Mayor: Last council's 'tragic legacy'

03:57, Feb 17 2014
Lianne Dalziel
PLACING THE BLAME: Lianne Dalziel said her new council still did not "have a complete picture'' of the financial situation facing the city.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has blasted the previous council as being "irresponsible'' for signing a binding cost-sharing agreement with the Government.

It also left behind "a tragic legacy'' in terms of the council's relationship with the Government that meant she did not yet think the two groups had forged the kind of partnership needed to deliver real progress for the city.

In a wide-ranging "State of the City'' address at this morning's elderly persons forum, Dalziel said she believed she and the Government had not yet "forged the partnership . . . that we need to make real progress.''

In the address, Dalziel said her new council still did not "have a complete picture'' of the financial situation facing the city but laid some of the blame at the feet of the previous council led by Sir Bob Parker.

"They [the council] committed to projects that we cannot afford. They created expectations of levels of service that we cannot deliver. We have inherited this situation but we are taking responsibility,'' she said.

Council staff were going through the "big ticket items'' agreed to by the previous council and double-checking those decisions.

It was trying to influence what was happening in the central city, and while the agreement gave lead responsibility to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), it was Christchurch people who would inherit the ongoing costs linked to the debt to pay for those projects.

"I doubt that the Government been intended such an outcome. But it shows, more than ever, we need a Government that wants to be our partner.''


Dalziel accepted the offer to co-host a community forum with Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee late last year because she knew "the sight of the two of us standing side-by-side would be the powerful statement of unity that people were desperately wanting from their leaders".

People do not want disunity but they also do not want spin, Dalziel said.

"Four months into this role, I don't yet feel that we have forged the partnership with central Government that we need to achieve to make real progress.

"This is no-one's fault. It is the tragic legacy of the past three-and-a-half years. But time's up. We constantly hear the expression about the need to move on - well it's time for us, your political leaders, to move on too.

"We need that partnership and we need it now.''


I have decided that if all the political parties can start the year with a State of the Nation address, then I should begin the year with a State of the City address.

I would like to thank John Paterson for allowing me to deliver this address here.

I have attended a number of meetings at the Parklands Baptist Church since the time I first ran as a candidate in Christchurch East in 1999. My experience of representing this electorate over the past three years has prepared me well for the role I now hold.  I first met John when I was Minister for Senior Citizens - he taught me everything I needed to know for that role. So it is fitting that I make my address here.

So why have I decided to make a State of the City address?

It is not just about this being an election year, although I think it's important that as Mayor I establish some rules of engagement.  There are layers of distress in a post-trauma environment that must be taken into account. 

I want all political parties to come to Christchurch and talk to us about what we want to achieve as a city before they tell us what they are going to do.  I don't want them to focus on each other either, because that would mean that the interests of the city would be sidelined.

We need each party to demonstrate that they understand the challenges we face and the nature of the decisions we need them to make.  Advancing the interests of this city is not something we can do on our own, but nor is it something that a government can do for us.  A collaborative partnership is how I see it. That will require give and take.

Our council was elected with a mandate for transparency and accountability and we want the same commitment from our central government leaders.

It was the lack of transparency and accountability that meant the council was not trusted by communities and strategic partners alike.

Restoring that trust is a top priority.  But to what end?  What do we want to achieve?  Here are the priorities that we have set for what will be a challenging year.

That's a strong agenda and will require determination to make it happen. 

The challenge is that we still don't have a complete picture of the financial situation we face as a city.  Like many of you we are still some time away from settling our EQC and insurance issues. This creates a gap in our budget. Unfortunately we don't know how big that gap is; nor did the previous council when they entered into a binding cost-sharing agreement with the government.   That is irresponsible.

They committed to projects that we cannot afford. They created expectations of levels of service that we cannot deliver.

We have inherited this situation but we are taking responsibility. 

We have a company going through the books with a fine-tooth comb. We have another company about to get to work on getting the best returns out of our city holdings.

We have established a steering group to drive our insurance settlement from a governance perspective. 

We are establishing a stand-alone risk and audit committee rather than as a sub-committee of the finance committee.

We are going through the big ticket items agreed by the previous council and double-checking the decisions.  We are trying to influence what's happening in the central city.  The cost-sharing agreement may allocate lead responsibility to CERA for most of the projects, but it is the people of Christchurch who will inherit the ongoing cost associated with the debt to pay for them and the as yet unbudgeted operational expenditure.

I doubt that the government ever intended such an outcome. 

But it shows why now more than ever, we need a government that wants to be our partner.

When I accepted the offer to co-host a community forum with the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, I did so because I knew that the sight of the two of us standing side-by-side would be the powerful statement of unity that people were desperately wanting from their leaders.  The strength of the applause that has accompanied this statement proves that I was right.

People don't want disunity but at the same time they don't want spin.  They want to hear it how it is and they want to know that we are devoting our energy on what matters.

Four months into the role, I don't yet feel that we have forged the partnership with central government that we need to achieve to make real progress.

This is no-one's fault.  It is the tragic legacy of the past three and a half years.  But time's up.  We constantly hear the expression about the need to move on - well it's time for us, your political leaders, to move on too.  We need that partnership and we need it now.

We are making progress.  We have an agreement that we will join up our communications so instead of communications from CERA, EQC and the council, we all work to together to present a single trusted communication.  It is early days, but we are making progress.

Originally CERA was established as a nimble coordinating body but they are undertaking roles the statute didn't contemplate - 50 staff have ballooned to over 300.

Here is a reminder about what the purposes of the legislation are:

It is time that we review how this is working in practice.  I would be interested in how you feel you have been enabled to participate in the planning of the recovery of your community. What is your perspective of a focused, timely and expedited recovery? 

Many people are surprised that CERA has been directed to undertake roles that belong to the city.  This potentially weakens the strength of our council and creates confusion for the public.

And it would appear that someone has forgotten that the way to restore the well-being of the affected communities is by engaging them fully in the recovery.

I attended a flooding meeting in October year and the last question of the night framed a sense of despair into a simple question.

The question related to all the different players involved in determining the myriad of issues that affect those in flood zones, who are told they have to repair their house even though they cannot mitigate an increased flood risk with higher finished floor levels.  She ended her list of the players - EQC, insurers, the council, MBIE, CERA - with this simple question: Who is on my side?

More than three years from the first earthquake, this single question represents a failure that is hidden in the completion statistics and, to our new Council it is a collective call to action.

As I said people don't want spin.  They don't want to be told that this is unprecedented or that the issues are complex. They know that.  And they don't want to know what has been done for others. They want to be told where, when, how and why it will be done for them.

And that's what our council wants too - a timeline with clear milestones for everyone, so we can celebrate progress along the way.

We want a city-wide plan to give us a holistic view that doesn't exclude the central city and the residential red-zone. We can't have our city divided with artificial boundaries and we can't continue to work in silos.  If we are to deliver on our housing and public transport goals then we need to break down all the barriers - like we did after the earthquakes.

I have been thinking about what I am going to say on Saturday, our third anniversary of that tragic day. I am aware that there are people who cannot 'move on' for a variety of reasons - for some it is unanswered questions, for others it is the lack of resolution of their claim, for others it is the disruption to their lives and the loss of a sense of power or control over their lives. 

As a council we need to commit to finding the answers to those questions, resolving the outstanding issues and committing to learning the lessons of what has occurred.

As a city it is my view we must unite as we did after the earthquakes.  East and west, north and south, young and old - together we can do this.

Everything I have read about recovery tells me we need legacies for communities affected by disaster to leave future generations so that it isn't just the tragedy of these earthquakes that defines this moment in our history. 

I found a report prepared in the wake of the Queensland floods, which encapsulated this in its title - it's called A Silver Lining: Community Development, Crisis and Belonging. 

It talks about the need for strategies to build on the community spirit that was demonstrated during their flood crisis; strategies to help restore and strengthen the social fabric and create an even stronger foundation for future challenges and crises; community building ideas to help people with residual trauma, fears for the future and grief for what has been lost; and strategies to strengthen the community's ongoing capacity to show leadership, plan and engage with government, business and other stakeholders about solutions to problems created by the floods.

We too in Christchurch can find our silver lining.

I see it around me every day in my new role.  I see imagination, creativity and innovation at work.  I see the wisdom of age combining with the energy of youth everywhere I look.  There is life in vacant spaces as we now know.

That is why I am so optimistic for what we will achieve now and what tomorrow will bring.

Former Christchurch Mayor Sir Bob Parker:

I do not believe the previous Council behaved irresponsibly in hammering out a cost sharing agreement with Central Government. Nor were we responsible for leaving a "tragic legacy". Indeed the reverse was true. We needed our community to understand what costs may lay ahead of us all, and by being able to consult with the community through both the 2012 - 2013 and 2013-2014 annual plans, as well as the Three year 2013 - 2016 financial plan, we did exactly that. It also meant that we recognised we had a new act of Parliament (CERA) with which we needed to comply.

Of course there were and are unknowns in the future, especially around the final insurance settlements, and the final costings for elements of the major facilities. These costings, developed with CERA and treasury, had significant and generous amounts of contingency funding built-in. However, the longer the delays on commencing these elements of the rebuild then the greater the uncertainty of final costings. 

The real "tragic legacy" was the result of over 13,000 earthquakes that caused 185 deaths and thousands of injury casualties as well violent, heartbreaking and destructive damage to our City. These events were never foreseen, or predicted, to occur on the scale that actually took place. Especially the events of February 22nd and June 13th of 2011. It changed all of our lives, our communities and our needs. Our collective job is to put the City back together again, not marginalise others who with passion, and real dedication, worked for the best interests of Christchurch and Canterbury.

The current Mayor claims to have still "not got a complete picture of the financials" of the City. I suggest if she hasn't already that she reads the Christchurch City Council Pre-Election report prepared as required in legislation by the Councils Chief Executive - in this case Jane Parfitt the Acting Chief Executive - who is still in the same role and whom prepared and signed off the report. Similarly the Three Year Plan, as amended after the further consultation in 2013, is also available on the Council Website.

Recognition, however tiresome it may be to hear it again, does need to be given that we are still in unexplored territory - and there will be both unexpected savings, dividends and costs to be managed. That is why we have an annual budget process, recognising that different Councils will have different priorities and that social and financial conditions will be constantly changing.

Further on the issue of transparency and cost:  the review of Councils books, apparently at a cost of around $100,000, was gifted to an Auckland company without going through Councils own procurement procedures. The Mayor has more than doubled the size of the Mayor's office staff and yet this sizeable increase in costs - somewhere in the region of an additional $1,000,000. This of course is just a guess as the additional costs have not been consulted on with the community via the upcoming annual plan process. The decisions, apparently, have already been made and contracts granted by the Mayor.

The current Council had Mr Marryatt the previous CEO on the books full time until the end of November last year, yet they choose not to engage with him for a debrief on the Cost-Sharing agreement. This sensible suggestion to debrief the former CEO was made by at least one of the current councillors to the full Dalziel Council. The new Council could only have benefited from having had this discussion with him.  It seems to me that it is the current mayor and Council who turned their backs on knowledge that could have given great additional insight into the negotiations and assumptions underlying the agreement. A number of the currently elected Councillors and (now) community board members supported the original cost sharing agreement which was also signed off by the chair of the former finance committee Helen Broughton under delegation from the full Council.

The agreement with the Crown contains provisions that allow for the parties to renegotiate any clauses, both at the CEO and Governance level. The Minister of Earthquake recovery has recently reiterated that he is open to on-going discussions around these joint projects. If the parties cannot agree there is always recourse to mediation. Frankly it should never reach that point.

The previous Council, although under considerable pressure from some, left the City's assets unsold and put forward a programme of borrowing that we believed was responsible and manageable if challenging. This decision meant that we did not to have to rush into the disposal of any assets without a proper consultation with our community.

Because of that all options to manage our future finances remain open. Far from irresponsible, retaining Councils assets was sensibly enabling any future Council to have options available to them. 

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee:

The underlying theme of the Mayor's speech today is that a collaborative partnership between all parties involved in recovery - and in particular between the government and the council - is required to deliver a good recovery for the people of greater Christchurch.

I accept that, and as she acknowledges, work is underway to achieve that.

When she says "we need a government that wants to be our partner" I respond by saying I think we've shown considerable willingness to be that partner.

For example, we could have gazetted the Land Use Recovery Plan - which everyone must agree was an urgent piece of regulation, as it delivers more land sooner for residential development across greater Christchurch (which is the only way we'll see pressure come out of the housing market) - last October, but we waited till the new council was elected.

We then engaged with them over a three week period in a manner which saw significant change made to the plan - change every councillor but one said they were comfortable with.

Just last week I had constructive and lengthy discussions with senior councillors, council management and the board of the Treasury, and we undertook to engage further with them when the state of the council's books becomes clear.

Only at that point will we know exactly what sorts of conversations we need to have about the CBD blueprint and cost sharing agreement, but I maintain this is a sign of a government committed to partnership with the council.

I make no apologies for having overseen a recovery with a structure that allows for clear and concise decision making.

My own academic reading following the September 2010 earthquake told me the enemy of natural disaster recovery is indecision.

As a government we strive to ensure decisions are made in the best interests of those living through what the quakes have delivered, but we also decided very early on that the scale of these events meant the worst thing we could do was dither.

People needed certainty, and I believe the many positive things that have happened and are happening in Canterbury say our approach was correct.

Every international expert in disaster recovery I've met positively acknowledges the pace of our recovery.

They see it as a good thing, in contrast to post disaster scenarios they've seen all too often where economies collapse because people with plenty of good intentions fail to implement structures capable of making decisions and being accountable for them.

We will continue to discuss the things raised in the Mayor's speech, and we'll work with her and her councillors to ensure we take people with us as the recovery continues.

But in some respects though I find her speech concerning.

Just three weeks ago (on February 4) the Mayor publicly called on all political parties to leave politics out of the recovery.

Since then numerous public statements have suggested she's intent on putting politics back into the recovery.

In today's speech she's indicated the council intends to entertain some sort of bidding process with a view to endorsing whichever political party comes to Christchurch offering a suite of policies which align with her views.

That is not partnership.

It is disappointing.

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