Sue Wells – The New Canterbury Tales

October 4, 2011

Central city plan day 2 #eqnz #Chch

It’s afternoon tea break on day two. We sit today from 9am til 8pm. Two hour long breaks at 1 and at 430 give us a chance to recharge.
Submitters today have had an arts theme with the museum art gallery and court theatre coming in. This morning architects planners and urban designers were offered the opportunity to give us their thoughts on an idea I am mulling – a “what if the RMA were not the planning vehicle for the rebuild” concept. More on that in another post – suffice it to say I am wondering if there might be a better, smarter more intuitive solution that delivers what we want in a swifter timeframe than the outdated RMA under which our nation’s planning lumbers.
A diverse bunch of submitters are between us and the close of the day. The airport is followed by the national council of women, individuals speaking as well.
Highlights so far today include a magical submission from Deaf Aotearoa, a wow-factor presentation from Wiki Design, and a very cool app based car pooling solution which had me reaching for the install button.
The breadth of views and ideas is quite wonderful. My note book is a technicolour pastiche of ideas on colored sticky notes, sketches and jottings beside where I have been piqued into thought.
These submissions are offering great opportunity for creativity and imagination. Day 2 of 8 and I am thoroughly enjoying it.


October 3, 2011

Central city plan – the hearings commence

Our first morning session of central city plan hearings has concluded. We are in for 8 x 11 hour days. 4707 comments were received on the plan. 427 people/groups have asked to speak.
Our hearings are taking place at the Balmerino Room, Riccarton Racecourse as the council building is still out of action. A jockey exercising their horse entertained me before the hearings began. To my left is a full wet bar. Rest assured it will not be used otherwise there will be guaranteed nodding off before we finish day 1 at 8pm.
So far we have received (and I have read) 5 volumes of material from submitters who wish to be heard. We have three further volumes to come plus another 10 or so volumes of “not heard” submissions to assess before deliberations commence in two weeks. Each volume is roughly 500 pages long.
I have learned some lessons over the years about long haul hearings. I bring my mug and some flowers from home, my own favorite tea and coffee. I bring snacks (healthy) and Kim made my lunch (even healthier).
When I take notes from the submissions, they’re multicolored with a coding system I develop as I go. I take notes in sketch form as well as in written word – it stimulates my thinking (and helps me stay focussed).
People are given 5 minutes to be heard and organizations 10. No small ask to get everyone through in time but we are working to the government’s timeline. We have a job to do and do it we will. What is more, we will do it well.

(and happy birthday Warren Brixton)


August 8, 2011

Shove over Gordon Ramsay – make way for the New Central City Plan #eqnz #chch

A courier delivered me a parcel tonight.

Wrapped (unusually) in crisp brown butcher’s paper, it contained the draft Christchurch Central City Plan, the first Council agenda I have ever seen protected by bubble wrap.

The culmination of months of work, the draft plan becomes public on Thursday and it’s embargoed until then. When we adopt it on Thursday, it doesn’t become the final version. It remains the draft and it is anticipated that it will change through the consultation phase. Here’s a website to keep an eye on:

I suspect it will be a love/hate document, because it deals with something so important to us all that I’m not expecting reactions to be other than visceral. I hope some of it will delight, inspire, enchant, I suspect that some may disappoint, annoy, offend.

Given all we’ve been through and what we’re trying to do, that’s the nature of the beast.

Here at home, we’re still recovering from a beast of a different kind.

On Saturday we became the beneficiaries of a piece of wild boar. After much research involving watching lashings of Food TV while sipping on a decent pinot noir, Kim fashioned a plan involving our piece of piggy, kumara, potato, carrots, brussel sprouts, crackling and gravy. Dessert was compliments of Gordon Ramsay. Pain Perdu with caramelized peaches, raspberry coulis and chantilly cream. Who knew dessert could involve basil?

In order for our dinner party to happen, we had to clean the house. Yesterday we cleared the lounge of the debris of February 22nd. The books are back on the shelves, the plaster dust is gone. It almost feels like a home again.

We were seven at the table last night and we counted it a roaring success. Rachel licked her dessert plate clean. Big Nick ate his brussel sprouts. I tried hard not to calculate the calories as the dishes were assembled – that proved easy because I soon ran out of clean fingers on which to count. There was great conversation, lots of laughter, and chop bones left for the dog.

It was a glorious confection of a meal and today we are all still groaning. Tonight’s dinner was a much simpler affair involving chicken, rice and a renewed commitment to burning off the flab that has settled over the long nights of winter. The prudent need to use up the left over raspberry coulis and the whipped cream meant we had to curtail our good behaviour long enough to hoover a couple of bowls of icecream. Each. No point in letting good food go to waste. (There’s still a brioche left in the fridge. If I’m going to eat it without wearing it, I have some cycle route planning to do.)

Today was gorgeous, a hard frost leading to an 18 degree day. The dog had an early run this morning, then I dusted off the mountain bike, Kim blew up my tyres, and I rode to work and beyond. The need to battle the winter bulge has been thoroughly kick started by last night’s epic gastronomic adventure.

Gordon Ramsay has a lot to answer for.

June 29, 2011

News on White Zone repairs, CCC insurance, Annual Plan, Building Design #eqnz #chch

There’s something funny going on with the seasons. I still have roses in bloom in my garden. The lemons have turned bright yellow with the first frosts. There are sol d’ors and earlicheer in the planter boxes, and most oddly, the daphne is out a full two months early.

Its fragrance always spoke to me of spring and the end of winter. I have it in our lounge now as winter starts. The last time I smelt it was the week of September 4th. One of the casualties of the Darfield earthquake was an enormous vase of daphne in the hallway which ended up on the floor. Like so many other things at the moment, the fragrance of daphne triggers little pictures in my head, little memories which I suspect may never fully leave me.

Running helps. I’ve been slack lately and it shows in my lack of blogging. The more I run, the easier it is to write. Running, like writing, is sensitive to the pressures of light and time. All last week I went to work in the dark, came home in the dark, and the chance for exercise was almost nil. Over the weekend I gritted my teeth and Pepper and I launched an infantry assault on the Victoria Park dog park. Uphill hurts at the time. Downhill hurts the next day. We ran again. And the following day. And the day after that. Snuck in runs before work and between meetings. We both needed it.

Work-wise, it’s one of the weeks from hell. They’re relatively common – every couple of months you get phases where meetings are so frequent and so long that reading and preparation for them can eat into sleep time if you let them.

There is so much happening all over the city too that I could be at meetings every second of every day, and it would be very easy to drown under the weight of everybody’s individual circumstances. There is so much hurt and heartbreak at the moment, so many stresses and unanswered questions that some days the sun just never seems to shine.

This is a time of change, and challenge, and choices. For the residents in the suburbs designated “red zone”, the choices that the government has provided will start to open up a new reality to them in the next little while. Some will stay, some will go. Some have left already. The offer is too generous, not generous enough – there is much to debate and no right or wrong answers. Often there seem to be no answers at all.

When will the tremors stop? When can we rebuild? On Monday, Fletcher Building’s CEO Johnathan Ling is reported by the Herald as saying

“We prefer to fix things once and do it properly and be done with it but while the aftershocks continue, and continue to do more damage, it’s very difficult to really get going.” … “Every time you start to rebuild something and we have an aftershock, it has got to be inspected again and evaluated to see if there are cracks in foundations and all those sorts of things. The last thing anyone wants to do is rebuild twice or three, or four or five times. I think the reality is that the rebuild in proper won’t really start until the aftershocks really cease.”

(Source NZ Herald )

Last week, before the coloured zone announcements I had dealings with a family who live on the hills. They had all their EQC assessments in hand, had been visited by their insurer’s loss adjuster, and were all systems go waiting for repairs – only to be told they weren’t going to happen. I rang their insurer. Wasn’t satisfied with the response. Went higher up the food chain and got similar messages about “on hold until aftershocks stop/cease/diminish”. Those varied throughout the phone call. I’m completely unclear about what insurance companies are waiting for in order to start repairs – although perhaps a little more reassured today with this latest piece from EQC.

EQC Update – White Zone Information, Port Hills
June 29EQC response in the Port Hills
*            EQC is continuing to repair dwellings in the Port Hills where work has already begun
*            It has a team of 20 dealing with landslip issues
*            Another team is doing full assessment on severely damaged properties
*            EQC is not starting new repair work on houses and is waiting for information from Tonkin and Taylor about land stability, which is expected in the next 10 days
*            Once the Tonkin and Taylor work is completed than EQC can determine what new repair work can occur
*            The land issues in the Port Hills are different from other parts of Christchurch.   The major issue is the danger of rock fall on to houses
*            The 5.7 magnitude and 6.3 magnitude earthquakes on 13 June 2011 caused further land damage in the  Port Hills area (including Lyttelton). This requires rapid mapping so EQC can triage appropriate areas and deal  with urgent claims appropriately
*            Rapid mapping involves geotechnical engineers physically observing land damage and recording it on maps of the area. It gives an overall picture of area-wide land damage and identifies properties that require urgent attention. It will be followed by individual property assessments for properties with EQC claims.
*         Christchurch City Council teams are also continuing to work in these areas assessing lifelines and life safety issues from rock falls and loose rocks. The information gathered by these teams will also inform the assessments made by Tonkin & Taylor for EQC, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and the Government.
*           Tonkin and Taylor has advised EQC its land assessments in the Port Hills are about 70 per cent completeMeanwhile, the Royal Society of New Zealand and IPENZ (I’m a major fan of that organisation – I think I’m their token arts grad fanbase) have released a brilliant, easy read publication on building design in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes. You can download it here:’s not the report of the Royal Commission into the collapse of CTV and PGC – that’s yet to happen. There is more information too on the Department of Building and Housing’s website if you’re really keen – codes changed as of May 19 this year. they will change again after June 13 is anybody’s guess. That nasty little earthquake changed the city for a lot of people. Whether it’s changed perspectives permanently or temporarily remains to be seen. Another of the things that is hanging over us at the moment is the lack of reinsurance we are able to access as a community. This, today, from our Mayor Bob Parker.

” Tomorrow is D-day for the Council as we continue to try to secure insurance for the city’s $4.7 billion assets, which includes our underground pipes as well as facilities.

If the Council fails to get insurance cover by Thursday then our assets are uninsured – and that’s a very serious situation, particularly given the times we are in when there is always the possibility of further aftershocks.

Our predicament is because the Local Government-owned Civic Assurance will not take on the risk of insuring the assets of the Council and the Waimakariri District Council past Thursday. It in turn can not get the reinsurance it needs to protect itself. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that the Canterbury earthquake could cost about $15 billion which would make it one of the most expensive quakes for global insurers. Recent earthquakes in Japan and Haiti and floods in Australia, Pakistan and China have also hit insurers hard.

Council staff are looking at all possible avenues to get reinsurance, including talking to the Government. Even if we can secure reinsurance, it is very unlikely it will be at the same price and coverage as before the earthquake. And there is possibility we could have to self insure and rely on the strength of our balance sheet and the support of central government

We received a glimmer of hope for a solution on Monday when the Finance Minister Bill English announced that if our roads and sewers were damaged in another aftershock, then they would still get fixed. In Mr English’s view the question was where the balance of costs fell between ratepayers and taxpayers.

While that is some comfort, the ideal would be for us to secure insurance.

The Council is intent on absorbing as much of the extra cost of the earthquakes as possible, but it is inevitable that ballooning insurance costs would be passed onto our ratepayers.  Our situation also raises yet another question about insurance cover in our region.

I’ve been out and about at community meetings organised by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority this week and insurance cover has been one of  the most frequently raised issues. Homeowners are concerned that even though their homes are in the red zones, if insurance companies deem that their house can be repaired then the reimbursement they are being offered is the cost of those repairs. Individual property owners will be taking this up with their insurers, just as we as a Council are also try to get the best possible insurance outcome for our ratepayers.”

That nasty little insurance issue is one of the things yet to vex us as we go through our Annual Plan process. As I write we are at the end of day 1 of 2 of the most unusual process I’ve ever seen. If you can wade through a few pages of the agenda, I’d commend it to you. Our staff have put a huge amount of work into it and so have the submitters who wrote in, and the community boards who came and spoke to it in person.

What I would say to you is do not take it as gospel. We all know the thing we are most certain of is we don’t know what we don’t know. Rather than our nice polite three yearly major budget process followed by polite annual tidy ups, we are likely to see major revisions every year (perhaps more frequently) for the foreseeable future.

Add to that our continued work on the Central City Plan, all the regular business of council, the CEO review process, the occasional interview and a bit of filming and the reason for my dismal lack of blogging perhaps becomes apparent.

Let’s be clear. This may sound like a litany of woes – it’s not meant to be. I’ve taken to heart the Stockdale paradox. Accept the world in which you live. Acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead. Identify what success looks like. Find ways to overcome the obstacles. And understand that this is not a sprint.

I’ve said all the way along this event is more like a marathon. Community Board Chair and all around great guy Chris Mene said something even better today. “It’s an Iron Man,” he said, and gave me one of his great big hugs. I needed one at work today – no complaints about the ones at home, I hasten to add!

We’ll all be getting hugs tomorrow – the last day of June 2011 is a massive day. Not only is it The Alasdair Thompson Women’s Monthly Day Off (\) – it is Hug a Cantab Day.

If you’re a Cantab by residence, by birth, by association, by your passion or compassion or your generous donation – then feel free to put your little red and black paw up baby and tell your world it would be a much better place with a pair of arms wrapped around it.

Ka kite my friends – stay warm.

May 23, 2011

Update on Council’s Central City Planning #eqnz #chch

Christchurch City’s reinvention is progressing. It’s becoming very clear that our entire community has grasped not just the nature of task at hand, but also the nettle.

Throughout the city, groups are gathering, forming collective views and debating what they want their future Christchurch to look like. There are multiple meetings, every night of the week. It’s not possible to be at even a fraction of what is going on.

They range from cultural gatherings to meetings with MPs to a three day youth summit to various flower growing associations, neighbourhoods, families – you name it, we’re talking about what we want and don’t want our city to be going forward.

This past weekend saw TedxEQCHCH (which ill-health caused me to miss, grrr) and it too will be online later this week, having been live streamed throughout the event. The national telethon was similarly live streamed, and was therefore NZ’s first truly global telethon, its total not yet fully confirmed but in the low millions. There is no mistaking the importance the internet will play in crafting our next plan – and I am all too conscious that it favours the white, the wealthy, the well educated, the young. Digital access is an economic question that must be addressed by a future government; it is the new literacy, and one which is going to hit baby boomers hard in the next few years. Our goal of a city for life long learning will mean ensuring that people keep up with information platforms as they age or like those of us who weren’t good enough to be celestial hitch-hikers during Saturday’s “Rapture”, they will be left behind.

The council’s share-an-idea programme continues to roll out and there are still many ways to be involved – should take you there. There are online opportunities, community meetings, a game to play.

In our weekly briefing we heard today that the first share-an-idea community workshop, held over the weekend of May 14/15 2011 has generated over 10,000 in person attendees. 18,394 post-it notes went up on the four themed discussion areas. There were 2,747 entries at the computer terminals. 1,078 forms were filled in. Over 9,000 ideas came in from the shareanidea website. 157 you-tube posts went up. As well as the councillors in attendance, over 70 council staff worked that weekend. Brilliant, as were the 21 speakers whose presentations are now online.

All this coming together of discussions and ideas will play out with the Christchurch City Council creating a draft Central City Plan by roughly the end of July, holding formal consultation with hearings towards the end of September, formulating a final revised plan and forwarding it to the Minister of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery on (in a perfect world) December 18th 2011.

It’s a magnificently challenging time frame but it has our absolute attention and all eyes are on the plan.

There is no time to waste, not just for the plan, but for the future of our city. We cannot leave her in limbo as the ordinary planning processes would.

The taxi driver who took me to the airport in Wellington last week described it as a “transient city – nobody feels like they have ownership of it.” Christchurch is starting to feel both exactly the same to me and exactly the opposite. She is feeling much more like a city that everybody feels they have ownership of, and yet no individual has ownership of anymore. I suppose until we have common agreement about what we want to see happen (or perhaps more realistically a general if not universal accord) then that slightly disconcerting sense of “I don’t know where my home is anymore” will linger.

Whatever else happens, thoughts of Art Agnos, former mayor of San Francisco, remain in the front of my mind right now. (The final oath reflects the values I’ve tried to live by throughout my time in office.) I’ve lifted this from the TEDxEQCH website, which is where you’ll find speaker’s links later this week. I commend them to you.

“Agnos used his post-earthquake popularity to build a momentum for some long-term changes. This does not however align with medium term electoral cycles and the hard decisions cost Agnos the mayoralty but have been proven, with time, to be the right ones. Public office always comes to an end eventually, but what sticks to you is the knowledge that you used that precious time to do something that is truly lasting and even historic. This is that moment in the history of the city of Christchurch. This is our moment as citizens of Christchurch. Seize it, take the risk, do the best things to fix these broken places and you will fulfill the oath of the citizen in the ancient city of Athens “I promise, upon my honour, to leave this city better than I found it”.

You couldn’t want to do anything else, now could you?

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