Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Something smells in the Christchurch Civic Centre

Now that Christchurch mayors and councillors have been granted overnight almost imperial powers to reconstruct what they see as their fiefdoms, it might be time to begin asking whether they and their appointed team are up to it. Clearly, expecting mayors and councillors to reconstruct anything themselves is quite simply ludicrous.  But even to expect them to manage and “regulate” professionally is almost as laughable.

Their experience with sewage is instructive. While spending hundreds of millions on projects inflating their own importance, their plan for the city’s sewage involved nothing more than doubling the number times and locations at which it dumped the city’s sewage into he Avon and Heathcote rivers.  Lovely.

The experience of the recently built Christchurch Civic Centre is even more instructive. In a $120-million fit of grandomania back before the 2007 local elections, the Christchurch City Council commissioned the reconstruction of the former Chief Post Office as its new home—with the man now appointed "architectural ambassador" for the reconstruction, Ian Athfield, as the designer, and Ngai Tahu, the city’s landlord, as the owner.

As Christchurch businessman Hugh Pavletich writes, the Resource Consents for the work were rushed through without the public consultation council require of anyone else;  the new building was not built to “essential building” status as it was required to by the very Building Code the council administers (a status used for buildings like hospitals requiring such structures to be useable after a quake); and, once it was finished, the rents agreed to by council for leasing the building their ratepayers had paid to rebuild were nearly fifty perfect more than are paid fro arguably superior space (council pay $435 per sqm for the privilege of occupying the space they’ve rebuilt; while IRD pay $330 pr sqm for arguably superior space).

So, not so professional then.

Then come last week after the earthquake, this $120million palace-- which the Building Code the council themselves administer requires be designed to still be functional after a quake—wasn’t functional at all.  The IRD building was.  Much  of the city was.  But the council’s new Civic Center was out of order and facing a repair bill of at least $5 million, forcing the council’s clipboard carriers to relocate to “a suburban service centre” to announce their “new policy” on old buildings “ that may have the unintended consequence of making buildings too expensive to repair.”

The irony obviously escaped these experts. Because it looks very much like their own building wasn’t built to the standard the council themselves are supposed to ensure. Scuttlebutt has it that the money and energy was spent instead on making this a "Green Building" with a 6 star rating. Something to trumpet in the next glossy mail-out to ratepayers, and to use to get invites to expensive functions overseas. It achieved only a 4.5, however, but it’s not unreasonable to assume this focus (and the costs involved) likely compromised the functional and structural performance requirements.

Remember, these are the people granted the “power of general competence” by the Local Government Act, the people who last night were given imperial powers over Canterbury, so it’s worth examining this particular failure further, and how it hindered what council were supposed to be doing last week. Says Pavletich, reporting on the aftermath

_Quote Mayor Bob Parker and the Council have not conveyed to the public the significance of the damage [to their Civic Centre] – and, most importantly, how this building failure seriously impaired the 1,200 Council administration staffs ability to function following the earthquake of 4 September.
    While Parker was creating the impression in the media that essential services were responding, in reality, because of the new Civic Building failure, the Council’s administrative capacity had collapsed…
    The Council staff were unable to enter the building to mobilize the needed response. This necessitated the setting up of a small "Recovery Team" in the nearby glass Art Gallery [designed by Warren & Mahoney. Many of the 1.200 staff were sent home for at least a week...

So much, perhaps, for the idea that people need council flunkies “directing” them in times of disaster.  Because they weren’t.

_QuoteDue to these major problems with the new Civic Offices, the infrastructure staff on the ground were extremely slow to respond. Many of these people were not adequately operational until the Monday. Even then, because the administrative staff could not access their computers, files and maps, staff on the ground were left standing around, as they tried to ascertain where other services were, prior to digging.
    City Care, the Councils infrastructure maintenance arm, had about half its equipment still idled in its Milton Street yard on the Tuesday. In contrast, the performance of the Fulton Hogan people and those from the power network Orion in particular was outstanding.
    There was much spontaneous community and commercial response to this event.
     Young Sam Johnson, the law student at Canterbury University deserves special mention for his outstanding initiative, in rallying well more than 1,000 University students to get out there and assist people in the community.
In contrast, it would appear the Council did not even have a Zonal Earthquake Management Plan in place, to mobilize a response at the community level.
    The Council did not send building inspectors out to the pockets in the liquefacted residential areas within the North East quadrant of the city until the Thursday following the event.
    The priorities from the outset should have been (a) human life (b) housing (c) commercial. Mayor Parker failed to understand this - with his focus on the CBD and heritage. It was surreal - indeed odd.

Odd unless you realise this is election season. And that a mayoral candidate looks much better filmed against inner-city rubble than outer-suburb liquefaction.

This is what people are saying in Christchurch about the people just granted sweeping powers--power to have Nero Gerry Brownlee suspend laws on their behalf so they can order other people to do things they want done, while prohibiting folk from doing what they don’t want them doing.  It’s almost laughable.

1 comment:

  1. And folks wonder why I call the the Village of the Damned!


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