Allow me a Cassandra moment.
Like the Trojans in the midst of a decades long war, living in Christchurch is, for many people, an experience with precious little long-term hope.
Many people have, however, invested a good deal of hope in the Central City Plan as a sign that a positive post-quake future is possible, much as the Trojans wanted to think that that nice wooden horse out on the plains was a sign of peace in our time.
When CERA was established, the Christchurch City Council was given responsibility to develop the ‘Draft Recovery Plan’ for the central city and deliver that plan to the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery.
After having the plan in his possession for four months, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee, now appears to have endorsed the plan.
Certainly, the shoppers interviewed by Charley Mann are told, categorically, by Mann, that the government has accepted the Central City Plan.
Half of it [the plan] has been set aside and chunks of the other half also put on hold.
The job of implementing the bits the Government has accepted rests squarely now with – wait for it – the Government.
My ‘Cassandra moment’?
Well, you don’t get a full, pungent ‘whiff’ of it until you look more closely.
The Central City Plan – or, more correctly, the process by which the Christchurch City Council was given the job of developing the Central City Plan – has been the Trojan Horse for full government control of the renewal of Christchurch’s Central Business District.
That government control is being imposed to ensure that – despite rhetoric to the contrary – the ‘vision’ in the Central City Plan will take a back seat to so-called ‘market forces’.
Note the different terms I used in the paragraph above – ‘Central City‘ versus ‘Central Business District‘. That difference explains why the CCC had to be given the initial job of consultatively developing a plan that Christchurch residents would support and, then, why the government had to take charge. It was a classic ‘bait and switch‘.
Which explains why business leaders in the city are so happy:
Christchurch business leaders are applauding the Government’s move to set up a new unit to lead the development of the central city.
Canterbury Business Leaders Group chairman Don Elder said the announcement was “a very positive step forward” for the central city and “an opportunity to be bold”. … ”everything is up for discussion”, he said. … ”As we have said many times, the successful recovery of the city will rely on a number of organisations working together and may include options such as public-private partnerships [PPPs],” he said.
”Were very pleased to hear that everything is up for discussion and that the new unit will ensure these options are investigated and considered.”
Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend was equally enthusiastic:
Peter Townsend said it was a good sign for the future of the recovery.
”It’s reassuring to know that there will be clarity around anchor projects such as the convention centre,” he said.
”We have one opportunity to create an iconic city and we now have a way to do this. The business community is committed to playing its role and working in partnership with the unit,” Townsend said.
The plaudits from business keep on coming, largely because, as this article makes clear, the establishment of the Central City Development Unit involves giving business what it wanted and emphasising “market forces”.
In lay terms, that is a polite way of saying that Volume 2 of the Central City Plan has been, as the Minister states, “put aside for a period“.
Volume 2 outlines all of those ‘boring’ rule and regulation changes that would have allowed the City Council to enact the vision in Volume 1 (Green City, Transition City, etc.) through imposing height restrictions, building design requirements and car parking regulations. Now it’s going to be a free for all.
No wonder business leaders are over the moon. They’ve got what they wanted. Way back when the initial draft of the Central City Plan came out the one loud dissenting voice came from business who were complaining about the restrictions which, they said, would discourage investment.
It was also business ‘leaders’ who called for the Council to be replaced by commissioners last year:
Independent Fisheries director Mike Dormer, who leads a largely anonymous group of business leaders opposed to Marryatt’s reappointment, said he had sent a letter to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Prime Minister John Key asking them to appoint three independent commissioners at the council.
Dormer said the commissioners could co- ordinate work among the council, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the business community as they planned the city’s rebuild.
In return for their complaining they were given a ‘Central City Plan – Business Overview‘ which updated the restrictive nature of the regulations. (Have a read of the six ‘top issues’ and the compromises made for property owners and businesspeople from the original draft – four years to rebuild a building of the same height; higher hotels near the convention centre; relaxing car parking regulations, etc..).
But, obviously, that wasn’t enough. The government’s announcement of the CCDU now gives them real ‘confidence’. Mike Dormer now has his wish.
Good luck with that ‘low rise’, ‘green’, ‘safe’, ‘sustainable’ city Christchurch. It’s now only going to happen to the extent that ‘market forces’ – heavily backed by a no-opposition-brooked, central government bulldozer – determine it will.
Yes, we’re allowed our little dreamtime in the soma of artists’ impressions and inspirational future-talk of Volume 1. But, by the time we wake up from our dreamy sojourn we’ll find that the CCDU – acting on behalf of business and the government’s national agenda for the economy – will have established all the literal ‘facts on the ground’ required to make sure those artists’ impressions become little more than chip paper.
Yet surely I’m being too cynical? What about all the Minister’s fine words? Here they are:
I’d like to take this opportunity to recognise Bob’s work leading the council through the massive consultation phase and development of the draft plan.
He deserves great credit for so swiftly engaging in such an extensive and democratic exercise, which has produced a very good result.
I also want to acknowledge the thousands of Canterbury people who gave their time, ideas and commitment to the plan.
That plan is the basis for the way forward because it has such widespread community support.
When you have a good idea, which the draft plan is, you need a vehicle that can deliver the required result in the most cohesive and efficient manner.
The praise for Bob Parker was, for Hartevelt, hiding a “less charitable interpretation” that would have “Parker now officially cast as town jester – an amiable knave useful for relating with the plebs but without much of a clue or any real power“.
Small said the praise “borders on the condescending“. More fully,
Mayor Bob Parker comes in for his share of praise, but in a way that borders on condescending. Yes, he is a fine ambassador for the city. But Brownlee suggests the mayor would be best deployed selling the sizzle while the new unit, headed by Cera operations manager Warwick Isaacs, gets on with cooking the sausage.
One of the saddest sights in this is to see the Mayor of New Zealand’s second largest city being publicly humiliated in such an obvious way while maintaining he’s all for what has been announced.
And what’s this the Minister mentions in his speech about a “redevelopment blueprint within 100 days“? Have another look at the Final Draft Central City Plan – from page 135 on where ‘Implementation’ is explicitly discussed – and notice what ‘blueprint’ it indicates:
The Central City Plan will be achieved through partnerships, both existing and those yet to be formed. International experience, such as the terrorist bombings in Manchester in 1996 and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco, has shown it is critical to have a shared vision, shared commitment and shared ownership of a plan such as the Central City Plan. This requires a high level of communication and information sharing. The Council can help to make this happen in the Central City. The Central City Plan is a blueprint for what we all need to do.
Hartevelt picks up on this in his concluding paragraph:
But as Brownlee plainly realises, the council, despite its failings, is closer to the people of Christchurch than central government could ever hope to be. It cranked through an impressive and genuine consultation process before emerging with a popular blue-print for the CBD. Today’s announcement risks taking the recovery effort too far away from that.
Now, we apparently need a new blueprint – written, this time, by Warwick Isaacs in 100 days.
There is, of course, talk of ‘collaboration’ between the Council and the CCDU but, once again as Hartevelt points out, the ‘collaboration’ amounts to cherry picking council staff with the needed expertise and having the Mayor as a ‘marketeer’, “an amiable knave useful for relating with the plebs“.
If that’s ‘collaboration’ then I suppose the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are also in a ‘collaborative’ relationship with the Israeli government.
The Minister’s announcement – despite the soothing rhetoric – amounts to a proclamation of one deeply political and ideological point: It is too risky to leave the wrong people with the decision making power.
For the government, we – the people of Christchurch – are the wrong people.