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Christchurch Failure – The Long History | Hugh Pavletich

Christchurch Failure – The Long History

By Hugh Pavletich -Performance Urban Planning

The mongrel political and commercial culture of Christchurch has erupted in to the open.

The recovery is now widely understood to be a failure.

Georgina Styliaonu of The Press reports today “Rebuild friction rises to surface” on the tensions, following the commissioning of a report by the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) …

“… shows major banks, construction companies and engineering firms believe the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) and the Christchurch City Council are holding back the rebuild.”

Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has responded, stating that private landowners and developers have created the “biggest mess on our plate”.

As is usual with Christchurch, not one critical person is mentioned within The Press report.

The reason for this is because they are apprehensive of political and commercial retribution. But it goes further than that.

These same critics had for years been the major props for the long-term political failure of Christchurch, going back 25 years to the time of the forced Local Government amalgamation in 1989.

It was downhill all the way from there.

Until the time of the first earthquakes 4 September 2010, the two major external props of the failed Christchurch City Council were the local Chamber of Commerce and The Press.

The Press woke up following the first earthquake events. The Chamber of Commerce has so far failed to do so.

As well-known property investor Sir Bob Jones made clear in a the Press Opinion September 2011 “Sir Bob Jones Advice on Christchurch Quake Rebuild” , competent developers and investors had long left Christchurch, abandoning it to “hobbyists and sentimentalists”.

Following the forced local government amalgamation, predictably, the Council bureaucrats gained control ( with the destructive British style local government culture ) and commercial reality and sound development vaporised.

Grovelling by the inept became the order of the day. They deserved one another.

Crony capitalism has been the game, where the favoured few ( with the competent and honest excluded ) gained the commercial protections and privileges they sought.

They could never survive honest and open competition … and they know it. The consumer is the loser.

As the Council bureaucracy bloated and it lost control of its costs, understandably it strangled land supply, forced unwanted intensification ( naturally as cities become increasingly affluent they become less dense ) without maintaining and upgrading the infrastructure ( hence most of the recent flooding ) and increasingly milked ever higher and unjustified levies from those buying new property (misnamed “development levies” which they are not, because the developer is simply the intermediary).

Little wonder then that in the lead-up to the September 2010 earthquakes, in development terms, Christchurch was already on its's knees . The Council was severely dysfunctional.

Central Government intervention was inevitable … and generally not helpful. Layering bureaucracy on bureaucracy was an unworkable substitute for dealing with the Councils structural and systemic problems head on.

Due to this long-term governance and planning failure, the earthquake events will likely cost $NZ40 billion +, when they should have cost about $NZ15 billion. With much less heartache.

In dry technical parlance, this is referred to as institutional failure.

Dysfunctional governance and unaffordable housing go hand in hand.

Christchurch housing is rated internationally severely unaffordable and with the other major New Zealand metros, has the worst traffic congestion in the developed world .

This is a remarkable feat of bureaucratic incompetence, when it is realised that New Zealand with its tiny population of just 4.5 million ( Christchurch City just 370,000 ), has much the same land area as the United Kingdom with its population of 63 million.

As the former Principal Urban Planner with the World Bank Alain Bertaud make clear within the Introduction to this year’s 10th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey , the major focus of local politicians and planners must be on housing affordability and urban mobility.

This writer has covered this litany of failures over recent years. The major articles pertaining to Christchurch have been …

June 2012 - Christchurch: The Way Forward with earlier hyperlinked articles

July 2013 - Christchurch: the political shambles

March 2014 - Strange bedfellows: Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and the Rockefeller Foundation

April 2014 - New Zealand’s Bubble Economy Is Vulnerable

The problems and solutions are well known. They need to be better understood … and fast.

It is up to the citizens of Christchurch to decide whether or not they wish to continue on the Detroit style path of urban destruction.


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