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.

Lest we forget: Christchurch Mosque shootings 1 year on

Much aroha to our Muslim brothers and sisters one year after the Christchurch mosques attack.

A year later the task is the same. Sharon Murdoch 17/03/19.

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.