Archives for posts with tag: Raf Manji

On Tuesday evening, Canadian urbanist Charles Montgomery gave a couple of lectures about his thoughts on Christchurch. I wasn’t there – it was cheap Tuesday date night* – but it sounds like he had some good things to say. The headline was the Convention Centre:

Putting a convention centre in the middle of Christchurch’s city centre is a mistake, Canadian urban experimentalist Charles Montgomery says.

“If your interest is in creating rich, social, connected enviroments in your core you should be very wary of plans to drop mega structures into that fabric. Convention centres are notorious, because of their architectural requirements, for killing street life around their edges,” Montgomery said.

The response from CCDU director Baden Ewart is straight from the CERA play book. He also had some interesting thoughts about residential density:

Montgomery said Christchurch should be encouraging higher density housing and aiming to have far more than 20,000 people living in the central city because that would increase opportunities for people to connect socially, which was the most important ingredient for human happiness. Within the central city core and the eastern frame, there were tremendous opportunities to create the kind of density people loved, he said.

“Young people want more freedom. They don’t want to spend their lives mowing a lawn. They want more freedom to spend time with their friends and families, to go out, to access the riches of the city. How do you get that? By moving a little closer together.”

This is all great stuff and I’m glad to see it getting some attention. But it does bring up a point that was raised to me by former mayor Garry Moore a few weeks ago – Overseas Expert Syndrome. Moore described how when he was mayor, people were far more likely to listen to someone with a funny accent coming here and telling us things, than we are to listen to our own experts. Which I’m sure is a thing worldwide, but we New Zealanders, with our sense of inferiority of place, seem more susceptible to this sort of approach.

The irony of which is that one of our very own experts, Gap Filler co-founder and Once in a Lifetime editor Dr Ryan Reynolds, is currently in Copenhagen, where he is lecturing on urban design and activism. Maybe when he gets back off the plan, we should listen a bit more carefully to what he has to say.

* I went to see Dior and I, which was very enjoyable, much of this was due to the performance of Raf Simons. If you would like to come and see another suave european named Raf, then tonight I’m hosting a debate with council finance supremo Raf Manji on asset sales. It’s at 5:30pm at the EPIC centre. Free to come along, and hopefully informative! More details here.

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

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.

John Campbell brought his show to Christchurch last night, and I’m not just excited about this because he was filming outside my house. The whole of the show focussed on the city, with a really important lead story on the struggle between the council and the government about the Blueprint. The increasingly impressive Councillor Manji came across as a voice of reason:

Mr Manji believes that it is important to know when to admit something is not working, and to try something else. “I think the strategy has been to put a lot of resource into the central city area; [but] the reality [is that] everyone has left the central city area,” says Mr Manji. “All the commercial organisations have gone outside, new villages and new suburban [areas] sprung up.”

This issue is really starting to heat up. What would be quite useful at this point would be if the opposition parties were to wade in and let us know what they would do, if they were in power after the next election.

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.

There is a big feature in the Press this morning about the “new generation” that is taking over Christchurch politics, or something. It’s an astonishingly soft piece of journalism to publish in the middle of an election campaign.

It is being pitched as the old politics versus the new. Or even the Baby Boomers versus Generation Y.

Four names in particular – Raf Manji in Fendalton-Waimairi, Vicki Buck in Riccarton-Wigram, Erin Jackson in Spreydon- Heathcote and Ali Jones in Shirley-Papanui – appear to be the ones to watch if you want to know whether the power has shifted along with the ground in the new Christchurch.

Somehow, the campaigns of three middle-aged, well-to-do people – including Vick Buck, who has spent most of her adult life in local politics – plus the daughter of a former North Canterbury mayor, is “the new” taking on the old. Most of the article is a largely uncritical profile of Manji – if you’re going to dedicate two pages to the guy, would it hurt you to ask a few questions about what he believes in? The second page, at least in the print edition, features a large, not particularly flattering picture of Jackson – despite her almost not featuring in the story at all. No mention is made of mayor-in-waiting Lianne Dalziel, and her links with the various candidates.

I wish Manji the best – I’d certainly rather him than Jamie Gough – but I hope he’s ready for the cut and thrust of the council table. It’s not going to be saccharine puff-pieces like this forever.