Wagner 'agnostic' on cathedral rebuild

TIM FULTON
Last updated 09:50 26/07/2014
nicky wagner
KIRK HARGREAVES/ Fairfax NZ
VICTORY: Wagner celebrates confirmation of her victory over Labour's Brendon Burns in 2011.
nicky wagner
ON THE EDGE: A map depicts the Christchurch Central electorate with Wagner superimposed over it.

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The inner-city MP is "quite agnostic" about the fate of Christ Church Cathedral and says she hasn't been closely following debate over Town Hall repairs "because that's a city council decision". TIM FULTON asks Nicky Wagner about her convictions.

A cartoon image on a campaign flier nods to Nicky Wagner's campaign slogan: "Keeping Christchurch Central in Good Shape for the Future".

It's a confident promise from an electorate MP who says "I think I'm quite good at this".

If the National MP wins the seat in 2014 she'll be responsible for an elongated area from the bottom of the Port Hills to Styx River near Belfast.

Wagner's inspiration for the flier was the re-drawing of Christchurch Central electorate boundaries.

Wagner saw the artistic possibilities of it all: "I looked at it and I said 'Gosh, it's me.' Look, you've got the hat and the person, and the legs. It's a bit ridiculous, who would have an electorate that shape?"

But a better question for her might be, how closely connected to the community is one the country's wealthiest Parliamentarians?

In her three years as Christchurch Central's MP she's been needled for not being active in city affairs. Labour rival Tony Milne said the priorities for most central city residents were EQC, flooding and housing.

The city had 5000-7000 homeless by government measures and he was finding people living on couches, in tents, garages and in cars "every third or fourth" house he visited.

"People need a voice at the highest level. People need to know what's going on here," he said.

Wagner said her role as MP was to "grease the wheels" and to "fill the gaps" for constituents wanting access to community services.

She brightly claims that "after a while, you know the networks. You know everybody".

"I mean, it's a fascinating job and I've had all sorts of different careers, and that's why I think I'm quite good at this. I've had my fingers in lots of pies. . ."

But despite running a secondary campaign slogan of "experience and continuity count" it's hard to extract her views on landmark city issues, like the future of Christ Church Cathedral.

The cathedral was where Wagner originally went to church and her boys were choristers there.

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She was in the cathedral during a shake before the big one that left it in ruin.

"I remember sitting there in a chair, looking at all that stone up there and thinking 'c'mon, get a grip Nicky. . .we've had September, been through the worst earthquakes, $12 million of earthquake strengthening. And we did [get a grip]. Everyone just carried on."

But Wagner says she is now "quite agnostic" about how to rebuild the city icon.

"I think they made the wrong decision when they built it in stone. At the same time they built the St Michael's church, they deliberately made the decision to build it in wood because of the earthquakes," she said at her Salisbury St office.

But, that said. . . "Basically, I don't care what kind of cathedral it is, as long as we get on and get something."

And she would like some sort of arbitration between the pro-restoration and modern rebuild camps. "The thing that I really fear, and we've seen it in Christchurch before, is that they'll argue so much they'll just spend the money arguing."

She meanwhile is "pragmatic" about repairing the Town Hall.

"People say it's got wonderful acoustics and should be saved. Other people say 'acoustics, shamoustics. . .that the acoustics we have now in the 21st century are far superior to what we had. I don't think the location is ideal; I think it's a very badly damaged piece of land."

Then again, perhaps a good plan and a good price could do the trick. "I'd like to save some of this stuff."

Wagner's present challenge is another electorate scrap. Last election night Wagner tied the Christchurch Central vote with Labour before squeaking through with a 47-vote win on specials.

It was the first in Christchurch Central for a National candidate, but just a few months ago Wagner was close to throwing in the towel. She hated the thought of losing the seat after working for so long to win it, but a talk with Prime Minister John Key convinced her to stay on, she said.

Now her electorate had the physical appearance of a bad set of teeth.

"If you go down Bealey Ave and you look into the streets coming off it, you know Barbadoes, Madras, Manchester, they're like teeth out. There's a whole lot of houses that are gone in that area, quite surprising."

If you knock on a street like Stoneyhurst next to Bealey Ave, "I reckon, one in four. Quite badly damaged. You don't tell that from the outside but when you actually look closely, there's a large number."

Wagner said most of her work as an MP had been "trying to fix the stuff that hasn't been got through since the earthquake", like EQC, private insurance, housing problems or approvals for migrant workers.

She had recently been "out sandbagging" with a woman from Flockton Basin who had called her office, worried her place would flood again.

A second major part of her job sheet for Christchurch Central had been advocating for what the cynics sometimes called "yea, yea, yea" projects, like the planned Innovation Precinct.

Wagner was encouraged by the latest CERA Wellbeing Survey which indicated people who had got through insurance and EQC processes felt on the way to recovery.

Anyone now building or buying a new home would be sensing more light at the end of the tunnel, she said.

- The Press

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