Taxpayers fork out $550,000 for bash

PLAN: The Christchurch Central City Recovery Plan blueprint was launched in July.
PLAN: The Christchurch Central City Recovery Plan blueprint was launched in July.

A launch party and promotional material for the central Christchurch blueprint cost taxpayers more than $500,000.

The lavish event held in July to launch the Christchurch Central Development Unit's vision for the city included free beer, sparkling wine and canapes.

The blueprint was launched by Prime Minister John Key.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) said yesterday that the $549,989 bill for the event included signage, an interactive 3D computer view of the blueprint, print material, information videos, the website, 3D modelling and animation, catering and technical support.

A spokesman said the promotional material commissioned for the launch was still being used to champion the blueprint.

The interactive computer view of the blueprint remained on public display until last week.

"This is not a one-off cost for one night. The majority of material is still being used to promote the plan on an ongoing basis," the spokesman said.

The event was defended by Cera chief executive Roger Sutton.

"We are trying to attract something between $5 billion and $10b of investment to Christchurch and I think we have to have a bit of razzle- dazzle for investors to take notice and come to our city," he told Radio New Zealand.

"It took place in the city council foyer. It is hardly like we hired out the Hilton."

The cost surprised Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network spokesman Mike Coleman.

"I'm staggered, and I think people across the east of Christchurch will be stunned by a figure like that," he said.

"They are spending half a million presenting material on the blueprint to business folk. They have to communicate, but to spend that kind of money is unbelievable. That is an extreme use of money.

"They are happy to pour the money out for certain events. Ordinary Cantabrians get left out in the cold while people who are in the money get cash spent on them." 

The blueprint's launch costs emerged as Cera revealed that it had spent $3.6 million on communications in the past financial year.

An Official Information Act request revealed this included postage, advertising, travel expenses and wages.

Cera employs 11 communications staff , including a media manager and two senior media advisers. Two staff members live outside Christchurch and have their accommodation and travel expenses covered.

Sutton told Radio New Zealand the communications expense was good value. Less than $1m was spent on wages, including secondments, short- term contracts and projects.

"We probably get as many media inquiries as any organisation in the country. We get inquiries from local media, national and international. They are kept very, very busy," he said.

"The $3.6m works out at $8 a head for people in Christchurch. I am very happy to defend those numbers."

Cera communications staff responded to more than 2100 media inquiries in the past financial year. They responded to 89 inquiries from The Press staff last month.

The $3.6m includes $500,000 spent on production, postage and design of brochures, $270,000 for community meeting venues and related costs and $800,000 for advertising community meetings, events and information.

The Press