Sue Wells – The New Canterbury Tales

August 6, 2011

About leaking, and the Christchurch Central City Plan #eqnz #chch

I was trapped in Dunedin, snowed in for three days. While Christchurch was (according to my teenage sons) a beer bottle deep in snow, Dunedin was an ice rink. Flights were chaos. You couldn’t even reach Air New Zealand on the phone, let alone reschedule a flight. Instead of flying out on the Monday morning, I ended up as a voluntary barista until the Wednesday. It was just as well – the staff were stranded on the Monday, unable to get to work, and so while Kim spent the day slaving over a hot stove and up to his armpits in rubber gloves and dishwashing liquid, I finally conquered the coffee machine and remembered how to mix a martini.

I arrived back to a house that was beyond clean – it was shimmering. The boys had coped magnificently without me. I chose not to look in the recycling bin, but if they had partied, they did it with all the cunning and aplomb that could be wanted. “We were fine, Mum”, one of them groaned after yet another ‘I missed you’ hug. “We went for a walk at four in the morning in the snow and there was a big crack just in front of us and these branches crashed to the ground. It was awesome.” I hugged them again.

I’d missed part of the conversation on the central city plan while I was away, but that couldn’t be helped. I was back for the mammoth council meeting that awaited, with 58 items in three volumes keeping me well and truly occupied with reading upon my return. Blogging has been the victim of my choice to have something of a life, and make time for those I love.

Exercise has been nowhere in the picture – a revolting little lurgy has had me by the throat. I’ve been tired, sick and thoroughly out of sorts. There’s a lot of it going around – so far Kim and the boys have avoided it. I’m putting it down to stress. There’s certainly been plenty of that at work.

In the last couple of weeks we have concluded the drafting of the Central City Plan. It goes to Council this coming week. From its adoption there, it becomes a discussion document, open for public submission and hearings later this year. Once it’s published, we get our listening ears on so that you can tell us what you think of it, whether it’s about right or not, how it should be improved, whether we’ve gone far enough or not, or too far.

The planning process has been exciting as well as exhausting. I would love to have been writing about each day’s discussions, about the personalities at the table, the great debates we’ve had. Obviously (or so I would have thought) I can’t do that – and I won’t do that.

What I will share is that I have found it draining and physically challenging. Sitting on hard chairs hunched over a table for 8 hours at a stretch, straining to hear and concentrate on the detail of the documents while listening attentively to your peers is no small ask, particularly when you consider the vehemence and passion of each of the contributors. I’d go home at the end of the day with my back screaming and my head pounding. It is very easy to lose sight of the immense opportunity presented to each of us steering this plan into fruition.

I was chatting with one of our temps after we wrapped things up on Thursday. “Did you enjoy doing this?” I asked her. Her face lit up, she nodded. She couldn’t believe her luck, she told me. She was stuck in a building in town on the 22nd of February, and at that stage vowed and declared that she would do anything in her power to rebuild this town until the last brick was put back. To have the chance to be part of the process was something she couldn’t have dreamed of – she couldn’t believe her luck. “I don’t believe in luck anymore,” I told her. “I believe in fate. You were meant to be here.” I asked her what she thought of the plan. “If even half of what’s in there gets done, it will be the most amazing city in the world in which to live,” she replied.

I was drained, exhausted, grumpy. She was glowing. In her face, I saw the belief that there is a bright future that we all share, and that the possible is the achievable. I’m so donkey deep in the process and so focussed on getting it as good a draft as it can possibly be that at times I’ve found it hard to keep my eyes pinned on that hope.

That conversation with her reminded me just how immensely privileged I am to have a place at the Council table at this moment in our city’s history, no matter how heavy the responsibility sometimes feels. I hope when you see the plan in the coming days you will feel like we haven’t let you down. I want you to know that for the last few months I have watched our planning team sweat blood to bring this document to life, and I am grateful to each and every one of them. They are absolute heroes, they just don’t give up.

I have been very disappointed with certain things which have involved council in the last little while. Incredibly sensitive private discussions and legally privileged information have found their way into the hands of the media. I don’t know how that has happened, but as far as I am concerned whoever the parties are that have participated in making that happen have committed an unforgivable act of contempt for fair process and democracy. It is the worst kind of disgraceful behaviour that can only have been done by someone who has no ethics, no moral compass, no integrity. Whoever you are, I hope you read this and know how profoundly you disgust me.

This is a time when our city needs to be pulling together, not engaging in moronic gamesmanship. I have a message for you. Grow up. Stop being so selfish and pathetic. And if you can’t do that, rather than enable the disclosure of information in the shadows, have the guts to do it publicly and not skulk behind the blanket of the media like the coward you so clearly are.

There – I’ve said my piece. You know how I feel. That’s because unlike you I have the courage to put my name to my actions and wear the consequences.

In other news, Kim and I had a lovely day off today. It was warm and beautiful. We rose late after a night of earthquake and teenager induced insomnia, brunched, then took Pepper for a walk around North Hagley Park. We picked up pine cones, marvelled at the hole that used to be Victoria Lake, watched a game of rugby being played, hollered at Pepper to leave the golfers alone, and made it back to the car just as the wind turned chilly. Then we took our smelly girl to Splash’n’Dash on Blenheim Road.

It’s the most wonderful facility for hosing down a humming border collie. While I fetched the change, Kim manhandled our reluctant beauty into the washing box and chained her in. The look on her face was of the most unwavering disgust. I sobbed quietly with laughter as we went through each of the stages of cleaning her up. As Kim tried valiantly to steer her into open waters, she glared at him and leaned as hard as she could against the wall of the box so the lovely warm water couldn’t reach her.

We won. She’s lying in front of the fire now smelling of talcum powder and flea spray and has all but forgiven us for tormenting her on such a lovely day.

As I write, the Bledisloe has just drawn to a close. Piri Weepu’s savage haka foretold the result – 30-14 to our All Blacks at Eden Park. Richie – you may not have had the chance to hold up the Super 15 trophy – you’ll get the chance to heft a bigger one in a moment. Long may that trend continue.



  1. Thanks Sue for saying it how it is – I am on the Horseshoe Lake Residents Assn and as most of you know we are red zoners and we definitely do not need this kind of behaviour from some of our elected member/s of Council. I despair when I hear and see what is going on as they are not contributing to the welfare and rebuilding of this great City. The Residents Assns in the city are working extremely hard to keep our communities focused, calm and informed as to the challenges that lay ahead and certainly would rather have the support of the Council rather than the childish behaviour we are witnessing. And I have said my bit …….

    Comment by Janette Hinton — August 6, 2011 @ 10:09 pm | Reply

    • Good for you. 🙂 Thanks so much for what you’re doing. I hope you’re hanging in there. It’s especially hard at the moment I think.

      Comment by Sue Wells — August 7, 2011 @ 12:32 am | Reply

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