings, stop and take a look at how many of the completed sites are tenanted. You’ll notice that much of the space is yet to be leased. Whole floors, even whole buildings are sitting there, untenanted. The Potemkin Offices of Victoria St may look like progress, but this highly speculative development is yet to even peak.

The Middle Class Rebuild

In the last year, there have been a number of projects which have been celebrated as the “best thing to happen since the quakes”. The cricket oval and the Isaac Theatre Royal are two examples that spring to mind. These are good things, no doubt. But they also speak volumes about who the rebuild is serving. Cricket and opera are two of the most rich, white people pursuits on the face of the planet. Everyone living in Christchurch has had a rough time in the last few years, including the rich white people. If they feel like it’s time to put the rebuild behind them, to enjoy the cricket and the ballet, that’s great. But there’s a danger in forgetting that as the north and west of the city move into a post-rebuild phase, some parts of the city have barely been touched. If you go out to New Brighton, you’d be forgiven for thinking the quakes were 4 weeks ago, not 4 years ago. As we approach the anniversary, prepare for the government to tell us that we’re moving on, that the hard work has been done. Prepare for many, many people to agree with them. But also spare a thought for the people who rarely have a voice, the mute underclass of National’s burgeoning have-nots.

A great, if disturbing, image via felloffasofa:

White Elephant via felloffasofa

Last week, some of the anchor projects – including the stadium – were delayed. The stadium has been pushed out to 2019. That takes it beyond not just the 2014 election, but the 2017. As a political football, it has been kicked for touch. I seriously doubt it will be back in play any time soon.

 

A couple of quick links from the weekend. Perhaps the most interesting story on the rebuild was Tess McLure’s investigation into EPIC. The original story is here, and I’ve written about it here. Twitter’s Stephen Judd has also contributed here. Obviously, Saturday night was the best time to put out long blogs – but they’re all worth a look, to give you an idea about how the state-led rebuild is panning out almost two years after the blueprint first came out.

Another good recap came from Georgina Stylianou, which gives a good account of the city for those living outside of it:

The retail precinct, which has long been hailed as the flagship recovery project by the Government and private sector, was last week described by Brownlee as “the biggest mess on our plate”.