Ratepayers to fund big-ticket items

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 11:51 01/08/2012
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Christchurch City councillor Claudia Reid has slammed a lack of communication from the Government over how the council and ratepayers ight pay for anchor projects in the central-city recovery blueprint.

The Government has made it clear it will not pick up the tab for Christchurch's new civic facilities such as the new metro pool and stadium, leaving ratepayers to find the money.

Reid said today that many things were still unclear, and she criticised Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's approach.

''It is disappointing to have to pick up on the cryptic crumbs from the minister's business breakfast yesterday about how the council might fund the big-ticket items unveiled in the central-city recovery plan,'' she said.

''It's unclear just how much the scope and cost of these civic assets differs from those the council and its ratepayers have agreed they can afford, let alone whether their design, form, function, operation, perhaps even ownership, will ultimately be decided by the council on behalf of its ratepayers or others.

''What we do know is that we can't go on levying higher and higher rates, and yet again we're hearing talk of asset sales.'' 

To be a ''genuine success'', the new Christchurch had to be relevant to everyone.

''It is imperative that what follows now involves the Christchurch City Council and the Government in a true partnership,'' she said.

Council to lead construction of stadium, pool and convention centre

While the Government is happy to take the lead on some projects, such as the new emergency services and justice precinct, it expects the council to drive the construction of facilities like the new sports stadium, convention centre and metro sports facility.

Council corporate services manager Paul Anderson said discussions over the past few weeks with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) had led the council to pledge up to $155 million on top of what was already decided on.

That would bring its total commitment to $787m. The $155m, however, still needed to be signed off by councillors.

Prime Minister John Key has said the funding for the civic assets would need to be worked out between the council and the private sector.

The extra financial burden comes after the council had to lift rates this year by 7.8 per cent to help pay for the cost of rebuilding quake-damaged infrastructure.

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It now faces having to find money for a bigger convention centre (up from a planned 21,000 square metres to 24,000sqm) and a bigger sports stadium (up from 30,000 to 35,000 seats) than it wanted, a new library (it was planning on rebuilding the old one) and a new metro sports facility.

Brownlee said yesterday the council would have to find a lot of funds, but it had options to deal with that.

At a breakfast for more than 200 businesspeople yesterday, Brownlee stopped short of directly calling on the council to sell or partly sell off some of its assets, but he alluded to it by congratulating the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce for putting options on the table that he thought the council should consider.

The business group has been encouraging the council to consider the sale or partial selldown of its assets.

Cr Helen Broughton, chairwoman of the council's corporate and financial committee, said the council had $787m it was prepared to commit to the central city rebuild, but it might need to find more.

"I don't think councillors will want to go higher than that," she said.

"There's a lot more negotiation to be done on some of the projects."

Cr Tim Carter said the full implications of the blueprint had yet to be discussed by the council so he could not speculate on the extent of its financial burden, but the council might need to discuss with the community the option of asset sales.

"In principle I'm against asset sales, but we are going to have to sit down and look at our obligations and discuss it with the community and see what they want us to do," he said.

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage said she had asked under the Official Information Act for the Treasury report detailing the Government's discussions with the council about funding for the central-city rebuild, but what she got back was a document with nearly every word, bar the title, blacked out.

"We need to ensure that we can afford what is proposed without putting pressure on the city council to sell our well-performing assets," she said.

Christchurch International Airport, Orion and Lyttelton Port of Christchurch were strategic and regionally important assets. The dividends and revenue stream they provided helped the council to keep Christchurch rates low, she said.

- The Press

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