Thursday, 30 June 2016

Another post-disaster disaster: Brownlee’s failure the only thing that keeps building


Christchurch Disaster Gerry Brownlee [pic Getty Images]

Christchurch City’s Earthquake Gauleiter Gerry Brownlee has been a bigger disaster for the city than the quake.  Instead of enabling investors and property owners to do their own rebuilding, since Day One he has squatted over them all and stamped down any signs of entrepreneurial breakout. He has simply refused to learn the lesson that cities only grow and flourish because of private energy and investment, and the post-disaster lesson heard from around the world: that public inertia and uncertainty kills private effort and investment – that handing a city over to self-declared experts is the best way to kill it, whereas taking a city off welfare and making it an enterprise zone allows it to rebuild. And fast. (Unlike here.)

No wonder then that, more than five years on, recovery is still a dirty word.

Brownlee’s busybody “plan” for the city was to throw taxpayers’ money into government “anchor projects” in order to suck in private investment. Yesterday’s announcement that “progress” is finally being seen in building his much-delayed new convention centre, progress that will cost the taxpayer around $300 million plus cockups and without any private involvement whatsoever – a pig in the middle of a big empty carpark -- tells you once more how well that strategy is going. As a fellow twitterer sagely observed:


This is a man who could make a pig’s breakfast out of a private drinking party.

A walking disaster.

He should resign, along the the policy he walked in on.



  1. Yep. The council acted like nothing had changed in Chch when it came to consents. It appears existing use rights were strictly enforced irrespective of the merits of proposed alternatives in a vastly different environment. An aquaintance's commercial land near city centre remains empty because he could not do anything sensible with it following demolition of the existing building after the Feb EQ finished it off. There was plenty of interest in what he proposed as a replacement (quieter use, better looking and so on) but he gave up when he calculated the likely costs of seeking a consent against the inevitability of losing the fight. Morons are everywhere.


    1. That's certainly true - but what you describe had nothing to do with Brownlee, these were local Council problems. Where Brownlee deserves criticism is not for this, but by adding another layer of bureaucratic complexity with CERA and the CBD "blueprint". As I've noted in another comment below, he did achieve some good in residential development by freeing up land and putting pressure on Councils to move quickly with approvals (in some cases). Important I think to make that distinction, as many of his critiques want it both ways; criticising him both for lack of progress in the CBD, but also for his market driven "laissez faire" approach elsewhere. We don't want the more market driven aspects of his legacy to be tainted by his failures.

    2. I agree that there is a distinction but if you are going to poke your nose in you should have a comprehensive view of what was wrong and how to fix it. Notwithstanding some light I think he, representing the govt, was mainly fog and an opportunity to allow some evolution within the CBD and fringes was lost because people in power were not prepared to relinquish control and think outside the square. Christchurch actually shifted its commercial base quite well and the fixation on a central plan with lots of goodies was unwise in my view - they had no money for indulgences for a start.


  2. Is Gerry trying to be NZs version of Nicolai Ceaucescu. Delusions of grandeur it seems , is rather common among these people in elevated positions.

  3. Completely correct in terms of what has happened in the CBD. But in terms of residential development on the fringes, he deserves some credit for pushing through rezoning that allowed a lot more subdivision to occur. In some cases (eg: Silverstream development near Kaiapoi) I know he also applied political pressure on the councils not to hold it up. The benefits of that weren't immediately apparent, because (developments like Silverstream excepted) it still takes years to navigate your way through the CCC & Ecan consenting process before product is on the market. But I think the reason Christchurch house prices haven't escalated in the past 2 years similar to Auckland, and in fact have remained largely static (despite rising building costs) is largely due to this.


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