Gerry Brownlee’s legacy to Christchurch

National Party leader Todd Muller on Friday, told the media that Christchurch is the city “that Gerry built”. Gerry Brownlee, former Minister of Earthquake Recovery’s legacy to the city is his handling of what was New Zealand’s largest construction programme in history.

Unfortunately for Christchurch, Mr Brownlee’s legacy as Minister for Earthquake Recovery, is not one to be hugely proud of. He might have – and he did – have a somewhat thankless task managing what was for a time the biggest construction site in the world. The legalities of the insurance claims, the shoddy workmanship done by cowboy contractors whose sole goal was to make a fast dollar and flee, balancing Christchurch’s expectations with those of the Crown made for an immensely complex job. Complainants were always going to exist.

But the fact that the Government has allowed insurers to continue delaying payouts to elderly tenants who do not have long to live has left a sour taste in peoples mouths. The feeling that eastern Christchurch is continuing to be neglected because it is not a National Party strong hold has many feeling bitter. Combined with the costs of all of these new projects and some questionable city council politics, disgruntlement is a growing problem.

Several properties remain off limits, their owners still entangled with their insurers over the details necessary to reach a settlement. Thus those properties sit in Christchurch, derelict and disused, slowly gaining a fair carpeting of graffiti, with homeless, drug users and prostitutes plying their business. The failure of the Government to give insurers a deadline to reach a settlement with claimants has enabled cases to drag on and on, costing them more and more money, time and effort. Some give up, take the offer on the table and run.

Then there are the residents who are still waiting for payouts. Like commercial property owners, they are still trying to reach a fair and just settlement with their insurers, who can be reasonably accused of dragging their feet. They do so in the hope that these people, many of whom are in their 70’s and 80’s, will either give up out of frustration or not being able to afford to continue fighting, or die.

Parts of central Christchurch are going nowhere. Empty land around Manchester Street where restaurants, bars, and various other small commercial premises used to be has become Wilsons car parking, or given over to temporary features such as basketball courts. Barren, lifeless and poorly lit they are uninviting places to pass by night.

Christchurch City Council was handed back control of the city in July 2019. The deal finalized what the Crown would pay for and what the City Council would foot the bill for. Facilities such as Metro Sports Facility, the bus exchange and Otakaro were handed back to the C.C.C., whilst the Crown retains control of Te Pae, the Christchurch Convention Centre, for which they are footing the bill.

The City has several challenges to overcome. Infrastructure projects are still underway, which consist of mainly long term repairs to water, roads, sewerage and electricity networks. With COVID19 having impacted on the timetable for repairing these, dates that had been set in earlier financial years for their completion have been pushed back.

So, yes Mr Muller, Gerry might have rebuilt Christchurch, but the people of Christchurch do not think he has done a good job of it. When we look at how other cities have recovered from major disasters, yes the New Zealand Government response does appear well organized. It had the democratic input that appears to have been lacking in the Japanese recovery from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima reactor meltdown. It was certainly better than the disorganized shambles that was the American response to Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it wrought in New Orleans.

But the battering ram approach to the passage of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority Act rightfully caused consternation among civil rights watchers. The contemptuous responses to agitated Christchurch locals around access to properties would have contributed to Labour’s resurgence in Christchurch Central. The demolition of high category heritage buildings was nothing more than government sanctioned vandalism. In those respects, and what I mentioned earlier, Mr Brownlee very much failed.

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