Is Christchurch and Canterbury ready to move on from the quakes?


Nearly nine years after that first earthquake came rumbling into the lives of thousands of Cantabrians, questions are being asked about whether Christchurch is ready to finally close the chapter on the Canterbury Earthquakes 2010-11. According to Andrea Vance, a journalist for Stuff, Labour have read the “tea leaves” and believe that Christchurch wants to resume a normal relationship with the Government.

Only when the last person has settled with their insurance company will the job be done – Southern Response, with scores of outstanding insurance claims still to settle is shutting down at the end of 2019, claiming its job is done. Earthquake Commission claims at the end of May 2019 still numbered 2037, which E.Q.C. said was down from 3,529 the previous year whilst acknowledging that there is scope for improvement.

Only when all of the major crown rebuild projects have had their futures finalized  will the job be done Р$3 billion remains to be spent, and numerous projects that had been agreed to are yet to be finished. There is no idea yet when a stadium will be built or what it will look like.  The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on Barbadoes Street which is one of the finest architectural gems in Christchurch is not going to be saved, which has ensured that there will be a protracted court fight as it is a Class 1 Heritage Building.

Currently under construction is Te Pae, the Christchurch Convention Centre. It is going to be owned by the Crown under the global settlement whose details were released a couple of weeks ago. Te Pae is due for completion in the middle of next year.

Christchurch Cathedral is still in limbo, and its uncertainty is one of the primary causes for a relative lack of development around Cathedral Square in the southwest, southern and northeastern corners. The land that the old Warners Hotel and the Bailies Irish Bar and Restaurant on the ground floor used to occupy is still vacant (Bailies moved to Edgeware in 2012). So is the land in the southwest where various gift shops and a theatre used to be.

Only when all of the above are complete or have a definitive future, will Christchurch be able to fully move on from the dark days of 2010-11. Then we can all turn to face head on the events of the future in the knowledge that when a major disaster next hits a New Zealand city authorities will have a rough idea of what to do (and not to do).

The major problems for Christchurch rate payers are not ones that the Crown has agreed to handle. One consequence of reaching the settlement we have with the Crown is that $800 million is going to have to be found for turning the old civilian red zone into something more useful. Similarly $1.2 billion will need to be found for fixing damage under the road network. These two expenditures combined with a need to concentrate on neglected green spaces that have become weedy and overgrown and a host of smaller issues that have been less of a priority because of the earthquakes is expected to cause Christchurch a few more headaches yet.

Christchurch may be nearly ready to end its special post-quake recovery relationship with the Government, but there are internal scars as well as physical ones that will never recover. Move on we will. Forget we will never.

 

You win some and you lose some: C.C.C. and Crown agree on Christchurch deal


Yesterday was another significant milestone in Christchurch’s recovery from the 2010-11 earthquake sequence. After 8 years of recovery today the Crown and Christchurch City Council released the Global Agreement that finalizes the details of the city’s recovery. It includes how much the City of Christchurch owes the Crown; who will take ownership of what as well as tie up lose financial and legal ends.
The Crown (central Government)have spent NZ$14 billion on Christchurch since the earthquakes and there is another $3 billion in funding allocated for future work. Christchurch City Council has spent about $3.65 billion so far with another $4 billion expected to be needed over the next 30 years.
The Christchurch Bus Exchange, Otakaro, the Metro Sports facility and the performing arts precinct will be given back to the Christchurch City Council. No one should be too surprised at the Crown wanting to hold on to Te Pae as they have agreed to foot the bill for it.
 
Some significant questions remain about how Christchurch will repair horizontal infrastructure. Long term repairs are still in progress for much of the water, sewerage, power and storm water systems. Projects such as the current work in progress on Riccarton Road are likely to continue for a few more years yet. The Crown has ruled out the possibility of any further contribution to funding the underground networks. Because of that, some sort of financial measure such as levies on people flying in and out of Christchurch, or a less popular rates rise are probably going to be on the cards before very long.
A second major concern is who will fund, own and manage any stadium that gets built. Given that stadiums are expensive to maintain and operate there has been pressure to make it a multi-purpose one that can host cricket matches or other fixtures in addition to rugby. The number of seats, which is currently a point of contention would also need to be sufficient that a capacity house can deliver a return. Currently suggestions are that the stadium be a 30,000 seat one with capacity for up to another 5,000 seats. Prior to the earthquakes, AMI stadium had seating for over 38,000 prior to the earthquakes.
Another issue that remains in the air is how the development of the old residential red zone will be managed. Following the demolition of the 7,000 houses that were condemned, or considered uneconomic to repair, the Crown took over ownership of the corridor of land along the Avon River that it sits on. It will be returned to the Crown in July 2020. A mixed use plan for it exists, but is likely to cost about $800 million to be implemented.
The Christchurch recovery period is expected to continue for another several years yet. Some estimates suggest that it may take 20 years for the city to fully recover. The New Zealand economy may take considerably longer, especially in a slowing economic environment and also saddled with the repair bill for the Kaikoura Earthquake of 14 November 2016.

Financial judgement day for Christchurch today


After nearly nine long years since the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that started Christchurch’s seismic odyssey, the city will today have its final financial reckoning. This is the day when Christchurch’s financial future is laid bare for public scrutiny. This is where the final details of the agreement between Christchurch and the Crown over who owns what, who is responsible for what and who still owes what, will become clear.

This is an event that New Zealand should take notice of. When we have big disasters in the future – think Alpine Fault magnitude 8.0+; Auckland Volcanic Field and so forth – and the Crown and the territorial authorities meet to work out a long term recovery plan, this is what the end of that recovery might look like. This is worth noting because it might well be a blue print for how we manage the later stages of the recovery from big disasters in the future.

Has the recovery been perfect, gone totally to plan and involved total co-operation between all agencies from start to finish? Absolutely not. Disputes were had, such as the clash between the Crown and the C.C.C. over the competence of the Christchurch City Council; between the claimants and their insurance companies, some of which are still not resolved nearly nine years later. But with the exception of the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami with the resulting nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, at the same time there probably has not been such a large scale recovery effort in a first world city, since New Orleans was battered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The agreement will address what to do with the Christchurch residential red zone, the square kilometres of suburbia in eastern Christchurch that suffered a disastrous mix of liquefaction, ground subsidence and lateral spreading. The subsidence means significant parts are at increased risk of flooding and/or do not drain as well as other land does after flood events, which means it is no longer inhabitable even if the earthquake damage can be fixed. Residents want a mix of ecoparks, forest and flood protection, but no one is quite sure how that will turn out.

It will also look at assets that have been completed such as the Christchurch Convention Centre, currently under construction and due for completion in 2020. It will also look at what happens to ones such as the Christchurch Bus Exchange, which has been completed as well as ones that have yet to be commenced such as the stadium.The stadium has been controversial for the lack of commitment by the biggest probable users in terms of helping to fund it.

The end agreement might be liberating, with Christchurch now finally a free city again, left to finish its recovery from one of the blackest days in New Zealand history. Or it might be a millstone that is contentious in future elections. But come what may, today will be interesting one way or the other.

National climate emergency? Not at this rate.


On Thursday Environment Canterbury declared a Climate Change Emergency. Just hours later on the same day, Nelson City Council followed suit. Widespread applause followed.

On the surface, the councillors gathered around respective tables in Nelson and Christchurch can say that they have done something positive for the climate, but on the other hand, despite being able to make an educated guess as to what it means, I wonder if anyone has a clue what it would mean on paper.

Granted Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw says it has no legal standing, the time for words is passed.

I am concerned though that all it will end up being is another layer of symbolism on top of a wad of earlier actions that were symbolic but lacking in substance. Under Prime Minister Helen Clark there was a move to reduce exhaust fumes, without really understanding that most exhaust fumes are invisible and that in effect the measure being introduced was just window dressing. For real progress on vehicle emissions there would had to have been steps taken to address the state of the New Zealand car market or a maximum age a car could become before it is permanently removed from the roads.

As mentioned in earlier columns there are a host of steps that New Zealand could be taking right now which we appear reluctant to do so. For example an energy audit done by the Green Party done a decade ago found that New Zealand could reduce its household energy use on average by 10-15%. If that were coupled with more recent ideas such recycling all aluminium, which would significantly reduce reliance on electricity from Manapouri power station.

For all of successive governments talking about having a strong knowledge based economy, even 20 years since the then Labour Deputy Leader Dr Michael Cullen promised a “knowledge economy”, New Zealanders still seem rather averse to higher levels of investment by both the public and private sector in science, technology and research. Compared to the O.C.E.D. average of 2.4% in 2017, New Zealand spent about 1.3% of its G.D.P. on science. These results may be linked to a general lack of investment in schools in science and mathematics – my two bogeyman subjects at high school, but ultimately two very important ones that everyone needs to know a bit about. Labour has committed to increasing the percentage of G.D.P. spent to 2.0%, but how this will be spent and and on what, remains to be seen.

Following on from this, it needs to be noted that a report has come out suggesting that cutting back the methane from farm animals is not on its own, despite being the largest portion of New Zealand’s green house gases, going to significantly reduce the impact of emissions. Which raises a quandary, because New Zealand’s climate change focus has been on this and will now have to be reviewed just as the Government starts to look at ways of ramping up its response. Does that mean we have the science all wrong?

What we need in terms of climate planning is a clear set of objectives that we are to achieve. For that we need policies that give effect to those objectives and rules to enforce the policies. But we also need to be realistic about the potential change of pace – on one hand we need to move reasonably quickly because the window is closing on how long the world has before some of the natural changes become irreversible. On the other hand, simply going in and laying down a whole wad of rules without thinking about who will be affected by them and how, is a sure fire recipe for trouble.

So, in summary, it is all very well for Canterbury and Nelson to declare a climate emergency, but unless there is a clear idea of what it is meant to achieve, how and when, it is really just another layer of symbolism.

 

The job vacancy problem in New Zealand’s rural districts


Meet Ashburton, population 20,000 and about 80 kilometres southwest of Christchurch on State Highway 1. Ashburton is a rural service town for a largely rural district that extends from the Pacific coast to the Southern Alps, from the Rakaia River to the Rangitata River.

Ashburton District has a problem. It is critically short on workers. So short in fact that there are about 500 known employment vacancies at the time of writing this. Many of the vacancies are in Ashburton township, but also in its hinterland on farms where farmers need farmhands or in smaller towns such as Hinds, Methven and Rakaia.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Ashburton District is the public perception of the town and the district. To many it is just a town to stop off and fill the petrol tank up, get a bite and take off again. 20,000 people living in a town that is almost exclusively geared towards the rural sector does not entice most urbanites to leave their comfortable fortresses and venture into rural mid Canterbury. With the only major tourist attractions being the ski field at Mount Hutt and the Lord of the Rings set tours that go to where Edoras was built on a glaciated outcrop

It is not to say that there is necessarily anything bad about Ashburton. It is a pleasant enough town with nice gardens and the Ashburton River immediately south of the town. The Rakaia River is only 20 minutes driving away and one can be up Mount Hutt in just over an hour. But what if fishing, skiing and Lord of the Rings are not your thing?

One thing that Ashburton is likely to have working in its favour is relatively cheap housing. It is far enough away from Christchurch to not be influenced by the Christchurch rental market.

Ashburton is not alone in having this problem. Clutha District Council in Otago has an even bigger employment crisis. It currently has around 800 known employment vacancies.

In the case of Clutha District, it too is a predominantly rural farming district. But rather than one or two large towns, it has several smaller towns scattered throughout. The major attractions that can be offered in Clutha District are the Catlins, which is a nice scenic coastal area in the southeastern most corner of the South Island. During winter the lakes and reservoirs inland from Dunedin host curling competitions on their frozen surfaces.

Both districts have a problem in that they are seen as being “on the way” to somewhere else. In the case of Ashburton District, it could be “on the way” to the Mackenzie Basin, to Christchurch or Timaru. In the case of Clutha District, it could be “on the way” to Dunedin, Queenstown or Invercargill.

Neither seem to have seriously advertized their staffing shortages. And how much effort did they put into giving incentives for people living in larger towns to move into these rural districts. They are not simply going to walk away from their current lives without a job and clear incentives to move, such as assistance with accommodation and getting established, as well as adequate pay. Both Districts could advertise the relatively low cost of living, the out door attractions. Both despite being rural districts are within easy day driving distance of larger populated areas (Christchurch for Ashburton District and Dunedin for Clutha District).

Perhaps when these issues are addressed, there might be hope of Ashburton and Clutha sorting out their employment issues.