The Canterbury rebuild

Written By: - Date published: 11:58 am, July 9th, 2015 - 20 comments
Categories: blogs, christchurch earthquake, democratic participation, disaster, Gerry Brownlee, national, same old national - Tags:

Christchurch and the West Coast-1

Canterbury’s rebuild has been going on for a number of years now.  The country’s economy has benefitted.  Without the disaster it is likely the economy would have slipped into recession a while ago.  But rebuilding a major urban area after the trauma and disaster of multiple earthquakes should not be the basis for an economic policy.  And you have to wonder what sort of country we live in when expensive convention centres can be planned but locals do not have enough blankets.

I spent a bit of time walking around the city recently.  Things are improving.  Cathedral Square is again accessible and people obviously want to again make it a gathering point.  Nearby there is a neat pop up market where the shops are constructed out of containers and good food and coffee and interesting things can be bought.  But the signs of devastation are still clear even though some of the anchor projects are well under way.

A recent post by Barnaby Bennett has attracted a lot of attention.  He is a director of Freerange Press (, has edited two books about the rebuild (Christchurch: The Transitional City and Once in a lifetime: City-building after disaster in Christchurch).  He obviously has some expertise and some understanding and clearly has spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the rebuild.

His latest post Yeah yeah yeah, nah Minister: Why Brownlee is unfit to lead the recovery needs to be read in full.  And recent Government decisions about the rebuild perfectly amplify what he has written.  The announcement of the formation of Regenerate Canterbury and the disestablishment of CERA is as clear an admission of failure as you could hope for.

Bennett sets out ten clear reasons why Brownlee should not be in charge of the rebuild.  These include Brownlee attacking others rather than acknowledging mistakes, his misleading of the public over things such as the potential rebuild cost of the town hall, his inability to work with others and his quickness to bully them, the farce over the proposed convention centre, his disdain for the city’s heritage, his lack of engagement with the city, his failure to understand how the rebuild could be ecologically focussed, his failure to make decisions in a timely manner, that he thinks EQC has performed well and last but not least because he does not understand what makes a city function properly.

This is a quick grab of the essence of Bennett’s article but as I said read the whole post to get a more comprehensive understanding of what is going wrong.

To emphasise the state of the relationship between Christchurch City Council and Brownlee two councillors liked Barnaby’s article on Facebook but after some publicity in the Christchurch Press both councillors removed the post from their facebooks.  Their response I found quite unsettling because they said the post was thought provoking and the contends needed discussion and clearly this is true.  I guess the disdain the Government has for democracy in Canterbury is cause for them to be concerned.

Politicians ought to be able to criticise each other publicly.  Councillors ought to be able to disagree with Ministers without fear.  And Bennett’s critiques of Brownlee’s performance ought to be subject to the most public examination possible.  Democracies function better that way.

20 comments on “The Canterbury rebuild ”

  1. IMO local government in NZ has been hamstrung for decades by :
    the constraints on how councils can raise funds and being largely reliant on local rates, i.e. very little central tax revenue is devolved to them;
    what councils are allowed to spend rates on, which is mostly focussed on compliance with central government generated laws;
    the contract culture and the uncritical acceptance of the pre-eminence of private enterprise with no accounting of the long term social costs of what businesses do;
    the notion of an easily defined and administered management/governance split;
    the mechanism by which public sector pay rates for CEOs and senior management are set and the insistence that they have to match the private sector;
    a deliberately fostered lack of transparency around the political affiliations of people standing for council election which tends to benefit the Right more than the Left.

    ECAN was sacked in the interests of big business – that much is so obvious it’s only the terminally stupid or the profoundly ideological who seek to deny it. The subsequent natural disaster was cynically used by Key’s government to entrench – and then to widen and deepen – its direct control over the city and the province.

    The most astonishing thing about what has happened and is continuing to happen in NZ’s second city and the province of Canterbury, is how little opposition there is to it – both from those it directly affects and from the rest of the country which is also affected by this calculated erosion of democracy.

  2. dukeofurl 2

    Interesting points that Bennett makes, but this surprises me :

    “Christchurch can, and probably will, become a city that learnt from the quakes about how to live closer to nature, about to grow healthy food, and to live with the habitats we share”
    Its preposterous he can say ‘grow healthy food’ – after learning from the earthquake.

    I bet the guy has never been – a like Brownlee- to any of the regional market gardens where the ‘unhealthy’ food comes from.

    Just what exactly being closer to nature means, I suppose having the liquefaction silt inside your house means that ‘next time its just a natural process that we can embrace’

    Being a hard green means that a lot of Bennetts observations are lost for others looking for local feedback.

    • mickysavage 2.1

      Why is that? All modern cities should aim for self sufficiency in food. And the Canterbury Plains ought to be able to provide a wide variety of different sorts of foods.

      I would not call Bennett a hard green, just someone looking into the future.

      • Colonial Viper 2.1.1

        Why is that? All modern cities should aim for self sufficiency in food.

        And this was precisely the idea behind the original “quarter acre section” concept.

        • dukeofurl

          So no carrots from Ohakune then ? Pukekohe has moved up the scale to higher value greens.

          Isnt this all very elitist , local kale, local wine, local chocolate

          And then there is butter !

          • greywarshark

            Try to think wider dukeofurl. For example how NZ imports so much of its basic requirements which it used to make for itself, using local labour, but now we are now dependent on supplies from overseas, like those of the ‘cargo culture’ of some Pacific islands after WW2.

            Also it has been pointed out by people who think wider that most people have enough food and water for only about three days. Don’t you think it might be an intelligent way to prepare for challenging times ahead, to have available food growing near to a city? Importing some things, but having a good supply of basics grown locally, using local labour. It seems logical doesn’t it.

            And then thinking wider still, the understanding of why we are in an employment poor, poverty for many, high overseas debt situation in NZ. Not so different to Greece, but while we can pay our interest bills, no-one is going to confront us with the dirty truth.

  3. Capn Insano 3

    Regenerate Canterbury doesn’t need a degenerate like Brownlee involved.

    • Chooky 3.1

      +100 to that …Christchurch is the poorer for having had Brownlee in charge

      …and great Post

  4. G C 4

    Gerry Brownlee and the Christchurch City Council by all accounts harbour harsh feelings towards each-other.

    Either the CCC needs ousting or Minister Brownlee. I imagine this strained working relationship could turn toxic quick. National seem to be backing Brownlee though, so the CCC is in for a shake up.

    Local body elections aren’t far away. Cantabrians are known for giving Councillors a chance AND punishing Councillors for lacklustre performance. If the National government embarks on a stimulus package, it would be prudent so send some down here. I’m sure such stimulus could massage some tensions.

    • Mark 4.1

      There is not much you got right in that post. The previous council headed by Sir “sideshow” Bob was absolutely hopeless and was dealt to at the last local boby elections. This council headed by Lianne Dalziel are performing as well as they can in the circumstances and have made a lot of progress and you hear few if any complaints against them down here. Billy Bunter Brownlee on the other hand is just an old fashioned bully and has had a bad last few months with several of his pet projects in trouble. Any attempt to sideline the council down here will be the last straw for a lot of people and won’t be accepted.

      • G C 4.1.1

        I’m in Christchurch also Mark, certainly Sideshow Bob’s Council got kicked to the curb. There are more new City Councillors than returning Councillors sitting on the City Council today.

        I didn’t mention Lianne Dalziel, though she has been known to be missing from events Gerry Brownlee attends. Moonlighting inside the City Council has been an on-going concern. Also disloyalty within the ranks can be seen when reading between the lines. Gerry Brownlee is no saint either though.

        They’re all mucking through nicely, however there is room and need for improvement. I’m certainly not sold on the Lianne Dalziel & Gerry Brownlee combo.

        • Mark

          I don’t know what lines you are reading between but you need to get some new specs.
          Gerry is having a terrible run and has been more pig headed than normal lately if thats possible. If it comes to a full on brawl between Dalziel and Brownlee then Billy Bunter is in trouble. This council has a big chance of being re-elected on its performance todate and any attempt to sideline either the council or Dalziel will be the straw that breaks the camels back for many in Christchurch.

          • G C

            I vote in the local body elections and will vote for who I believe the best candidates are. If Lianne Dalziel and Gerry Brownlee have a “full on brawl” or can’t work together, of course that will reflect in my decision making. I’ll vote for the best Mayoral candidate at the time.

            Gerry Browning might be “pig headed” yet sometimes “pig headed” gets the job done. You say the council are performing well, yet acknowledge Lianne Dalziel and Gerry Brownlee could have a “full on brawl”.

            CCC has advisers, CEO’s, paid consultants, general stuff, etc. Voting for different City Councillors or Mayoral candidates wont make Christchurch fall to pieces. Scare Tactics.

            • Mark

              Anyone who thinks Billy Bunter has done a good job of the Christchurch rebuild has had their head up their arse for 4 1/2 years or else lives in areas unaffected by the useless dictator.
              Best of luck voting for someone other than Dalziel but the job is hers for as long as she wants it.
              But if that fat fuckwit Billy Bunter tries to sideline her and the council, the shit will well and truly hit the fan in this town.

              • G C

                All the candidates I voted for in the last Local Body Election took office – including Lianne Dalziel. I’m not saying Gerry Brownlee is the best person for the job – I’m saying he looks set to keep the job.

                One thing about Lianne Dalziel, after the earthquakes she was out in public helping people. That’s not a media report, that’s from eye-whiteness, people I know. That speaks volumes.

                There is heaps of construction and innovation happening here in Christchurch. It would be a lie to say “Gerry Brownlee hasn’t done ANY good work”. Put it this way though, I don’t hold your strong disdain for Gerry Brownlee against you.

      • greywarshark 4.1.2

        Did you mean ‘local booby elections’? You seem to have some good ones down there so perhaps you are on the winning side with the local body.

  5. Pat 5

    you mean theyre going to start the rebuild in Christchurch now?….well about time

    • ropata 5.1

      They don’t want to rush it. Got to keep house prices bubbling along for the well heeled Nat voters of Merivale.

  6. Stuart Munro 6

    Christchurch is not where it should be and feeling the cold. Brownlee is pretty much an archetypical fat cat, and not a charm school graduate on his best day. Dalziel may be ok, but the return of Vicki Buck has not gone unmarked by those who remember probably the best period of local government in Christchurch history. Gerry is on black ice.

  7. Yes a new name is needed.

    Gerrygate. Cos a man named Gerry is presiding over one of the biggest scandal’s in New Zealand history: the mangling of the revival of New Zealand’s second city.

    No one would sit still if this was Auckland (presumably post-eruption x years from now). But down here in Canterbury where a National social experiment is grinding through its fifth year, its quite okay because people still believe the smiling assassin and his woodwork teacher mate are good sods.

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