'Doughnut' represents Cera's failings

PHILIP BURDON
Last updated 09:48 18/02/2014
Gerry Brownlee and Bob Parker
John Kirk-Anderson/Fairfax NZ
PROVOCATIVE: Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, left, and former Christchurch mayor Bob Parker had an at-times rocky relationship.

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OPINION: Perspective this week features a series of reflections in the lead-up to the third anniversary of the February 22 earthquake. Today, Christchurch businessman and former cabinet minister PHILIP BURDON takes stock of how the recovery is being managed.

The third anniversary of the February 2011 earthquake is an appropriate time for a considered stocktake of how the city and the community have managed the post-quake recovery.

Clearly the earthquake was an exceptional event and the judgments made must acknowledge and respect this reality.

The respective contributions of local government and central government, while overlapping, have had distinctive and very different responsibilities and deserve separate and independent evaluation.

It is now clear that the Waimakariri and Selwyn District Councils have won the respect and confidence of their communities. Both have implemented innovative strategic plans that anticipate the rapid growth of population far beyond historically anticipated levels.

The response of the Christchurch City Council on the other hand has been fully and comprehensively chronicled. Its dysfunctional failure was amply evidenced by former mayor Sir Bob Parker very wisely deciding not to stand and the clean-out of the former council in the elections.

While it is too early to give a considered judgment of the "new order" it is fair to say that the city is excited by the election of what is perceived as a dynamic new mayor, Lianne Dalziel, and council.

There is an expectation of transparency and inclusive consultation, in sharp contrast to the cronyism and at times rather bizarre absurdities that had become part of Sir Bob's mantra.

Certainly the desire of the current mayor to work constructively with central government regardless of Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's provocations is welcome.

The role of central government has by virtue of legislative dictate totally subordinated the role of local government.

Having said that, the Cera (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) structure has been agreed by all as conceptually appropriate and correct and the expectations of decisive leadership were high.

Three years later it is universally seen as having failed to deliver and it is necessary to reflect on why.

Its primary mandate was to streamline bureaucracy and accelerate decision-making.

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Three years later it has become the antithesis of exactly that. Its most conspicuous failure has been its well-intended ambition to kick-start and accelerate the revival of the CBD.

Sadly we now have what is colloquially referred to as the doughnut effect, resulting in a distracted and unco-ordinated development taking place around the CBD and a conspicuous absence of any development in the heart of the city.

The blue-chip tenants that were to have been the cornerstone tenants of the revitalised CBD have, out of sheer frustration in many cases, taken long-term leases on the periphery of the CBD.

Cera, with its powers of coercion, has to be held to account for this failure. Similarly the endless niggles about delays and uncertainty on the future of the red zone and related land issues continue to frustrate and anger the community.

Meanwhile, Cera endlessly expands its numbers while increasingly emerging as a Wellington-based bureaucracy, negative and unimaginative as it mindlessly follows the rules.

In the absence of proactive imaginative leadership by central government and the responsible ministers, the city is heading for a very ordinary solution as opposed to the opportunity for the imaginative and exciting solution that we had all been hoping for.

Outstanding issues that require immediate leadership are the impasse over the retail sector, the failure to break ground on the convention centre and the indecision over the sports stadium, along with increasingly chaotic transport congestion.

All of these concerns should rightly become matters of considered debate in the forthcoming general election.

It is of course very easy to criticise and, having said that, the challenge specifically for the National Party and the Labour Party, but also the minor parties, is to present to the electorate a comprehensive strategy to deal with the implementation failure of Cera and the apparent policy stagnation of central government.

The National Party, for its part, must move beyond an endless succession of photo opportunities for the prime minister to specific policy initiatives to rectify the stagnation and frustration of the wider community, while Labour has got to provide constructive solutions to the real concerns of an increasingly irritated and impatient community.

Given the apparent probability of a coalition government, the Christchurch electorate is similarly entitled to clear-cut policy statements from the minor parties, specifically the Greens and New Zealand First, who could decide the look of the next government.

Tomorrow: David Killick calls the lack of action in building a proper earthquake memorial "disgraceful".

- The Press

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