Savings not sales - People's Choice

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2014

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The biggest political grouping on the Christchurch City Council says it will only consider a sell-down of strategic assets as "a very last resort".

The council has begun talking to ratepayers about options to reduce the $800 million to $900m funding shortfall it is facing.

It could sell some of the assets it owns through commercial arm Christchurch City Holdings Ltd. Those assets include Christchurch International Airport, Lyttelton Port of Christchurch, Orion, City Care, Red Bus and Enable.

Councillor Andrew Turner, who is deputy chairman of the council's finance committee, said he and the other five councillors elected under the Labour-aligned The People's Choice political banner were determined to explore all other financial options first.

"It would only be a very last resort that we would consider agreeing to sell down any of our strategic assets," Turner said.

"We will be working with the mayor and all the councillors to find ways of saving capital and operational expenses, deferring non-urgent projects, and identifying other efficiencies."

He realised there was "no single silver bullet to solve this" and the solution would involve a combination of interventions.

"We will need to balance rate rises against cost savings, levels of service against community outcomes, core services against nice-to-haves, large and ambitious projects against our ability to wait for them," Turner said.

It went without saying that The People's Choice councillors wanted to renegotiate with the Government on the timing and delivery of anchor projects and the council's commitments under the cost-sharing agreement, particularly with regard to the required $253m contribution to the stadium, he said.

Less well known was the fact the council's financial plan proposed "business as usual" capital expenditure of more than $1.6 billion over the next eight years. A significant proportion of the programme was non-urgent.

"We are confident that reductions and deferrals can be made, enabling the council to concentrate on priority tasks such as fixing Christchurch roads," Turner said.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel said she was aware of the stance being taken by The People's Choice councillors and there was considerable sympathy around the council table for their position.

"None of us expected to see such a significant set of financial challenges when we opened the books," she said. "We have agreed to put all the options on the table and work with our communities to find the right solutions."

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- The Press

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