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Brownlee's challenger Raf Manji pitches for 2026 Games

Brownlee's challenger, Raf Manji, pitches Christchurch for 2026 Commonwealth Games

By Pattrick Smellie

July 27 (BusinessDesk) - Christchurch should bid to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games both as a way to kickstart the city's stalled post-quakes rebuild and to ensure its nationally strategic potential is restored, says Raf Manji, the Christchurch City Councillor who launched his bid today to unseat former Christchurch Regeneration Minister Gerry Brownlee in the safe National seat of Ilam.

Manji, a 50 year-old former merchant banker who once moved in the same money market circles as former Prime Minister John Key, has carved out a reputation as a smart financial operator and leader as chair of the council's finance committee.

He is standing as an independent to unseat Brownlee on a ticket seeking to be made Minister of Christchurch Regeneration in the next Cabinet, whoever forms the government, arguing the city is in danger of failing to set itself up for its vital role as "the clear second city of New Zealand, the capital of the South Island and the anchor of the mainland economy".

"Christchurch cannot be allowed to fail," he said at this morning's campaign launch.

Bidding for the 2026 Commonwealth Games would create momentum and purpose for the rebuild, which he said has lost focus and a sense of direction and "been drifting for the last six months".

Brownlee stepped down as Christchurch Regeneration Minister after last December's Cabinet reshuffle and was replaced by local MP Nicky Wagner, whom Manji did not explicitly criticise.

"Who is holding the vision and who is leading it?" Manji asked. "I would say no one. When John Key stepped down at the end of last year, I really felt we had lost the one person who at least could appreciate the big picture and understood the strategic imperative for a successful recovery of Christchurch.

"Christchurch matters. Our country, one nation, two islands is suffering from a lack of balance, as resources and people are sucked into Auckland, to the detriment of the rest of the country, " said Manji. We have new infrastructure, an oversupply of commercial space, we will have a new range of brand new community facilities and our housing is generally affordable housing as well. This narrative needs to be pushed harder and more explicitly."

The city also had options about how it developed areas as yet unbuilt, with opportunities to review the five year-old post-quake Blueprint for the city and the vision behind it.

"What was the objective? Why reshape the city and engage in the largest compulsory acquisition process in modern times?"

Bidding for the 2026 Commonwealth Games, 52 years after the 1974 Friendly Games, would give the city "something to aim for, something to dream about" as both a demonstration to the world 15 years after the quakes what Christchurch has achieved.

"It can be shaped our way, with Christchurch as the host city, but with the games spread throughout Canterbury and even the South Island. We are building everything we need and we have time to prepare. This will be the icing on the cake, a lofty goal to give us something to really focus on and be excited about."

Manji is backing his call with a specific plan to spend another billion dollars to finish a range of key projects throughout the city, whose future has become doubtful but would complete much of the rebuild, and which he would advocate for in Parliament.

A $400 million Central City Housing fund would build high density neighbourhoods in the city's so-called East Frame, which Manji said had been "clear felled"; $300 million for a Red Zone redevelopment fund, where projects are in development but have no funding; $200 million towards a Multi-Purpose Arena which should be built immediately and well, and a $100 million City Revitalisation fund that could establish a range of new facilities including a marine research centre at New Brighton, an indoor velodrome on the site of Lancaster Park, a national sports museum, a science and innovation centre and an 'epic centre' for youth.

While approached to stand for The Opportunities Party, Manji has chosen to remain independent, meaning he can bring no more than his own vote to the next Parliament, making him a potential partner for National, which may struggle for a majority with its existing coalition partners, the Maori, United Future and Act parties, based on current polling. He would willingly work with a Labour-led government.

Brownlee would return to Parliament as a list MP, having held Ilam continuously since 1996.


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