Can Christchurch Council make hard decisions?

May 8th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The is facing a cost over-run of $534 million which could balloon even higher if it fails to secure $1 billion in insurance payouts.

The grim financial picture was revealed this afternoon as the council finally released the findings of an independent audit of its finances conducted by KordaMentha, an advisory firm specialising in insolvencies and corporate recovery. …

The report has been labelled a worst case scenario by others in this story. What it is really about is trying to get more money out of taxpayers, rather than ratepayers:

Green MP Eugenie Sage said it was time the council and the Crown renegotiated their earthquake rebuild cost-sharing agreement.

“It’s clear that the Christchurch City Council is not in the financial position to pay all of its share for the big-ticket items being pursued by the Government, or to borrow more,” said Sage.

Labour MP Ruth Dyson said the Government had to acknowledge the city’s financial position had changed.

“We need a genuine partnership between central and local government if our recovery is going to be the best it possibly can be. We need to hear that commitment from John Key now.”

My answer is simple. No.

An agreement  was signed and agreed to after great negotiation last year. Taxpayers have been very generous with Christchurch, pumping billions into it. But the Council needs to now stand on its own two feet, and start making some hard decisions.

Finance committee chairman Cr Raf Manji said the council would need to take decisive action to put itself on a sound financial footing for the future.

“We have a strong balance sheet to help us weather this kind of financial challenge. KordaMentha makes it clear that there is no single simple solution but rather a number of levers that will need to be be used.

“Hard choices will need to be made and we will be relying on the residents of the city to engage with the council as it makes these decisions and charts a prudent and sustainable course forward,” Manji said.

The Council has a number of routes it can take:

  • Reduce the rebuild costs – the council needs to consider not doing some of the work planned.
  • Negotiate for the Crown to pay more money or for the council to pay less money for the anchor projects.
  • Increase the council’s core revenue through rate rises.
  • Cut spending in other areas such as the capital programme.
  • Improve the performance of council owned assets and investments, or sell them.

The left will ignore four of those options and just call for taxpayers to pay more. Real leadership would be making the hard decisions yourself.

 

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47 Responses to “Can Christchurch Council make hard decisions?”

  1. anonymouse (709 comments) says:

    Real leadership would be making the hard decisions yourself.

    You tell’ ‘em Frank

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  2. queenstfarmer (770 comments) says:

    “What we now know is that the Three Year Plan was based on an overly optimistic view of the future and did not provide enough headroom to allow for cost escalation or indeed for the sort of unexpected expenditure the city now faces…” Dalziel said

    Oh, like pretty much every local & central Government cost “estimate” in history.

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  3. Steve Wrathall (283 comments) says:

    Sell assets, spend less, and don’t build that stupid stadium

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  4. flash2846 (255 comments) says:

    As a born and bred Christchurch resident I feel it is time we in Christchurch pulled our hands out of other peoples pockets.
    Fellow New Zealanders have been very generous to date, as has the government. We are well covered by insurance and given the event has no recent precedent EQC etc. are doing an incredible job.

    Christchurch has a lot of saleable assets; we should sell them. It is time many of us stopped winging and as a group we simply got on with the re-build. The truth is that the earthquakes have resulted in windfalls for most Christchurch residents. The greedy and the foolish uninsured are getting far too much publicity.

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  5. dime (9,799 comments) says:

    The Greens will be stoked. Surely this is good enough reason to introduce their glorious earthquake levy on the rich (people earning more than 60k)

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  6. holysheet (326 comments) says:

    Flash2846 above has said it all
    Nothing like local knowledge to get the true facts on a issue.
    If you have not got the money to do all the things you might wish to do, you cut your spending until you can afford it.
    The main problem as I see it is all the liabore and green troughers are sitting in their taxpayer/ratepayer funded offices thinking about the up coming elections and how can we get this to stick on the National govt?

    They forget that IT’S THE POOR TAXPAYER WHO ENDS UP PAYING FOR ALL THIS.

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  7. Peter (1,688 comments) says:

    Green MP Eugenie Sage said

    Zzzzzzzzz…….

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  8. mjwilknz (612 comments) says:

    Flash2846 and holysheet,

    I agree, asset sales are the obvious thing. Isn’t it strange the way that option No 5 begins, “Improve the performance of council owned assets and investments, or sell them.” It’s as if the council could fix its woes by suddenly getting its assets to produce more $$$.

    It looks apparent to me that the key driver for seeking taxpayer assistance is to avoid having to sell council assets. Do you guys have any thoughts?

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  9. thePeoplesFlag (242 comments) says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  10. Pongo (371 comments) says:

    As a fellow cantab I am with Flash, we can pay our own way and I am pissed off with Dalziel and her blatant attempt to screw more cash out of Brownlee in the run up to the election. My understanding is the agreement for the infrastructure had a built in review at the end of this year in case the costs had gone up or down etc. so what Dalziel is doing is organized a report 6 months early for either blackmail or to help the Labour party win votes in Christchurch.
    We have a port, an Airport, 2600 rental properties, oodles of land, City Care, lines company Orion, Enable which is rolling out UFB and god knows what else which we should sell before going back to the long suffering and very generous taxpayers.
    Oh and 130 million to repair the concert hall ! ugliest building outside of North Korea. Covered football stadium ! give me a break. Convention centre ! why ?

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  11. Nookin (3,263 comments) says:

    I watched Dyson on telly this morning. She was vehemently opposed to disposing of any assets. She talked about the revenue of $40 million and asked, rhetorically, why the council would “give all that away”. She drew the analogy to finding that you cannot pay your mortgage and said that in these circumstances you do not sell your house. Basically she was saying that this does not make sense. Memo to Ruth Dyson. If you cannot pay your mortgage and you cannot increase your income then you sell your house. If you do not sell your house then somebody else will sell it for you. When you sell assets that generate income of $40 million, you do not “give it away”. This is a bit like the converse of the railways. In that case, you (the Labour Party) paid megabucks for an asset that had little if any value. Is there something about trading value for value that you do not understand? When you sell an asset you do not “give it away”, you actually get money in return. You can use this money to meet capital costs of reconstruction and avoid having to borrow at a level that will attract interest in excess of 40 million per annum. There is only so much money around. Sucking at out of the taxpayers or the ratepayers achieves nothing. Your plank is wealth distribution. It is zero-sum economics.

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  12. dime (9,799 comments) says:

    peoplesfwag (stooge) – well done.

    you managed to hit the words your communist brothers want you to use “king gerry”, “crony”, “mates” “grandiose” “big insurance” “line the pockets” “bullying” “fat cat”

    Outstanding!

    Just a point of for “stalinist central planning”. your comrades approve of that. as long as they are the ones in charge.

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  13. xy (181 comments) says:

    Christchurch people have been screaming WE DON’T WANT TO SPEND A QUARTER OF A BILLION DOLLARS ON A STADIUM for quite a while now.

    Remember, the Government is contributing $35M and the council $253M to this – and without renegotiating the cost-sharing agreement we’re stuck with it. And the council is stuck with cost overruns.

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  14. wreck1080 (3,864 comments) says:

    I think you have to realise that council people jobs are as close to 100% secure as you can get.

    They set their budgets then order ratepayers to stump up the cash. In this case, the earthquake gives them a perception they can order government to stump up.

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  15. xy (181 comments) says:

    The right will ignore four of these options and call for asset sales.

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  16. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    Typical Green and Labour responses – “it’s always someone else’s fault.”

    No self-responsibility. No ability to make the hard decisions.

    Just imagine if Mission Control on the Apollo 13 mission had been staffed with Labour and Greens types. They would have gone out to a field somewhere, held hands and sung “Kumbaya”.

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  17. Akld Commercial Lawyer (165 comments) says:

    I have been in my old home town recently. From where I sit, I see this as another step in a long conversation between the Council and Govt.

    The reasons for the review are sensible/logical – because the earlier work that underpinned the Council’s 3-year plan was based on the information available at the time it was issued and a number of the cost estimates were no longer reliable, because:

    * Some of the estimates were very old and preliminary high-level assessments;

    * Some of the work that needed to be done was different to what was first planned and costed; and

    * In some areas, the Council had not or could not determine exactly what needed to be done so it could not work out an accurate cost estimate.

    More work was needed to come up with more accurate estimates of the Rebuild Costs. And because those Rebuild Costs were likely to be higher than the estimates contained in the 3-year plan, the Council needed to start working out how the additional costs would be funded.

    I expect that there will be further adjustments over time (perhaps as long as the 10-year rebuild timeline) with the next milestone being when all of the insurance proceeds are known. Gerry Brownlee makes a similar point.

    And I also expect that the taxpayer will be heavily involved in a resolution of the Flockton basin issues. In my non-expert opinion, I think more houses will end up being red-zoned.

    So, politics aside (and this is an election year – so the Opposition will try to make some mileage and the Govt will try to defend their record) these are further parts of a multi-part story involving our 2nd biggest city. Its important to get it right – and we are back to the cheesemakers. Good things take time.

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  18. WineOh (625 comments) says:

    Would be useful to see a breakdown of how that $500M+ is made up. It seems an awful lot of money to be accidentally short this late in the rebuild planning process.

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  19. Rich Prick (1,659 comments) says:

    “The Council has a number of routes it can take:
    » Reduce the rebuild costs – the council needs to consider not doing some of the work planned.
    » Negotiate for the Crown to pay more money or for the council to pay less money for the anchor projects.
    » Increase the council’s core revenue through rate rises.
    » Cut spending in other areas such as the capital programme.
    » Improve the performance of council owned assets and investments, or sell them.”

    It is so easy to take the soft option of dipping into taxpayers’ and ratepayers’ pockets. That list ought to be revised with these at the top of it:
    – Enforce it’s insurance contracts
    – If the contracts turn out to be inadequate, take action against advisers who failed to make adequate arrangements on behalf of the Council.

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  20. Alan (1,087 comments) says:

    In an election year, everything is politics.

    National put together a 1 seat majority in 2011 on the back of a very strong vote for them in Christchurch region, Christchurch East in particular swung very strongly for them.

    Is john Key going to be firm and dump hundreds of millions of dollars of cost onto a group of critical swing voters ?

    I’d like to think so, but it’s not my reading of the man, he’ll do what he always does, cut a deal and meet them halfway.

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  21. flash2846 (255 comments) says:

    @ mjwilknz (607 comments) says:

    It looks apparent to me that the key driver for seeking taxpayer assistance is to avoid having to sell council assets. Do you guys have any thoughts?

    Unfortunately mjwilknz we had our chance last year in the local body elections. The left routinely sweep into power in Christchurch and immediately surround themselves with their left wing comrades. Our pathetic mayor is an expert at saying things like “We are treating this as top priority and will have a committee formed within two weeks” Six weeks on it is announced “the committee will be formed in two weeks”. The media let this go unquestioned. Selling assets will be the council’s absolute last resort.

    It is the ‘destructive’ verses the ‘constructive’. Unfortunately our council is in destructive mode awaiting a change in central government.

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  22. Lindsay Addie (1,327 comments) says:

    Auckland Commercial Lawyer.

    I agree with your post it is excellent.

    BTW for anyone who is interested the full KordaMentha report is here: http://www.ccc.govt.nz/thecouncil/policiesreportsstrategies/reports/financialpositionreport.aspx

    I do think it is time for the Controller and Auditor General to start looking into this issue. There needs to be proper analysis of what the CCC is doing at a deep level.

    As for Dalziel, she hasn’t as yet been a disaster but I don’t remember her being all that fantastic when she was a cabinet minister. Currently on the tough problems such as flooding and this current issue she is telling everyone what they want to hear. This is starting to get troubling.

    Also I agree with Flash2846, here in Chch we need to have proper plans and strategies in place so that we can stand on our own two feet asap. It isn’t fiscally responsible to expect any more long term hand outs from central government.

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  23. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    Elect a left-leaning, lying leech, and this is what you get. When the hell are people going to awake to the fact that these Labour losers have never displayed any abilities to make their own money . . . but the can effen well waste every other bastards. This goes for Lecher Len’s thinking $1 million a day in interest is Ok. Not one of these left-wing scroungers has any ability in commerce, but get elected by non-ratepayers to fulfil their ideals of self indulgence and self-entitlement. Like their mates in Parliament, they are flotsam, with morals of rodents.

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  24. Rick Rowling (825 comments) says:

    Fix the roads, fix the 3 waters, leave the special interest groups (arts, sports, etc) to find their own patrons to fund their luxuries.

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  25. Jack5 (5,007 comments) says:

    Ultimately, creditors can go after property-owning ratepayers if a local body fails financially, and it would help if all of us in Christchurch remembered that.

    The council could sell down part of Port of Lyttelton and with 51 per cent still retain the control it appears to want, and could do the same with the airport (it owns three-quarters, and the State a quarter, which will have to be offered to tax-exempt Ngai Tahu if the Governmnent wants out), and with the city’s works subsidiary which contracts up and down the country. The council argues that without a profit slice it can provide works services cheaper than a contractor. This is wrong, as the low return from the council’s subsidiaries shows. Incidentally, Christchurch useable roads are now so badly potholed that many of the city’s motorists are having to replace wheel rims. Then there is the local lines company, Orion, and the new Christchurch fibre company, Enable. These could be merged and at least a minority stake floated.

    Reluctant, leftist councillors might also budge on selling parts of council subsidiaries, if the shares carried an entitlement to share owners’ right to a smallish rebate on their personal property rates. This would favour Christchurch ownership of the shares. A nationalist element in resistance to selling asset stakes could be addressed with shares that could be held only by NZ residents.

    To raise capital, the council could also offer loan bonds secured over the city direct to its ratepayers. Earthquakes or not, this would still be a safe investment ultimately secured over the right to go after all ratepayers. I’m surprised that when initial sympathy was high for Christchurch immediately after the disaster, some sort of public earthquake bonds weren’t promoted around the country. The Treasury’s effort of labelling a small issue “earthquake bonds” was scarcely promotion at all, and was very weak in comparison with what could have been done.

    On the expenditure side there could be savings in Christchurch’s administration. For example, it recently added a layer of executives. Compare the city with private enterprises of similar size. There also could be big savings in contracting out much work done by parts of administration such as public relations.

    With a large slice of the eastern side of the city uninhabitable, there must be money to be raised from sale of this land for horticulture or other purposes. The city, already reasonably endowed with parks, doesn’t need the whole lot of the new waste land for parks. Perhaps some imaginative public-private venture with the city providing the land, could provide money to offset against debt interest payments in years to come.

    However, as an individual citizen, I support the Bob Jones view expressed a year or more ago, which, as I recall, was that the city should now build on its now evident pattern of “islands” of business areas, and leave the city centre largely for hotels, restaurants, bars, museums and other tourist attractions. That would be cheaper than rebuilding the central business district. The Jones idea (if I have recalled it correctly) would surely knock down a chunk of the rebuild costs.

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  26. Henry64 (83 comments) says:

    Manji is the man here in Christchurch, telling it like it is. No more taxpayer suport until other options have been explored and actioned. Nothing should be off the table. Forget rebuilding the Town Hall for starters.

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  27. CantyKid (1 comment) says:

    The “shock horror” approach by the Mayor and Councillors seem to over look their rather wealthy balance sheet.

    But they could take a very conservative approach of a partial sell down of commercial assets

    Christchurch Airport alone is valued at $900 m.
    (http://www.cchl.co.nz/content/library/CIAL_SoI_for_201416_30_May_13_final.pdf), of which the Crown owns 25% and the CCC 75%. If the Crown sold its share and CCC 25% by way of a share market float (mixed ownership model), there would $500 million to divie up for Canty projects.

    They could also sell down 30% of the already NZX listed Port of Lytelleton for $60 million. They would still hold 50%

    They own a contracting company CityCare, which competes fully with the private sector. Could get a $100m+ for it.

    If you say $120m + $250m + $60m there is $430 million of the problem. None of those companies pay massive dividends (unlike Orion). If a future Council wanted to buy back the Port and Airport, they would own majority shares already and could just go to the NZX for more.

    The real risk is that this Council takes a short term approach to this recovery and the legacy is being a small town that never built for the future.

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  28. Colville (2,248 comments) says:

    The CCC own a huge bunch of run down houses dont they?
    Flog em off to someone that will look after them and get a decent return!
    Landlords would crawl over broken glass to get extra stock to rent out at the mo.

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  29. Lindsay Addie (1,327 comments) says:

    There’s not enough hard arsed SOB’s here in Chch who can make the tough decisions that are for the public good.

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  30. Jack5 (5,007 comments) says:

    Colville (10.47) is right!

    Christchurch City Council is the country’s biggest housing owner after the Government.

    There are deserving locals in them, of course, but also they seem to house a lot of out-of-towners who find it hard to get accommodation in other parts of the country, ex-cons and refugees.

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  31. Jack5 (5,007 comments) says:

    Re Henry64 at 10.47:

    Has Manji had a change of heart? Wasn’t he pushing for some sort of Social Credit solution to Christchurch’s money woes, suggesting the Reserve Bank just print the money?

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  32. backster (2,140 comments) says:

    Instead of giving vague advice to the Government the Greens (Sage) and Labour (Dyson) should state how much of taxpayer money their Coalition is going to commit to meet the city’s debts.

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  33. Fentex (918 comments) says:

    AS a Christchurch resident I hope the solution is to not do some of the work, in particular the idiotic stadium plans which among other absurdities includes destroying one of our few surviving architectural heritages.

    In general I think much of the grandiose plan to build without demand can be put aside, especially if it just isn’t affordable. If there’s a demand that cannot be resisted then there’ll be investment to pay for it. Absent both, pull heads in.

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  34. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    Key made a promise on behalf of taxpayers to, in effect, fix the city. I agree with you that it is a pretty cynical ploy to push for cash in election year but I am hesitant to make it a blanket no. I would want more information – it is is unforeseen costs (or even unidentified costs due to the incompetence of the last council) then there may be room to negotiate with central government around roading, piping and similar essential infrastructure. If it’s just a made to order opinion then tough. And maybe the council should look at selling the rainy day assests such as the port – because it sure as hell is raining currently.

    It would be nice if EQC could show some vague semblance of accountability as well.

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  35. Hugh Pavletich (157 comments) says:

    There is a massive overhaul required of the Christchurch Council, as I explained with “Christchurch Failure: The Long History” … and the hyperlinked articles within it …

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1404/S00200/christchurch-failure-the-long-history-hugh-pavletich.htm

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  36. freethinker (688 comments) says:

    The council under insured its assets so go after the Insurers/the valuers who did the undervaluations and if they are insolvent their professional indemnity insurers. No Stadium, defer Town Hall and fix the bloody infrastructure abandoned but useable homes must be re occupied to reduce homelessness/overcrowded sharing and over high rents in other words CCC do your core jobs forget the extras and stop wasting time on yakfests – shape up or ship out councilors Raj excepted.

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  37. Auberon (873 comments) says:

    The $253 million figure applied ot the council’s commitment to a stadium is based in large part on its understanding of what it would receive in insurance settlements for AMI Stadium. If it doesn’t get those settlements it won’t be able to commit so much money, but it would be wrong to think the headline number says anything about the council’s priorties for a stadium versus any other infrastructure it needs to make some financial commitment to replacing.

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  38. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    As a fellow cantab I am with Flash, we can pay our own way and I am pissed off with Dalziel and her blatant attempt to screw more cash out of Brownlee in the run up to the election.

    OK. Go for it.

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  39. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    Isn’t the truth that the insurers can more or less hold the city to ransom, since they can afford to prevaricate whereas the city cannot?

    And who is responsible for the insurance shortfalls?

    I’ve been reading what some people who live there have written, and life in XChurch seems to be pretty dire for many, and many have left.

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  40. Paulus (2,594 comments) says:

    I hear that Christchurch Council is one of the largest landowners in the country.
    They stuffed up their insurance in a very big way which is still to be revealed – (probably a loss of $1 billion) – there is flannel about expecting settlement.
    Will make their deficit of $500,000,000 a small amount if and when the recovery is not received.
    Why should insurers pay up because of incompetence by the Council. Insurance Companies are not a benevolent organisation to incompetence. You get back what you insured and no more. If you neglected to insure get lost.

    At least Christchurch appears to have at least one competent Councillor Raf Manji. Will make a good Mayor at the next election.

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  41. ross411 (433 comments) says:

    The first step to recovery is ensuring that the most important things are taken care of.

    All council employees must be given the living wage. People, there are houses out there without sky tv!

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  42. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    Why should insurers pay up because of incompetence by the Council. Insurance Companies are not a benevolent organisation to incompetence. You get back what you insured and no more. If you neglected to insure get lost.

    The problem is that Christchurch is too big to fail. There needs to be stronger regulatory oversight of both councils and insurance companies.

    If Joe Average’s insurance company leads him a merry dance or if he underinsures his house, it’s not a problem for anyone but himself when fate calls.

    However, if 100,000 Joe Averages do the same in one place, or an entire city is underinsured when fate calls, the spillover to innocent parties is considerable.

    If you really want to let the city rot, go ahead. It will cost even more in the long run.

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  43. Akld Commercial Lawyer (165 comments) says:

    With no offence intended to those who have remained in my former home town – there are a number of commentators who may well be unerringly accurate about the ills of the current process for dealing with the Rebuild and the players involved – but I cannot see that continuing to do so advances these issues greatly.

    Rightly or wrongly, the various interests need to be considered and the Rebuild advanced. There is not going to be a solution that cures all ills and keeps everyone happy (and don’t start me on the Cathedral, the GCBT and their cheerleaders) but from where I sit, the only certainty is that the Council, CERA and the Govt will have to try to accommodate most of them and end up being bagged by all of them. And saying, for example that the Council or its officials are root of the problem is just as helpful as saying that the developers are acting in a self-interested manner. To be effective, the Rebuild needs contributions from all of them, with the only distinguishing factor being the size and speed with which those contributions are made.

    As I try to do my day job, I would observe that I have to deal with politicians (local and central) from all points in the spectrum, and officials who range from the highly skilled to the truly terrified. All are likely to remain fixtures and it won’t advance my client’s interests at all to be bagging them because I happen to disagree with their point of view. (At this point I would have to admit that I am only human – and there have been a few over the decades whose politics, or other beliefs, or just plain laziness I could not stomach and with whom I’ve been grumpy).

    If there is one thing that I would agree, it is that the MSM media coverage of the Rebuild has been very poor. However, I find myself cheered by the reports from elderly relatives, former neighbours and old friends telling me that they ignore the carping and deal with what they have to deal with and move on.

    And from having had to deal with the current mayor in her former life, and knowing what I know about the Minister – I think they are better placed than many to make things work. Politics aside, at the end of the day – my view of both them is that they are prepared to roll their sleeves up and work hard. And that is what the Rebuild needs over the medium to long term. Not laundry lists of who may have been at fault or who may have pulled the wrong lever in a snapshot of time. The success of the Rebuild hinges on getting most of the decisions, mostly right, on a sort of balanced scorecard approach over the long run. All the niggly things, like getting to work on time or doing the after school run (try getting from Papanui to Riccarton and back for school pick ups in a hurry) and the like – will be resolved in time. People will find work arounds.

    And I’m telling anyone, regardless of whether they are a cricket tragic like me, to get their tickets for the World Cup early – its going to be a great event in a great location.

    Enough

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  44. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    Why should taxpayers fund the riff raff Lying Lianne has surrounded herself with to do a job previously done by one person. Evidently she has increased personal assistant type drones costing an extra $3 million a year, and that is the tip of the iceberg. Get what you vote for Christchurch, but under current legislation where everyone gets the vote in local body elections, this is the fiscally illiterate imbeciles one gets. Time we got back to principal ratepayers only, getting the vote, not those that want everything and pay for eff all.

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  45. RF (1,366 comments) says:

    The greens can fuck off.

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  46. RF (1,366 comments) says:

    Ok I have disturbed 2 green knuckle draggers from their slumbers. Sorry to have woken you up before you go out to deface National Govt posters. Get a life children.

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  47. RF (1,366 comments) says:

    igm. 4.42pm. Maybe only those who own properties in Christchurch and pay rates should be allowed to vote. That would get rid of the renters who usually vote Labour.

    Must be nice not have to pay rates etc…

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