James Dann: Backstage of rock star economy

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Canterbury might be the bright spot in the economy, but the rebuild is a long way off. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Canterbury might be the bright spot in the economy, but the rebuild is a long way off. Photo / Geoff Sloan

You've all read the stories: the New Zealand economy is predicted to be a "rock star" this year, largely on the back of the Canterbury rebuild.

Numbers that one can't really fathom - or verify - like $40 billion are thrown about as proof that everything is coming up roses for the economic stewardship of John Key and Bill English.

For those of you who haven't visited Christchurch for a while, it's probably easy to imagine that everything is trucking along nicely, that the city is irresistibly moving forward. For those of us living it every day, we don't feel like rock stars.

We did get a little of the rock star treatment this week, with Wills and Kate popping in for a quick matinee show. Even after a tightly orchestrated tour of the sites the Government wanted them to see, the Duke expressed his surprise at how long the recovery was seeming to take. He isn't the only foreign visitor to share that sentiment.

The Blueprint central city recovery plan - almost two years old now - has failed to attract outside investment or stimulate development.

In fact, development is almost exclusively happening in the areas that are not controlled by CERA and the recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

But people in the suburbs are still dealing with EQC, with insurance. House prices in the west have risen steeply, which is great for those who are already in the property game.

It is less good for young couples trying to get into the market. It's even worse for people displaced by the quakes, who are having to find a place to rent.

Canterbury might be the bright spot in the economy, but it isn't much fun for a city to be quoted as a statistic when we are still years away from returning to anything like a sense of normality.

It might be more tolerable if the money was being distributed more equally. As it stands, this is a grossly unequal exercise, one of haves and have nots.

Those homes with relatively minor damage have had a few cracks filled and a new lick of paint, thanks to an insurance they probably never even knew they paid for.

Those still fighting EQC, their insurance company, or both, are at their wits end because of clauses in their contracts that they never knew existed.

In the central city, the Government is doing its best to look after the big end of town, throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at a land buy-up, with the express purpose of limiting land supply and maintaining property prices. The restrictions Brownlee has placed on development mean that if you have less than $100 million, there is almost no point in trying to build in the CBD.

Brownlee's vision - of convention centres, stadiums and heritage destruction - hasn't been voted on by the people, but it has been voted down by the developers.

They have taken their money to Addington and Victoria St, where they can rebuild outside Brownlee's control - and without having to fit into his one-eyed vision.

So next time you see a crisp-suited bank economist wheel out the Canterbury rebuild in their growth forecasts, remember that we're actually people down here, completely exhausted after three years of disasters at the hands of Mother Nature and Father Brownlee.

We're not statistics, and we're not feeling as optimistic as the growth figures that are so often repeated about us.

As Prince William left the city, he vowed to visit Christchurch again when it was rebuilt. The question is, will he live long enough to see that?

James Dann is the Labour candidate for Ilam, running against National's Gerry Brownlee. The Herald on Sunday will publish a range of different views "out of leftfield" over the next few months.

- Herald on Sunday

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