School of hard knocks always open

Last updated 05:00 02/01/2014

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OPINION: As 2014 begins, Press senior writer MARTIN VAN BEYNEN lists what he thinks were the 12 main lessons of 2013. 

1. It always costs more than you think.

The true cost of the Christchurch rebuild continues to grow. In less than six months, the forecast cost of the rebuild jumped from $30 billion to $40b. The Crown's liability increased from $13b to $15b. Budgets for rebuild projects keep being revised and increased. The cost of repairing the Town Hall as a monument to Sir Miles Warren is put at about $127 million but it is a good bet it will be more. The Christchurch City Council's assumption it will fund the rebuild with $1b of insurance payouts looked decidedly shaky last year. So far only $300m has been received. Cost over-runs can also be expected on the Metro Sports, Bus Interchange and the Convention Centre projects.

2. Just when you think it could not get any worse, it gets worse.

The Earthquake Commission again covered itself in ignominy last year with countless stories of delays, lack of communication, failure to keep promises, empty apologies and using experts such as engineer Graeme Robinson despite many complaints about his work.

Then came one of the snafus of 2013 with a release of an email and attachment containing information on about 83,000 homes - including the cost of repair - to the most effective firebrand critic of the commission, local businessman Bryan Staples. But EQC couldn't even get the mea culpa right.

It initially said the inadvertent release disclosed the details of only 9700 homes. Later in the year the commission lauded a survey saying 82 per cent of homeowners were satisfied with their home repairs.

It turned out it had not surveyed anyone who had lodged a complaint or had a problem with their claim.

The commission got another thumping with a report saying it had mishandled information requests.

3. Better to go before you are pushed.

Former mayor Bob Parker wisely bowed out of the mayoral race rather than face an absolute rout in the local body election, as the polls were forecasting. He thereby retained some of his shattered reputation to be in a position to receive further blessings and baubles from the Government.

And this week he was knighted.

Council chief executive Tony Marryatt rejected the Parker approach and refused to resign when the crucial council consents department was revealed to be dysfunctional and mismanaged just when it was needed most.

This came on top of mounting disclosures that council staff woefully underinsured many assets, even missing one (composting plant) entirely. That failure cost the council $11m for earthquake repairs which should have been covered by insurance.

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4. People value buildings but not all people value buildings the same.

The Anglicans refused to bow to those who cared enough about the Christ Church Cathedral to take the church to court and is continuing with plans to demolish the important gothic structure and replace it with a new building.

Only one court case stands between the old cathedral and the total destruction the earthquakes could not manage. The council, on the other hand, decided the edifice known as the Christchurch Town Hall was worthy of preservation and committed $127m to repairing and improving the complex. Although not a building, the Hagley Cricket Oval will go ahead against protests the new facility will destroy the integrity of the city's number one green space.

5. There is always someone worse off.

The Press ended last year with a powerful series on poverty and the straits people at the bottom find themselves in. Christchurch people showed tremendous generosity to help out some highlighted cases but clearly poverty, sometimes self-inflicted, and its myriad causes and issues, needs some new ideas.

But there is nothing new in the hardships poverty causes families, often the most vulnerable.

Affordable rents remain the big issue for families on Struggle Street and with demand for accommodation in Christchurch through the roof, the crisis at the bottom of the market has deepened. A decent roof over everyone's head will be one of the top priorities this year.

6. Christchurch continues to be the unusual murder capital of the country.

Although the city can look back on a quiet 2013 for murders, some high-profile trials hardened Christchurch's reputation for bizarre murders. The tragic case of Hayden Miles came to court revealing gruesome details of how Gavin John Gosnell beat the boy to death before cutting up his body and burying it in two cemetery graves. Gosnell was jailed for 18 years. In the last weeks of 2013, the city heard about the poisonous Black Widow, Helen Milner, who was found guilty of secretly giving her husband Philip Nisbet the drug Phenergan so she could claim on his life insurance policy. Milner almost got away scot-free after a slack initial police investigation missed obvious clues pointing to her guilt.

7. Crime does not pay although it takes a while for the law to catch up.

About six years ago flashy Kenneth James Anderson, the owner of Lane Walker Rudkin Industries, started fabricating documents to secure bank loans from Westpac for his failing business. After an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office , which did not start until 2009, Anderson pleaded guilty last year to four representative charges and was jailed for six years. Christchurch police constable Gordy Meyer joined the Hall of Police Infamy when he was convicted of charges alleging he invited sexual favours in exchange for looking the other way. He spent two years on full pay before pleading guilty and being sentenced to home detention.

8. Change is usually painful but not always.

The closure of the Independent Fisheries fish processing factory in Woolston, with the loss of 200 jobs, was a rude shock for its workers, many of whom were loyal and long serving. The decision to close the Phillipstown school and merge it with the Woolston School on the Woolston site was gut-wrenching for the Phillipstown community which challenged the decision in court. The court ruled error-prone Education Minister Hekia Parata had made a mistake in her deliberations. The school survived to fight another day. The closures were balanced by some important openings, including the barriers coming down in the central city red zone, and many well-known pubs and bars reopening. The tram also resumed service.

9. Sport is not important, it is everything.

The top sporting win of 2013 may well have been the trotter Terror to Love winning the NZ Cup for the third year in a row with local driver Ricky May at the reins.

The Crusaders nearly got there too, with a place in the finals of the Super Rugby, but were again pipped by the Chiefs who made it two in a row. All Black No 8 Kieran Read did his home province of Canterbury proud by being named the International Rugby Board's Player of the Year and stalwart star Dan Carter played his 100th test for the All Blacks. Crusaders and Canterbury halfback Andy Ellis was national provincial championship player of the year despite not being wanted by the All Blacks.

10. Sometimes early promise is actually fulfilled.

Eleanor Catton, winner of the Man Booker Prize with The Luminaries, about a murder during the gold rush on the West Coast, was a brilliant student at Burnside High. Her teachers said she was mature beyond her years and described her as "zany, creative and original". "She was a very natural kind of kid with a delicious sense of humour." Catton now lives in Auckland but for us she will always be a Cantabrian. Greymouth prodigy Jackie Thomas won X-Factor but given the patchy careers for past winners of TV talent quests, Thomas has some work to do yet. It is not known what her teachers thought of her but her TV mentor sang her praises.

11. If you are going to make a prat of yourself, don't do it in public.

We all make mistakes especially with a few on board. But churlish list Member of Parliament Aaron Gilmore committed the cardinal sin of getting drunk and then insulting a waiter in Hanmer Springs and allegedly mentioning his connection to the prime minister to threaten the waiter's job security. Gilmore exacerbated the mistake by not fronting up when the first opportunity arose. It was Gilmore who lost his job.

12. People do the strangest things despite their position. Get help.

Douglas Haora Martin seemed to be everything a high school could want in senior teacher - responsible, trustworthy and respected by staff and pupils alike.

But behind the impeccable career and glowing references was a dirty secret. Martin made secret up-skirt videos on 17 unsuspecting victims in and around Christchurch.

He was sentenced to 10 months of home detention.

- The Press


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