Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The business of Christchurch was business [update 2]

The Christchurch we knew has gone. It is no more. It disappeared and went away seven days ago, and it won’t be coming back.

What will re-emerge in Christchurch we still don’t know, but it will be unlikely to look or be like the city that disappeared last week.

And it will be weeks, nay months, before Christchurch is back in business.

Even longer, if Christchurch's businessmen themselves are kept from recovering by the agencies of government goodness who now rule the city.

Earthquake & Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is a minister out of his depth. A minister with actual dictatorial powers, who’s not afraid to use them to scare the very people the city needs if it is ever to rebuild: the very businessmen who built it.

Yesterday property owners learned through the media that Minister Brownlee and Mayor Parker intend to demolish the property owners’ buildings.

_Quote ''What we've got in the CBD is 500-plus buildings that will need to be demolished,'' declared Brownlee… 

Christchurch property owners are beginning to ask why they have to learn about this in the media. Why they are not being talked to. Why they are not even being given the courtesy of consultation about the fate of their own bloody buildings.

They’re not even allowed to visit their own property to have their own engineers make their own assessment before it is done (eventually) for them.  Police, soldiers and tanks guard the cordon, and arrest and public opprobrium confront anyone bold enough to breach it.

This is a situation that might, says Mayor Parker, last for months. Months! And in that time …

Business owners are not even allowed to visit to extract the important tools of their business. No, says Minister Brownlee, holding up a fat hand. Just sit tight and do as you’re told.

_QuoteMr Brownlee acknowledged that it would be ''a huge challenge to a lot of businesses'' because they had not only hardware but also software they wanted to retrieve.

But the answer is still no. No, no, no.

Sure, businesses with political pull have been allowed to creep into the central city accompanied by police  to extract hardware and software. Inland Revenue officers for example, extracting records with which to do businessmen over; and lawyers in offices right next to the destroyed Pyne Gould building. They’ve managed to pull a favour.

And police have found time to take “dignitaries” and journalists on tours through the central city, and even into some threatened buildings to take photographs.  

But business owners with businesses in the central city are not only not allowed anywhere near their businesses at all—the soldiers and tanks and the Brownlee Diktat will see to that—but if they were found emerging from the cordon with an armful of their own stuff  they’d probably be arrested for looting and placed in the public stocks.

Christchurch businessmen and property owners are the very people who will rebuild this city—if they chose to. If they choose to stay and re-invest. Yet they haven't even had the basic courtesy of a phone call from the junta now running Christchurch to discuss what the junta plans to do with their property.

And their supposed ally, Christchurch Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, instead of fighting their corner is in abject forelock tugging mode, echoing the views of his political masters in telling businessmen (i.e., his members) that

_Quotepeople wanted to get into their businesses to get out things such as intellectual property and systems so they could continue business…

… but that is basically their tough luck. There was ''no prospect'' of that, he reiterated.  (Time for businessmen who know how to read a message to move elsewhere and start again, I guess). Yet just four days ago Townsend was telling the media:

_Quote“One of my biggest fears at the moment is flight. Not just of businesses but people too.”

See how much difference four days and a few lunches with Gerry Brownlee make.

Meanwhile, Brownlee’s junta has had a vision. The fat man has been telling journalists

_Quote“He hoped to have a certain idea of what shape the central city would take within
12 months.”

12 months!

12 months while businessmen and property owners could put their own property and their impatient energy to work rebuilding their property with their vision—creating an organically revivified city in the image of those who actually own it.

12 months while businessmen will have to wake up every morning and read this pap while being barred by bureaucrats from getting on and doing what they do best—making the most of their existing resources and putting them to productive use—while listening to “visions” from others about what they would like to do with their property.

To wake to up and discover that a fat fool plans to give their buildings the chop (or not) without even the courtesy of a phone call. “Let them read it in the media” implies the fat fuck.

To be given no chance at all to check or collect stock, or important papers—even out of the rubble once their building is bowled.

To be told that “radical solutions for the city’s business heart have already emerged” involving their buildings, their sites and their property, without even being consulted as to what is being planned for their own property, or what solutions they themselves have.

To be told by failed and former mayors that they would like to see the city’s buildings rebuilt in timber—without any thought by these pontificating jackasses whose building’s these are.

They have to listen to all this, and then be told that in order to recover everyone in Christchurch must “pull together.”

No wonder so many are so angry.

They must listen to this while hearing well-meaning fluff from Parker and oafish pronouncements from Brownlee and others that simply ignore them and puff the protagonists.

Christchurch should properly be a dynamic competitor to Auckland. It won't be and will never
be as long as Christchurch bureaucracy stands in the way of Christchurch businessmen doing what they do best.

Already thousands of Cantabrians have left the city—maybe a quarter of its population—many of them perhaps never to return. People are saying, "I don't want to live here any more," upping whatever sticks they have that remain unbroken, and they're heading to the airport or taking to the roads, taking with them their savings, their insurance payouts and their lifetimes of future enterprise and production with them.

They’ve seen the pathetic “reconstruction” since September’s much smaller quake—no repair work, just the unleashing of clipboards on the city and suburbs and a chorus of grey ones shouting “No.” They know what’s coming this time, and they’re leaving.

The volunteer efforts of those who remain are inspiring – the Student Volunteer Army, the Rangiora Earthquake Express, the Farmy Army, eq.org.nz, the many beds offered, tonnes of food and water transported, shovelfuls of work done. 

But even these voluntary efforts are being hamstrung by “the authorities.” 

Right in the first hours of the quake volunteers around the CBD were rescuing people from the rubble and pulling out strangers from ruined buildings. But within twenty-four hours the soldiers had cleared the central city to make way for “officials,” and thereafter only two souls were saved.

And even just a few hours ago, we heard that a volunteer food programme from Rangiora that has delivered more than 30,00kg of food by helicopter to folk whose roads are impassable is being shut down by the grey ones because the hot food preparation area doesn’t have a license.

What a shame the wrong people died in the quake.

These volunteer efforts in the face of a dying city are just a snapshot in microcosm of what might be unleashed in the name of recovery, if the central planners would just get out of the way.

But why would they?

Because what they have now is their authoritarian wet dream.

The tragedy of a city continues.

UPDATE 1: A few Christchurch shop owners have contacted me with their frustrations at being so cavalierly excluded from their own property, and even from consideration of what is being contemplated with it.

One owner, Deric Blackler of Portobello Antiques, tells of his frustration and heartbreak at the prospect his shop will be demolished without any opportunity to salvage any of the important items that remain intact inside.

UPDATE 2:  Things can move quickly when people start taking a poke. Gratifying to see this sort of news now coming out of Christchurch:

_QuoteOwners may soon return to cordoned off businesses
    Paul Lonsdale, manager of Christchurch's Central City Business Association, has talked with Civil Defence about reducing the cordon area [and the cordoned-off area of central Christchurch may be cut back within the next four days] …
    Lonsdale said initial access to newly opened areas would be strictly controlled, as businesses had been left unsecured last week, when the quake struck.
    Business owners would be allowed into the area first, in order to secure their buildings…
    John Walley, chief executive of the Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the Government's support package for Christchurch workers and businesses, announced on Monday night, would be a "bridge to nowhere" if Canterbury's economy was not swiftly resurrected….
    Key to the economic recovery would be allowing businesspeople to access their buildings located behind the cordons and retrieve vital equipment, such as computer hard-drives.
    Walley said a specific protocol around how businesspeople could gain access to those buildings was required.
    "Clearly that means some sort of queuing system, some sort of priority system and then some sort of accompanied supervision," Walley said.
    "Civil Defence told me yesterday [Monday] that some kind of protocol was under development."


  1. Thanks for a good article, although I believe that individuals (other than those that are being escorted within the cordon) are being kept out for their own safety. It is all well and good you intimating that they should all be allowed back in there to get their belongings, IP etc. until one of them decides to brave the rubble and clamber into a building through a crack that they have seen the rescuers use previously when searching for survivors and inadvertantly get stuck, or worse still dislodge something and end up killing themselves.

    It is one week on from the tragedy. Leave the experts to do their job - this is not the first disaster that USAR and many of the other specialists have been involved in, and they are well aware that the protection of life is their number one priority and by dismantling the cordon prematurely will cause undue problems and risks for individuals who were lucky enough not to be injured during the earthquake.

  2. This post demonstrates the class and style of the New Zealand objectivist libertarian movement. Especially the evidence-free implication that putting in professional SAR crews cost lives. And of course this little gem:

    "What a shame the wrong people died in the quake.'

    Tasteful. No wonder you're winning the battle for hearts and minds. Don't ever change.

    Jol Thang

  3. @Jol: Yes, Jol, let's all bow down instead and sing Hosannahs to the sort of craven Jobsworth whose most important activity at the moment is stopping food being delivered without the right license.

    I imagine he got back home at the end of his "working" day and thought of his job well done.

    What an arsehole.

  4. It's not an either or choice between worshipping fat Gerry and being a shrieking nutbar who wishes death on people he disagrees with and implies that using professional USAR teams instead of amateurs suffering from shock cost lives. Can't you see that? Obviously not.

    Jol Thang

  5. the drunken watchman1 Mar 2011, 18:20:00


    How about conducting a V.I.P. tour for Helen Clark ?

    is that an obvious either/ or?

    Why did she need to soak up effort when there were others who needed it.

    Do you shade this junket in grey also?

  6. PC,

    This is a very important post, the implications of which need to be understood by all.

    A state of emergency is in place meaning that business owners are not permitted to access or even see their property. Tragically, the government can do whatever they wish with properties without the owner’s consent, a position of strength I fear they do not wish to relinquish. As indicated by the government, they will only open up the CBD once all the red-stickered buildings (as they mark them) have been demolished and that the demolition will begin once the search and rescue teams are finished. This may be very soon. This cannot be allowed to happen without the consent of the business owner who, in many cases, requires electronic and book records in order to continue in business.

    There has been a terrible loss of life. But what is done is done. Ignoring the wishes, rights and needs of business owners compounds the tragedy even further. Hearing via the media that their properties will be demolished without consultation and without giving them the opportunity to salvage essential records is causing real despair and misery. This is an untold story.

    With no-one speaking out on their behalf, the demolition crews will soon move in, putting and end to any opportunity some businesses owners have to resurrect their lives.

    The CBD is a dangerous place. These are, indeed, extraordinary times and business owners are acutely aware of this. But trampling over their rights is not the sign of a civilised or humane society.


  7. it is an interesting observation.
    If it is good enough to allow the media to gawp inside the cordon, (especially given the macabre images that some were seeking, and despite being asked by rescuers to have some respect, refused to display any), are given more rights than the owners of the properties destroyed.
    Surely it wouldn't be so hard to access the rates rolls, find the owners, and then ring them to arrange a time where they can be escorted into the sites, and where safe, access the buildings. The property owners could in turn call the tenants to see if they want access during the designated times.
    At least the ever present control wouldn't have been lost by those who currently have it, and there would be some semblance of restoration of property rights for the owners/ lease holders.

  8. For their own good? IT'S THEIR OWN FUCKING RISK TO TAKE! I'll be going back to MY flat to secure MY workstation so I can continue to make a living and I'll be fucked if some fat cunt in a blue suit is going to dictate to me what I can do with my own belongings - Yeah, there is a risk, I'LL FUCKING TAKE IT, IT'S MY LIFE.

    This town is fucked, the last thing they need is top-down dictation of how the city will recover, cities are self organizing bottom-up systems, not fucking dictated from on high by the people who are talking away our liberties and choices and capitalizing on disaster for their own agenda.

    What the city needs is tax breaks, less red tape, less bureaucracy getting in our way - Give the economy a REAL kickstart by making investment a real opportunity, not a burden. You wan't to see the city recover? A good fucking start would be to let the people fix or demolish THEIR OWN BUILDINGS the way they wan't to do it, not the way demanded by government officials.

    My biggest fear here isn't the risk of entering buildings or the financial struggle ahead, it's the idea of the Government using this disaster as an excuse to grab more power.

    I'll be asking the crackpot and the buzzkil for a healthy dose of Karma for the people and de-douching for the government.

    @Anonymous - That is EXACTLY what they should be doing, getting the business owners in to secure their
    IP and other resources so they can continue to be productive.

  9. Well said Pete, this truly is an insult on top of an injury.


  10. Firstly, Peter, let me say that in most things I agree with you.


    In this instance you are wrong.

    I understand your argument which is spot on for reason and logic. And that is the problem. Perfect reason and perfect logic just don't cut it at this time. A line in the sand has to be drawn and Gerry Brownlee is setting the benchmark high. The tours of foreign media that export the current reality into millions of international homes is both inconsequential and necessary - inconsequential in that they don't change the situation - necessary in that we need to get word of whats happened out to give the opportunity for providing a clear vision of foreign investment.

    I'm a builder. Have been qualified for 17 years and have worked architectural residential, ordinary homes and commercial for one of the countries finest commercial companies. I've been in the CBD the immediate 3 nights after the quake stabilizing buildings so USAR can safely search. And I can tell you without a doubt, these buildings need to be razed.

    Without being too "oh, woe is me", I've found a couple of dead people amongst the clean up and no building is worth the price. Human liberties may be of the highest aspiration but human life is all-conquering.

    And the price isn't worth it.

    Whats needed is decisive leadership. And we're getting it. And, for the most part, people here think they're doing an ok job. So far.

    These buildings need to go. And the well being of a large province can't afford to be weakened by hurt feelings.

  11. I was saying to wife earlier today that I wonder if there will be a market for specialist teams to be comissioned by business owners to enter buildings and retrieve vital documents and records.
    I doubt this will be the case now

  12. I agree with XChequer. The old buildings that failed natures test need to go.

    If we are to rebuild it must be smarter. Businesses will do what businesses will do, led by owners and shareholders who make both rational and emotional choices on where to place their investment.

    But it must be guided - because business owners are not experts in what constitutes a safe building. Engineers are. But engineers will only do work they are required to do by government sanctioned codes because anything more costs. Businesses wont pay more than necessary. The 'necessary' is what government decides.

    Those old buildings should have been upgraded or replaced long ago. We have known they will perform poorly in an earthquake for more than 30 years - but it has taken last week to learn the lesson. Only government would insist on retrofit or it wont happen, simply business is always tight for cash for such things - its the nature of competition. So we must raise the bar for all.

    Government has a role to create the right environment for rebuild. It extends from commercial to residential developments and lifeline infrastructure as well.

    The "system" has been shown to have serious flaws by this event. We must learn from these mistakes.

  13. The points Peter makes are clear and correct.

    To recover from this tragedy, we need to harness the entire resources of society. In this case, the most resourceful of all have been slapped in the face. They will not forget this.

    To recover from a tragedy such as this, we need the knowledge and effort of an entire society. This has been rejected for the solitary and limited intelligence on one man; who knows as much about rebuilding cities as he does about rescuing miners.

    To suggest that business owners will be squeezing through cracks is absurd. Superficial and insulting.

    In the September quake, I believe greater harm was done to the value creation capacity of Christchurch by local and national govt than the quake itself. It appears the same mistakes are being made on a grander scale.

    This is not a trivial matter. The recovery of chch is at stake, and using dictatorial powers to forge such recovery will prove to be woefully inadequate. On the behavior we have seen thus far, it's going to be a slow and very expensive ten years.

  14. @xchecker

    Yes, they need to go. The owners in many cases were pleading for them to demolished a long time ago. Now, the same authorities who in their wisdom were insisting they be saved as people crushers of historic significance are falling over themselves to order their demolition with the owners assets/IP inside without consultation, oblivious to their value.

    They need to go, but they should be demolished under the auspicies, supervision of the owner.

  15. @ Anonymous

    Who were the the building owners pleading to? The council? Their insurers??

    Once again, and (this is not sarcasm) with the greatest respect, I'm not attacking anything - especially liberalism as I think to have a crack on Peter's own site would be crass and rude.

    However, this is just not a cold, logical exercise. People, for the most part, are not cold logical beings. The issue is emotive as well and to give us a solid base from which to grow, a clear and ruthless direction must be given.

    If, by your post, you agree that whether or not the building owners are there or not, the issue remains that the buildings, as specified by the appropriate civil engineers, need to come down then the issue is moot.

    In fact it is more logical really. Forsyth Barr has relocated from the building whose name it bears and are already looking forward - not back. One employee on the radio last night said that there is no way he is going back inside. I relate this as it is indicative of experience throughout the CBD.

    Another point re: Not PC's article was how many businesses in Chch are owner/occupiers? I can tell you from experience it is incredibly small.

    I agree that it's tragic (absolutely aweful) that people can't go in to get stock or intellectual property. Yet. And it is problematic for me that some people, like the owner of the Volcano Cafe in Lyttleton, are not being advised of the demolition of their property.

    However, more lives lost in the pursuit of princple, has no meaning for most people here.

  16. Sometimes I flirt with the idea of voting 'libz', thankfully posts like this serve to remind me that this would be a mistake.

    Stay classy PC.

  17. After the initial rescue response it is simply not the governments place to dictate how a city will rebuild. Period.

    Already I hear sounds of amazing efforts by private companies that already got back on their feet. This is a part of a progress report I received from a supplier:

    "But to this quake they have responded amazingly. Their whole building was a write-off. Within three days they had found a replacement building and in another 3 they were up and running to some degree. It's now a week since the quake and they have moved across Christchurch and are getting into the swing of business again."

    This is amazing considering the specialist hightech company they are that uses specialised machinery to do their work.

    On the other end of the scale you could see some dumb moron on TV3 news demanding more portaloos. "We want more portaloos" he chanted. Why the hell doesn't he go and MAKE one. Dig a hole and plonk a toilet on top. Not great but it will take him through till he gets his portaloos.

    People who rely on government will still be complaining next year while those that get on with it are already back up and running.

    Peters post is right on the money and if I had my business in Christchurch I would re-locate elsewhere because being controlled by government to this extend makes private enterprise impossible, no matter how much stimulus they through at this.

  18. The Mayor of San Francisco spoke of how during the cleanup after their earthquake they allowed the building owners/residents to recover what belongings they could during the demolition process. How difficult can it be to use a 20 ton excavator to push dangerous and overhanging debris aside rather than pulling it all in on itself and driving all over it.

  19. Agree completely. Grey suits have to be walked around or over. Personal story: with two residents, one a roading engineer, one a contractor who built the system, the three of us restored sewerage services to an entire suburb. Time taken to sit a large diesel pump over the deepest running sump and discharge to the adjacent stormwater: three hours. Time taken to negotiate consent from an understandably frazzled city poobah: three hours. Says it all, really.

  20. Well written Peter; completely agree. However I believe the message that TV has been shoving is that only government could solve matters; only a govt could save you; you'd all be lost without civil servants and politicians. In other words, the cause of liberty has been severely dented by this calamity and subsequent fiasco.
    It is also telling that the Chamber of Commerce you quote clamours for govt largesse. Also noticeable the lack of connect between taxes from us all and govt payments

  21. What a shame this disaster couldn't have happened in Wellington, where the destruction of public service infrastructure would have actually increased the wealth of the country rather than detracted from it.

  22. The problem with that (apart from the obvious one of me being crushed) is that the govt people would spend a great deal more money rebuilding everything for themselves here than private interests would do elsewhere.

  23. I thought this was beautifully summed up on the first day by the head of the committee for the restoration of Christchurch after the first quake.
    When the 2nd quake hit he was flying back from Wellington.
    They hadn’t actually started the restoration, they had just had their final meeting to agree the plan!
    That’s 6 months worth of “work” that achieved nothing.

  24. Move your businesses elsewhere. It's sad but the only way to cut off parasitic dictators is to cut off their blood supply.

    Funnily enough I was considering moving my business to New Zealand but reading about dictators like this makes me realize it would be a mistake.

    It's going to be hard to tell which Christchurch tragedy is worse, the earthquake, or the government officials.

    "the opportunity for providing a clear vision of foreign investment."

    Which part of 'private property' don't you understand exactly? Imagine I came into YOUR HOME with cameras and said 'it's necessary because we're going to demolish your home and get foreign investors to build something there'. What!? There are already business owners vested there!

    "I'm a builder. Have been qualified for 17 years and have worked architectural residential, ordinary homes and commercial for one of the countries finest commercial companies. I've been in the CBD the immediate 3 nights after the quake stabilizing buildings so USAR can safely search. And I can tell you without a doubt, these buildings need to be razed. "

    Thanks but I'd rather hear that from an engineer than from someone who stands to make money from re-building buildings.

  25. "I'm a builder. Have been qualified for 17 years and have worked architectural residential, ordinary homes and commercial for one of the countries finest commercial companies. I've been in the CBD the immediate 3 nights after the quake stabilizing buildings so USAR can safely search. And I can tell you without a doubt, these buildings need to be razed. "

    And in any case, even if this is true, why is the government preventing business owners from doing this themselves? If I owned a business there, why can't I get an engineer to look at it, confirm it needs to be razed, and have it razed in just a month or two and then get back to the business of running a business and creating jobs, than have to sit around and wait 12 months for some anyway uncertain outcome?

  26. "Tasteful. No wonder you're winning the battle for hearts and minds. Don't ever change.

    Jol Thang"

    Funny how you focus in on that little snipe, implying it is more morally reprehensible than what these basically dictatorial government officials are doing, preventing business owners from being able to so much as retrieve what they need to run their businesses.

    That tells you all you need to know about the moral compass of the anti-liberty advocates.

    Your moral outrage is reserved only little snipes on blogs.

  27. "and no building is worth the price. Human liberties may be of the highest aspiration but human life is all-conquering. And the price isn't worth it."

    Its not about the bloody building. Its about an individual's right to go in and retrieve his vital business information like records, laptops etc so that he can continue to work and be productive.

    If a person knows the risks and is prepared to take them in order to rescue what is rightfully theirs, why does nanny fucking state do everything it can to stop him?

    This is the problem which runs through al of our society: the inbuilt assumption that we are ignorant children who have to be protected from themselves by an army of bureaucrats - while a REAL army of active, brave and energetic volunteers are actually at work achieving things.

    The state's function should be to FACILITATE and ENABLE society, not to OBSTRUCT and BLOCK it.

  28. Are there actual tanks deployed? Or are you being metaphorical?

  29. @Sam: I am being literal. There are (or have been) actual tanks, or at least armoured cars, deployed.

    "Armoured vehicles are parked at cordons where soldiers and police stop anyone but search and rescue teams..."

    Along with soldiers from both the Singaporean and New Zealand armies.

  30. Talking with one employee of a kitchen hardware retailer in the cordoned off area,it appears some access has been granted. Their building will be a write off but they were allowed access to get stock and computers out. So perhaps a grey one has read this post and agreed that it is sensible to allow access on a limited basis.
    An interesting point that did come out of the conversation is that the insurance company has refused to cover sold stock, i.e. any stock that has had a deposit paid on it, as they beleive that the purchasers' insurance should cover the item. I would have thought this was ran contrary to the legislation that protects suppliers from loss of ownership, until the tital sale price had been received.

  31. From Christchurch dudes:
    One of my friends is in Balclutha,
    another in Winton in the South,
    three of my colleagues are refugees in Wellington,
    my daughter escaped to Australia,
    My girlfriend has become a neurotic
    and the sweet rain pours down upon our troubles

  32. Peter
    I understand (from Christchurch sources) that this post of yours may have contributed to the relaxing in attitude toward business owners. Well done for that. We need to keep applying pressure. While there has been some relaxation, many business owners have tried to gain access to their properties and continue to be denied. Demolition without consent and without getting valuable records, is still a real possibility.

    I see Brownlee is again out promoting what he wants to see happen to Christchurch's heritage buildings: he wants most of them demolished.


    Of course, he should recognise that the ultimate decision should come from the building owners (and the engineers of the building owners) who are best placed to decide on the future viability (and safety) of each particular building.

    It is so important that the government and the council are made to recognise that the rights of business owners are not to be trampled on.


  33. why were the general public allowed access at the same time as the people whose livelihoods/ property? How hard could it have been to allow residents/ business and property owners access before the rubber neckers?
    Once again, National treat property rights with disdain.
    Perhaps business owners need to send a pie with their written request to herr Brownlee


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