Council, Govt agree on deal

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 17:23 11/02/2013

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LATEST: The Christchurch City Council has relinquished its right to produce a 10-year blueprint for the city in return for a government guarantee that it will provide more certainty on the rebuild costs.

The deal, which will confirm the cost-sharing for infrastructure repairs and anchor projects, was brokered during a private meeting last week between the council and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, and was confirmed at an extraordinary meeting of the council yesterday.

Under the deal, the council will be removed of its statutory obligation to produce a 10-year long-term plan (LTP) and will instead map out its financial strategy and work programme through to 2015.

It originally wanted to push ahead with a 10-year blueprint, but decided to give ground to the Government, which had raised concerns about the council's strategic planning process, on the condition that it got more clarity on who was picking up the bill for the city's multibillion-dollar rebuild.

The council wants assurances from the Government on:

- How the costs for the city's infrastructure repair work will be split. It has assumed that it will be done on a 60-40 per cent basis, as has happened in other cities after natural disasters, but wants more clarity on how that will work in practice.

- How the anchor projects planned for the central city will be funded. With a current funding shortfall of close to $1 billion, it is worried that it could face a huge bill if the Government insists on proceeding with the projects as outlined in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan but is not willing to put in extra money itself.

The Government has undertaken to provide clarity by April 30.

Mayor Bob Parker said it was important the council had greater certainty, and this deal with the Government delivered that.

"Like any business, the city council needs to plan ahead and give its people certainty. This three-year plan will do that," he said.

"Hopefully it will also bring an end to some of the crossfire we have seen around some of these issues."

Parker said the council vote had been 13 to one in favour, with Cr Yani Johanson the only one to oppose it.

Brownlee said deferring the LTP process until 2015 meant the Crown and the council had time to reach agreement on the cost-sharing method.

"Under normal circumstances, a long-term plan outlines a council's rating and spending expectations for the next decade, but at this stage in the Christchurch rebuild, we need a more appropriate planning mechanism that takes into account more immediate goals," he said.

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The new planning process would give surety to Christchurch ratepayers, the New Zealand taxpayer, the financial markets and development partners.

"City councillors, along with the Crown, are committed to presenting the most realistic and achievable process to shoulder the financial burden caused by this series of catastrophic earthquakes, with a joint aim of rebuilding the city to be the very best it can be," Brownlee said.

Pressure to abandon plan

The council was due to release a draft long-term plan for the city this month but it has been under pressure from the Government to abandon that plan.

An extraordinary meeting of the council was held this morning to discuss the deal, but the public were excluded from the meeting.

The reason given for excluding the public was that the council had given an informal undertaking to Brownlee that it would keep the matter confidential until negotiations had finished.

Cr Yani Johanson opposed the move because the decision being made was of significant public interest.

''The need for confidentiality is outweighed by the huge public interest,'' he said.

''I find it incredibly sad the public of this city are not going to see us make one of the key decisions moving forward.''

Cr Barry Corbett argued vociferously for conducting the meeting in private, saying now was not the time for political sideshows.

He said it was in the city's best interests that the council and the Government had a good working relationship, and the council in this case needed to respect the Government's request for confidentiality.

Corbett's stance was backed by Cr Peter Beck: ''At the moment there is a sensitivity about this that we need to keep to ourselves.'' 

Only one other councillor, Glenn Livingstone, voted with Johanson against the public being excluded from the meeting.

- The Press

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