The Christchurch City Council today met formally for the first time since the February 22 2011 earthquake that killed 181 of our people and destroyed much of our CBD and a number of our suburbs.
On the day of the quake, we had a meeting in the morning and another scheduled for the afternoon. I was due to open the French Film Festival that evening, and nipped home to change in my lunch-hour. I was the only councillor not on the 6th floor having lunch when the bomb went off. I was in my bedroom, on the phone to John McCrone at the Press. Bob Parker was outside on his 6th floor north-west facing balcony, For a while, he couldn’t get back in through the doors. Barry Corbett was thrown to the ground in the councillor’s lounge. He speaks of the cloud of dust that went up across the city. I never saw that. I was too busy trying to contact my boys, who were in the CBD. The councillors and the staff all struggled to get down the stairs. I struggled to get back into town to find my children. Same event. Different perspective. Trauma, normal – it’s just degrees of it, flavours of it.
We retell our stories when things trigger them. Today, it was the getting together formally that did it, even though we’ve seen each other at countless briefings and informal discussions. It felt historic today. It probably was.
I biked to the meeting. That’s a first. I normally dress up for council; high heels, nice corporate skirt. Not today. A bit of a silk wrap in my bag thrown over my merino t-shirt and knee length black pants was the only nod to the prestige of the occasion. I haven’t quite figured out glamour on a bike yet – there needs to be a great Kiwi designer come out with a ‘corporate active gorgeous’ range to cope with our needs here in Chch please 🙂 Pretty, pretty please.
Our Council building is not functional. It’s not likely to be for a couple of months. We met instead at the Beckenham Service Centre. That holds a very special place in my heart. If I’m ever commemorated – that’s the complex I want my name on. That was my first and longest and hardest fight, for a cause I believed in passionately. I’ll tell the story of the library another day – let’s just say for now that the only reason we have it is because Charlie Manning and Lesley Keast went to the toilet rather than vote with their caucus. Had their party’s politics won the day, we would not have had our beautiful, community designed, sustainable library which won the National Architect’s Award.
It’s not designed to house a full council meeting, and yet we all fitted in and there was room for everyone. Aaron wasn’t there – away at a conference, but aside from him we were all present and correct.
We routinely meet informally an hour before the meeting. It gives us the chance as colleagues to advise if we plan on moving amendments, to short circuit lengthy debate by understanding if there is general accord on an issue. It’s almost like a grand caucus. This council has finally made that work.
At 10, Mayor Parker started proceedings by leading us into silence. I thought of Sam, of Jo, of Murray, of Donna, of Bish, of Paul – and the others, and the others. I thought of the people I’m talking to now who have simply stopped coping, who don’t know yet how to ask for help. I’m seeing more of that. People hitting breaking point after five weeks in purgatory. We need to keep our eye out for the silent strugglers, for the carers who aren’t being cared for. (I am, I add firmly, by the world’s very best friends both home and away, male and female. You know who you are. I love you all.)
Our thousand plus page agenda. 2.7 kilograms of exciting goodness. Much of it was held over as we had been due to meet for annual plan in the week of the quake, and for council on the 24th. A phenomenal amount of reading and work and discussion had been done prior to the meeting – today it was a memory test as much as anything else. My memory is appalling at the moment – not like me at all. So pleased we’d had a dry run on most of this stuff.
The full agenda is at http://www.ccc.govt.nz if you want to check it out. Here’s a sampler of the items we considered.
– a conservation covenant in return for a grant, already expended on a now broken building in Lyttelton.
– an application (approved) for notification of a plan change to expand the St Martins New World supermarket area ( that supermarket has lodged resource consent and as it is our community’s pantry we are going kaloo, kalay.)
– confirmation of appointment of elected members to the various zone committees for the Canterbury Water Management Strategy
– whether to buy a piece of land in Lyttelton for a reserve (deferred – other flatter sections may begin to emerge as houses are demolished)
– performance report for the past six months – largely irrelevant and more so going forward. We’re flying by the seat of our pants now. We agreed to bring forward funding for new hockey turfs – winter sport is vital to community wellbeing.
– agreement to consult on the creation of a new Local Government wide funding agency that will save us a fortune in borrowing. Our clever, diligent staff.
– agreement to use part of Bottle Lake Forest to sort and recover construction and demolition materials from the earthquake. (A special zone has been set aside for “sensitive” materials – that’s polite code for something I really don’t want to think about. The coroner has been on the news today talking about how some of our people will never be recovered. That space matters to me. I’m going to work to try to ensure it holds its respect long after we have gone.)
– a new way of handling community consultation for our annual plan and long term plan processes, which (with a tweak or two by politicans, self included at the meeting today) will still give people the chance to have their say. Nothing matters more than that. Underline, underline, bold italic bold. The changes we are going to have to make during Annual Plan are going to be radical and are complex. It is fundamental to me that people be able to understand what we are doing, influence it as best they can, and buy in. If not, we lose the faith, we lose the trust we need to earn, and then we won’t sustain a future path together. I trust my community to take an informed, active part if they want to – or if not, to leave the discussion to those who do. Our community leaders (and there are many of them in organisations all over the city) will need to be encouraged to step up and help facilitate and promote those conversations. These are exciting times for those of us who believe that great grassroots deliberations, discussion and feedback result in better informed quality decision making.
And then some big planning decisions.
Three plan changes, coming to a head today. Recommendations from commissioners to adopt each of them, together breathing life into the South West Area Plan. Wigram (x2) and Awatea – that thorny devil of a suburb, plagued by every conundrum known to a council. Finally, after over a dozen years of work, a way forward. They’re open to Environment Court Appeal now. 30 days to see if we will be in court for a couple of years, or whether we have a match fit suburb for people to live in. And we know we’re going to need it.
An unusual decision too, made (almost) unanimously, on the private proposal for land at Marshlands – the plan change known as Prestons. It was hugely contentious in the last term of council. The commissioner’s report was before us today. In light of the effect on the eastern suburbs since February 22, we have paused our deliberations on it. Our eastern suburbs residents need looking after now, and going forward will continue to need that. We will make sure we think things through very carefully, once we know the government’s plans for that part of town. Being nimble now, thoughtful, resilient.
We did the same by permitting Short Term Enabling Provisions to be created so that business and people can live or work in the meantime in areas that might not ordinarily have been zoned for that. There’s no “blind eye” provision in the RMA. We had to make something happen – and we did. Almost unanimity again – the only divide around what happens if things go wrong and there is an argument. Cross that bridge when it happens, I say. We will fix it. We will make it better, together.
But for a couple of tiny little points, our very diverse council sang different parts of the same song in a chorus of complete accord. There is a sense of a new tolerance, a new listening to each other that did not exist in the days when we had the luxury of squabbling about trivia. I watched the news tonight. Auckland’s council was divided over whether or not spend an additional $3M of ratepayers funding to cope with the Rugby World Cup Games we will no longer host. I remember meetings like that. They seem light years ago. It’s not all bad post earthquake. I’m beginning to really like our new reality.
I like biking to the office in my sporty clothes. I like singing out to people as I ride. I like the informality of our dress, the spontaneity of our laughter. I like the neighbourhood get togethers (another one tonight) which now happen at the slightest phone call.
I don’t like, but I am grateful for and humbled by the phone calls from people who are at their lowest ebb. I had one today in our lunch break. Her house gone, living in a caravan with disabled family, arguments between EQC and insurance and MSD – I’m on it. Watch this space. She will not fall through the cracks, no she will not. Sitting in the learning centre we fought so hard for at beautiful South Library (it’s colocated with the Beckenham Service Centre) the staff were so polite. I watched them pointedly not listen to me trying to calm a distraught stranger on the other end of the phone. “I can’t help you until you calm down. Breath with me. In and out. Good girl. You’re doing just fine.” And then back into the council meeting to talk about annual plan consultation. Your mind just shuts down every now and again. It feels like you’re a maypole with all the different coloured expectations wrapping their ribbons around you.
Someone rang this morning, demanding I visit a housing complex tomorrow between 10 and 12 because there was a leak in the hot water cylinder, and the carpet was wet, and it wasn’t good enough. They rang again tonight and I hadn’t sent an email yet. No, said I, and I’m not going to tonight. I’m in a meeting. You’ll get it when you get it. I’m sorry about that – otherwise ring the office number. “I”ll never get past the front desk!” Perhaps you won’t. We’re all prioritising jobs at the moment. Some things are going to fall by the way side. You’ll be angry. I’m sorry. I can only do what I can do. I don’t have an electorate office. I just have the boys, and Pepper, and Fang, and Zorro, and me. And lots and lots of laughter.
At the neighbour’s tonight (there’s a developer who wants to impose their greed on our street and bless the bling laden darling he’s brought us firmly together) their children were dashing across the vista of the lounge. Pillows stuffed into pjs, they were fat, they were giants, a fright wig and they were circus clowns. Well past their bedtime on a school night. Party the best place for all of us right now. We are rebuilding Christchurch one community gathering at a time. The bricks and mortar and rooves and timber will happen as they happen. Right now, we’re putting people back together. Neighbours supporting neighbours, making each other whole.
I have a briefing tomorrow at 915 with the National Controller of Civil Defence. I am tempted, after that, to take the day off. I wouldn’t mind getting something pretty done to myself, or buying a new totally frivolous piece of lacy froth. The girls are going out tomorrow night to be pink and sparkly and that feels every bit as important in the big scheme of things right now as anything I do at the council table.(Although – and even though I know some of them wisely read this blog – I won’t necessarily confess that to the media.)
A far more likely scenario is that I will come home, deal to my emails, tidy up my list of people to help, take Pepper for a walk and then as I go into town (cabbing, thank you) I will be wearing something I’ve worn a million times before and I shan’t give it a second’s thought.
(Unless of course I wear what arrived in the mail today. Fresh hot pink hi-vis anyone? 🙂