Archives for posts with tag: CERA

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 last night I was in the front row of the audience at the Press leader’s debate between David Cunliffe and John Key. It was an exciting occasion and great to have so many people interested in politics in the Ilam electorate. I went with my parents, my grandmother and my great aunt – the latter who both live in Merivale, but vote very differently! I think watching it in the room is quite different to what happens on the lifestream. Firstly, it was VERY loud. Both the debaters, and the crowd. Key got a warm welcome but DC’s was louder. The two men talked over each other quite a lot, which wasn’t the most satisfying auditory experience.

James at the debate - photo by Patrick Gower (http://i.instagram.com/p/sb7DqFCA5S/)

James at the debate – photo by Patrick Gower (http://i.instagram.com/p/sb7DqFCA5S/)

Key started really angrily, and talked over David a lot. Most questions seemed to be given to Key for 30 seconds, for him to then talk for 90 seconds, then passed on to David for 30 seconds, at which point Key started sniping at him and not allowing him to answer. While I’ve seen some people comment that they thought the (lack of) moderation was fine, it made for a number of occasions where both men just talked over each other, as if the first person to stop talking was less of a man or something. Key’s question about CGT on houses in a trust did seem to catch David, but he was right to check and see. It’s a complicated issue and it’s worth being right on it.

As with the first debate, most of the commentators seemed to make up their minds about “who won” based on the early exchanges. Key was definitely much weaker in the second half. This was because if focussed on Christchurch issues, and National’s record on this is poor. When he announced that Gerry Brownlee would be CERA minister after the election, this was received with boos. There was laughter when he claimed that the CBD was “booming and almost full“. There was confusion when he started telling Press editor Joanna Norris about an advertorial supplement that will appear in the paper next week. And when he said that the government wouldn’t want to “run roughshod” the Anglican church (when talking about the Cathedral) one was reminded of some of the other institutions that this government has run roughshod over – including ECan and the CCC.

Cunliffe spoke well on these matters, as he has done over the last 3 months of the campaign in the city. He knows that Labour’s policy is popular here, as he has been down here to announce it, and has talked with hundreds of residents who are in difficult situation. Instead of just making light of people’s real hardship like the Prime Minister, Cunliffe has showed an empathy that Key lacks. While the media in Auckland and Wellington might have called it one way, the people in Christchurch were only presented with one leader who understands the issues in this city, and it wasn’t the Prime Minister.

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.

 

Crocogerry from Porcupine Farm

 

The Press reports that the much-touted surplus was in large part due to reduced spend on the Canterbury rebuild:

A surprise $300 million boost to the Government’s trumpeted Budget surplus relies mainly on a cut to the Earthquake Commission’s insurance bill, Treasury forecasts show … Budget documents show the improvement to $372m was given a $200m boost from “lower insurance expenses after an updated valuation of EQC’s insurance liabilities”.

If you look through Keith Ng’s awesome budget visualisation page, you will also observe that money is being pulled out of CERA. So while the Minister is busy denying that the floods in Christchurch have anything to do with the quakes, his government is putting the squeeze on EQC and CERA so that Key can boast about being “back in black”. The council is in a $534 million dollar hole – in part due to the anchor projects that the Crown has forced upon them – but instead of offering a helping hand, the government is pushing them towards it’s ideological obsession, asset sales.

Remember back to the day after the February 22nd quake, when Key said that this was a journey we would walk together? Well, National has hopped into a Crown limo and sped off, without even looking back to see how we’re doing. The message is clear; if you care about the rebuild of this city, about ensuring that people whose lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own can get the assistance that they need, that they deserve, and that they were promised, then you need to throw out this government on September the 20th.

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”.

20140503-185312.jpg

Today I spent part of the morning down at a organic composting workshop at Agropolis. I’ve mentioned Agropolis before, but if you don’t know about it, it is the “urban farm” project, with raised planter beds and composting boxes on a clear site where the Poplar Lanes used to be (Agropolis is actually on the foot print of one of my old flats). This project, started by a bunch of predominately young, idealistic creative types, is the most innovative thing going on in the “innovation project”. As the Press reported this morning, the Innovation Project is the latest thread of the Blueprint plan to start unraveling.

The poster child for the Innovation Precinct was EPIC. This is the building on the corner of Tuam and Manchester that is home to a number of small to medium start-up businesses:

A key tenant of the central-city innovation precinct has “given up” and pulled out of the project, saying delays and overpriced land make the project infeasible. EPIC (Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre) co-founder Colin Anderson says the group has scuttled plans for an inner-city innovation “village” to house more than 50 small businesses. EPIC is now looking at land outside the blueprint.

I’ve been hearing rumours of EPIC leaving the area controlled by CERA for months. Part of this was due to dealing with MoBIE, who are apparently even harder to deal with than the CCDU, if you can believe that. But the final straw was the land price in the city, which Gerry still seems to think is a success.

One of the things that was of concern to Christchurch immediately after the earthquake was the potential value of CBD land. People were talking about completely abandoning it. What the CCDU has done through the acquisition programme and through the blueprint . . . they’ve managed to preserve those [land] values and in any disaster situation that’s quite an achievement.

Congratulations Gerry. You’ve managed to preserve the land value in a disaster situation. Your prize is a seat on the rebuild bus that travels around the CBD, where baffled, forlorn tourists can look out upon acre after acre of bare land. Land that has been left bare, because no-one can afford to build on it. Because developers have chosen to build outside of your area of control, so they don’t have to deal with the rules and regulations you’ve placed upon them. The arts organisations that are meant to be the tenants of the Arts Precinct can’t afford to be in the city, despite the government buying the land and significant charitable donations. The most significant innovation in the innovation precinct is a volunteer-run community garden which is only as secure as their 30-day lease allows.

The din of alarm bells at CERA should be deafening. The Blueprint is an unaffordable, unattainable, unnecessary restriction that is stifling the recovery of Christchurch. The Minister needs to put his pride to one side, and accept that it is time to reevaluate the rebuild, before it is too late.

 

via Porcupine Farm

 

While the big news with regard to the rebuild has been the scaling back of the Arts Precinct, this is just one part of a wider narrative that sees the grand plan unravelling. Since I wrote my column in the Herald at the weekend, we’ve had the news that Antony Gough’s Terrace Project is taking a wee break, that the Arts Precinct is being scaled back, and that the CCDU is paring back it’s land acquisition. These stories illustrate the point that I made on Sunday; that the rebuild is happening outside of CERA’s control, and that the Blueprint hasn’t worked in the way it was meant to.

The Arts Precinct announcement has been a long time coming. The original plan depended on the Town Hall complex being knocked down, so that the money from it’s insurance payout could be use for this new precinct. Once the council had resolved to restore the Town Hall – which was in August of las year – the rest of the project was always going to have to be scaled back. It is just a shame that CERA’s thinking wasn’t made public earlier, as it could have helped inform the debate around the Majestic Theatre. A restored Majestic could have* brought a beautiful building with a strong cultural history back into the discussion about the wider arts community’s needs. Instead, the demolition proceeds regardless.

There was an interesting comment in the NBR piece on the precinct:

However, the arts precinct has other hurdles to surmount – the Court Theatre, Symphony Orchestra and the Music Centre are pivotal tenants and they have indicated they cannot afford high rentals required in new buildings.

I’m not sure where this leaves the project. If the three key tenants of the project have indicated that they can’t afford the rent for a new building, then what is the plan? If we (the council / the government / both) are going to have to subsidise the rent for these tenants, isn’t that a discussion we should be having? It may be that the arts fall victim to Brownlee’s land-grab, which has pushed the land prices in the central city to a point where they can’t afford to be based in it.

At this point – almost two years after the plan was released – I think it would be a good idea for the involved parties – particularly the CCDU and the cash-strapped Council – to have a bit of a stocktake of where the Blueprint has got us. Best-practice planning means that things aren’t set in stone; strong leadership means making the tough calls about changing direction, rather than just ploughing on regardless. It is not too late to reconsider some of the anchor projects in the plan.

*The Majestic could still be saved, if they ordered an immediate halt to the demo. But they won’t

On Thursday, there was a very passionate, vocal protest to save the Majestic Theatre. Probably thanks to the presence of the Wizard, and two of his acolytes, it got good media attention – CTV news covers it here, and the Press has a video at the top of it’s piece as well. I gave a short speech in front of the Majestic, in which I covered off the main tenets of Those Left Standing: Repair, Reuse and Rethink.

Repair. These buildings, still standing, clearly aren’t an immediate risk of falling down and causing harm to people. They can be repaired, if there is the will and the money to do so. Reuse. The rebuild thus far has been a huge waste – both of materials, and buildings. We need to ask ourselves where that mass of concrete, glass and steel will end up if we pull it down. We can reuse – by repairing buildings and putting them back into circulation, we can reclaim the built environment whilst protecting the natural one.

Rethink. The CCDU want to pull down the Majestic Theatre to widen a road by 9m. It’s 2014, and we’re knocking down buildings to accommodate more cars. This is madness, and shows that parts of the Blueprint plan need to be completely re-thought. Instead of reassessing how the plan has worked in the almost 2 years since it was released, Brownlee and Isaacs are doubling down on the Blueprint, betting that it’s failures can be glossed over by putting the house on red. It’s a high-risk play, with a potentially disastrous legacy if it all goes wrong. This is planning by bluster and stubbornness, and now is the time to admit that we need a rethink, before everything is bulldozed by an outdated plan.

Glenn Conway has the breakdown on the costs of running CERA, which provide some interesting figures:

It spent $647,571 on public information campaigns.

It seconded 12 communication staff for various periods at a total cost of $1.1m.

It awarded 13 $1m-plus contracts, the biggest being a $10.5m deal with Opus International Consultants and the second largest involving a $6.4m contract with Hawkins Construction.

Twenty staff resigned, a turnover of just over 10 per cent.

The highest paid staff member, apart from chief executive Roger Sutton, was paid between $360,001 and $370,000. The lowest 21 paid staff were each paid between $40,001 and $50,000.

Two staff have credit cards that each have a $10,000 limit

Cera’s lease of the HSBC Tower cost $1.4m, up about $500,000 on the previous year. Catering costs were $390,000.

Gerry doesn’t make it easy to avoid the obvious punchline.

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