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Fran O'Sullivan: Quake city needs firmer leadership

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Bob Parker has been a great cheerleader for Christchurch in its darkest hours but the time has come for some tough decisions. 
Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bob Parker has been a great cheerleader for Christchurch in its darkest hours but the time has come for some tough decisions. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Sheer economics demand that Christchurch gets on with its rebuild

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has done a great job as the official cheerleader for his city since the devastating earthquake nearly one year ago in which 185 people lost their lives.

I follow "Robert (Bob) Parker" as one of his numerous Facebook friends and have been impressed - if occasionally bemused - at how he uses his Facebook page as a safety valve for citizens to report back on how the latest earthquake has affected them in their own particular part of Christchurch.

"Bob" is certainly good at the pastoral stuff.

I felt this myself when I saw him at the Christchurch Arts Centre about an hour after the February 22 earthquake, when he told me there had been major death in his city.

He was stoic and calm. And all New Zealanders probably felt they got to know Parker as the public face of his city during the awful period when search and rescue teams were trying to save lives.

Parker's feeling for the moment was also evidenced when he interrupted his North Island holiday at Christmas and returned to his city as it once again started to shake with surprising vigour. He knew confidence would improve if he came back. He was right.

But it must surely be fast approaching the point where Parker either immerses himself full-time in leading his city through a very difficult period when tough fiscal choices must be made, or makes way for a new hard-nosed leader who can unite the divided council behind a common goal.

Cabinet Minister Gerry Brownlee was hinting at this when he impetuously referred to Parker as "a clown" in an interview for a local newspaper.

News media damned Brownlee for his ill-considered comment. He was invited to "apologise" by various broadcast media, and he obliged.

But to be brutally frank, Brownlee has a point. Tough choices do have to be made.

The Government is stumping up an enormous amount of cash for the Canterbury rebuild. But the Earthquake Commission's funds are exhausted. The kitty is bare and must be replenished. It would place enormous strains on the entire economy if another major quake devastated a highly populated area within the 20 or so years it will take to rebuild the fund.

There is a desperate need to ensure businesses stay involved in Christchurch. Fancy urban plans are one thing - but sheer economics demand that Christchurch gets on with it soon.

Other parts of New Zealand get this fiscal imperative. It is one of the reasons why Auckland Mayor Len Brown and his council - to their credit - are taking up the financial slack to fund some local transport projects right now instead of bleating to the Government for taxpayer support.

But Christchurch also needs to step up.

I'm not surprised Parker's wheels are falling off - 10,000 earthquakes since that first surprising quake in September 2010 would do that to anyone.

But it's simply not tenable to play to the cameras - as "Bob" did so ably with John Campbell last month - when the Government is forced to inject an "observer" into the council to report back on his deeply divided council members, yet shy away from the fact that he also has an obvious responsibility himself to unite the council.

Surely, that is what mayors do.

I was also surprised that Parker was off promoting his city in China this week instead of staying put to face the music when the report which revealed the CTV building was not built to the building standards of the day was finally released.

One hundred and fifteen people - many of them young students from Japan and China - were killed when the CTV building collapsed.

Some lost their lives in what can only be described as horrific circumstances.

These unlucky souls were not quickly killed outright by collapsing masonry and rubble, but instead were slowly crushed or burned to death.

The Technical Investigation into the Structural Performance of Buildings in Christchurch by the Department of Building and Housing revealed that the six-storey building fell short of required standards when constructed in 1986.

Report project manager David Hopkins is reported as saying that if the CTV building had been constructed to standard, it would have had a much better chance of surviving the quake. The report has since been referred to the police.

But although the company that built the CTV structure went into liquidation, the original design engineers are still standing and the council which failed to enforce the standards of the day is also still in place.

Let's underline here that Parker was not mayor in the mid-1980s when officials for the council of the day did not enforce the building standards.

Nor was he mayor when the cute deals were done with various developers to get exemptions from the rules so they could build on inappropriate land.

But he is mayor now. And when questions are asked over why the CTV building was not simply condemned after the September earthquake he is not here.

International players, including parents of the young Japanese who died, are talking legal action.

The overall picture is of a city officialdom that is too much in shock to get on with consenting for the rebuild, and too much focused on a dream plan that will be difficult to fund, to properly deal with the here and now.

In 11 days' time it will be one year since that dreadful earthquake shocked Christchurch to its core. Christchurch is starting to boil over with frustration, as was evidenced by major protests outside the council offices.

It must surely be getting to the point where concerted leadership must arise from within or be injected.

- NZ Herald

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