Time for a new Mayor in Christchurch


In 2013 I supported the election of former Labour M.P. for Christchurch East, Lianne Dalziel. Ms Dalziel was the clear cut front runner in a mayoralty race after incumbent Robert (Bob) Parker decided he was not going to stand again.

At the time Christchurch was struggling back to its feet following the worst disaster in the city’s history and one of the biggest disasters in New Zealand’s peacetime history. The Christchurch City Council was a ship in disarray, off course with the senior officers bickering at the wheel. Its Chief Executive Tony Marryatt was in disgrace for his almost Nero-esque management of the City Council during the 2010 and 2011 earthquake emergencies. Secrecy at a time when the public needed open transparent decision making more than ever was rife.

When Ms Dalziel came to office, Raf Manji who had expertise in finance was given the finances portfolio. He had the messy and difficult job of accounting for finances that the council knew were going to require hefty rates increases in the near future, whilst balancing the bill for the massive damage caused by the earthquakes to city infrastructure. Mr Manji thought that Christchurch should not invest in social housing for vulnerable tenants as the cost of doing so on top of the already massive bill for earthquake repairs would cause a financial blowout. The Council instead committed to overhauling the heating and insulation in the existing stock of flats.

Until about the start of last year I thought Ms Dalziel had led the Christchurch City Council fairly well. Transparency had improved. Many of the major rebuild projects were starting to see some progress – the Town Hall restoration was underway; the construction of Te Pae was about to start, and much of the infrastructure repairs had been completed. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority had wrapped up its work and  The council treasury books, whilst still messy had a clear order to them at least now had priorities.

Yet at the same time, it was becoming obvious that the City Council had a listening issue. People were becoming frustrated by the obsession with cycle lanes around the city, especially on roads which they were not suited for. Some of the suburban revival projects were no closer to starting than the day they were announced – often several years earlier. Frivolous unnecessary expenditure was going on art works like something in the middle of the Avon River, which to this day I am convinced just collects rubbish.

I also note that New Brighton, which could be a pretty grim, run down part of town even on the best of days once again seems to be slipping under the radar. Sure its demographics have changed with the earthquakes. Sure it sits on the edge of the old civilian red zone, and in fairness I have heard that the new salt water pools are being constructed, but wasn’t there meant to be some sort of community redevelopment plan? You never hear about it if there was.

But more recently some of Ms Dalziel’s pronouncements have begun to concern me. She admitted a conflict of interest over her husbands involvement with a Chinese water bottling company, but did nothing to remove him or herself form the discourse.

With long time activist John Minto and businessman Darryll Park both vying to become Mayor, the 2019 race is looking a lot tighter than in 2016. The former wants free public transport, but has not really said much about his spending priorities. The latter wants to have zero rates increases should he win, but has never spent a day around a council table. I am not entirely sure now who I want to win, but Ms Dalziel is looking tired now as a leader and a fresh injection of ideas is needed and some knowledge of council procedures would be useful too.

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 – $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.

8 years since first Canterbury quake; Insurance still fiddling and farting


530,000 Cantabrians went to sleep on the night of 03-04 September 2010 thinking tomorrow would be just another day. Probably not a single person thought about the fault lines lurking underneath the alluvial gravel plains that Canterbury and Christchurch sit on. But many, many people will remember that freight train like rumble coming through the night, the frantic staggering to the doorway as the house began to shake.

When the shaking stopped about a minute later, it was immediately obvious a major earthquake had hit. The power was out, as was water and sewerage. A steady stream of aftershocks continued bolting through in the remaining hours of darkness and into the day, the days, the weeks and months.

Within days aftershocks of a human kind had started. Completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster that had befallen them, E.Q.C. had the rabbit in a headlight look – frozen, not knowing what to do and completely unable to assist customers. With every big aftershock a new claim would have to be lodged. With each one, new reports and inspections would be needed. New case managers would need to be assigned or reassigned.

Whilst there were initially 240,539 claims needing to be solved, of which 240,021 have been, 8 years of putting ones life on hold whilst waiting for a Government agency to get its act together is quite shocking. But that was the case of one lady in Christchurch on the consumer affairs programme Fair Go last night.

8 years, many more earthquakes later and it is now obvious that E.Q.C. actually DOES know what they are supposed to be doing. They just do not want to. For reasons only understood by their bureaucracy it is somehow not in their interests to wrap up the remaining several thousand Christchurch earthquake claims that should have been wrapped up by my guess not later than the start of 2015.

Imagine that.

Let us be honest. Earthquake Commission, and the major insurance companies have no intention whatsoever of finalizing the remaining claims and New Zealanders should stop deluding themselves into thinking otherwise.

90 days or see you in court, is what I say the Government should tell them. During that time they should prepare the necessary legal documents for the court, and on the 91st, these should be served.

There is no excuse for any of the on going delays. There is only so many times a report can be written without covering material covered in previous reports. There is only so many times an inspection can be done before the inspectors see that they are looking at things they have already sighted. There is only so many times anyone trying to get to the bottom of this should ever have to put up with bureaucracy before they have a case to make against the officials in question.

That time has long since come for E.Q.C. and the insurance companies.