Chris Lynch: Quake rebuild needs to look at its priorities

Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the February 22, 2011 quake that devastated Christchurch. Over the next week we'll be telling the stories of those who stayed to help the city rebuild and examining its future as the rebirth continues.
Homes in the eastern suburbs or redzones of Christchurch suffered bad damage. The area is now almost fully deserted with most houses demolished. Photo / Mike Scott
Homes in the eastern suburbs or redzones of Christchurch suffered bad damage. The area is now almost fully deserted with most houses demolished. Photo / Mike Scott
Newstalk ZB's Chris Lynch
Newstalk ZB's Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist and host of Newstalk ZB's Christchurch morning programme, which you can hear 8.30am weekday mornings.

How far ahead is Christchurch's CDB when it comes to the rebuild five years on from the quake that brought it to its knees?

Perception is everything.

It's not hard to take photos of derelict land in the central city and present a case to the rest of the country that it's still well and truly buggered. I've seen plenty of photos where you could be forgiven for thinking the end of the world Mayan prophecies have come true.

However, it's not hard to find tremendous development across central Christchurch sparked by private development. Ironically, many empty spaces in the city are owned by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, the Government agency set up to help with the recovery and rebuild.

I remember attending the over-hyped Government announcement on the city's blueprint in 2012. It was a bit of a weird experience, seeing Disney-like animations projected on massive screens, showing beautiful glossy images of bright bold plans to help Christchurch rise again. It was well intended to provide residents with hope at a time when there felt like there was none. However, critics were quick to point out the lack of detail or meaningful business cases for many of the anchor projects.

Five years on those discussions continue.

The controversial cost sharing agreement between the Christchurch City Council and the Government continues to frustrate those on both sides of the political spectrum.

The Government will stump up $470m for a 35,000 seat covered stadium over three city blocks. The council will pay $253m. The stadium was originally expected to be completed in 2017, but that time frame has been pushed out to 2021.

It took a while, but some cheerleaders finally realised they couldn't talk up the stadium at a cost of well over half a billion dollars at a time when roads on the east were still broken. Questions on the viability of the stadium continue to plague proponents. In June last year, Treasury released a report stating the stadium "cannot be delivered within the funding envelope established by the cost sharing agreement." In response to this and negative publicity surrounding the stadium, the Canterbury Rugby Union released an interesting survey last night.

According to the survey, conducted by Research First, over 94 per cent believe Christchurch needs a modern outdoor events facility.

I'd love a brand new car, but I don't have the cash to pay for it.

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I spoke to Christchurch City Councillor Yani Johanson this morning on Newstalk ZB. He says many submitters on the long term plan feel alienated from what they see as commercially orientated projects with little community benefit sucking up too much ratepayer cash. The city's anchor projects, of course, have their place in the rebuild, investment and growth of the city. But some residents, particularly, in the hardest hit eastern suburbs believe the projects have been prioritised above community needs.

Still, you can't deny the so-called 'feel good factor' a stadium might bring to a community. But should rate payers be responsible for paying for a facility that could be under-utilised, and what will be the true economic benefits?

I've heard the argument before that council owns libraries and swimming pools and they don't make money. But they're used on a daily basis by many members of the public. Like those surveyed, I'd love a flash stadium, but it must be multi-purposed and well utilised, heck I get excited when I see a new building popping up in town, even if it's an ugly glass box, but if stadiums are good for business, why aren't private enterprise putting their hands up to pay for it?

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