Editorial: Funding deal a major milestone

Last updated 05:00 29/06/2013

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OPINION: The bonhomie at the announcement that the Christchurch City Council and the Government had agreed on how to pay for Christchurch's core rebuild projects was understandable.

The deal has been long in coming and fractious in negotiation, but fundamental to the future of the city. Its architects should be pleased.

As Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said at the announcement, the process was begun and has now concluded - no more comment is needed. Indeed, the task now is to implement the pact.

But it is also necessary to celebrate the deal and draw confidence from it - confidence necessary as citizens seek to throw off the quake weariness produced by disrupted lives, outstanding insurance claims, unrepaired houses, potholed roads and a city centre that cannot function.

Without a mood pick-me-up, the long haul to the restoration of Christchurch and its citizens will be harder, and the anchor project deal is the sort of needed boost.

It asserts a hugely important thing - that the central business district will be rebuilt. The blueprint presented an attractive prospect of a downtown that worked, sustained commerce and attracted people. The funding deal guarantees that the vision will become reality.

The detail of what the guarantee will produce is fudgy, with the design of core buildings still to take shape and, in the case of the stadium, completion distant and doubtful.

Brownlee wants it in service by 2017, but Mayor Bob Parker is less committed to that. Even more uncertain is that the stadium will be built as now envisaged - covered, downtown and seating 35,000 spectators.

Christchurch citizens have hardly started dialogue about those details. Before they are settled, mayors, governments and attitudes might change.

Certainly, over the months, people will become more focused about what Christchurch needs and can pay for in terms of venues for big sport.

The city will have less time to refine its thinking on how it raises other rebuild funds, as it must. The agreed model specifies the way the costs will be divided between the Government and the council, with the latter confident it can meet its responsibilities. But even if its accounts do not unravel, the council will find its budget constrained for the next 30 years as it services its borrowings. Rates will remain high. The inevitable ups and downs of the economy cannot be accounted for. The insurance payout is uncertain. In dealing with all that, the Government has been restrained on council assets, which perhaps reflects the strong opinion among citizens that they be retained, but the council needs to address the issue. It just has, with disappointing results.

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Councillors' decision yesterday not to consult citizens about removing Red Bus and City Care from the list of core assets and thus make them more disposable is imprudent. With an election upon us, now is the time for the issue to be debated and, more important, the details of asset ownership and the council's accounts need to be laid bare.

In 2012, for instance, Red Bus returned an after-tax profit of $100,000, making it anything but a cash cow. Common sense and sound economics suggest it should be sold and money from the sale used to ease the council's accounts. As well, the council's investment of $40 million in a bus exchange will be rethought, perhaps resulting in a public-private partnership.

However, debate about assets and the council's finances should not hide the reality that Christchurch has just signed up to a deal that gives it confidence to build a bright future.

- The Press

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