ODT 2012.1

Editorial, photos and pictures of persons related to articles are those published by the ODT and available from its online content at the links provided. Break out quotes and voting information amended in table format are my tweaks.

Super council back on the agenda


By Chris Morris on Sat, 24 Mar 2012

The prospect of two super councils spanning Otago – one for the coast and another inland – could be on the agenda, with Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull set to test the “appetite for change” with other southern mayors.

Mr Cull told the Otago Daily Times the local government reforms announced this week had sent a clear signal about the need to simplify the country’s network of city, district and regional councils.

That meant it was an “appropriate time” to discuss the implications of the reforms announced by now ex-local government minister Nick Smith on Monday.

Mr Cull planned to broach the subject at the next Otago Mayoral Forum, although he would not be drawn on his preferred model.

His comments came after Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt this week responded to the reforms by suggesting a single Southland council replacing the district’s three local bodies was worth debating.

Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis also joined the debate yesterday, renewing previous calls for the Otago Regional Council to be absorbed into the Dunedin City Council.

Cr Vandervis – a long-time advocate of such a merger – said having two overlapping councils meant duplication, extra costs and additional hurdles standing in the way of the city’s development.

“Strategically, it would be far, far better for Dunedin to have one council making decisions.

“We’ve currently got local government that has got two heads … and there are very artificial lines being drawn around where the necks meet, regarding which head does what.

“This is a case where two heads are simply not better than one.”

The reforms announced by Dr Smith this week were designed to make it easier for willing councils to amalgamate, where it made sense to do so, by reducing some of the hurdles preventing mergers.

Any proposal from a community or council could be considered by the Local Government Commission, and a poll of all affected areas would require only a simple majority to pass, rather than a majority in each area.

However, the commission would still need to determine whether any change had public support, and communities would be consulted.

It was expected the changes could prompt more interest in unitary councils, but the commission would need to be sure water catchment issues could be managed effectively, Dr Smith said.

Auckland was an example of the potential benefits, where creation of the Auckland Council had reduced overall staff numbers by 2000 and saved $140 million in the first year while maintaining service levels, Dr Smith said.

In Otago, discussions were expected to include the creation of a unitary council covering coastal Otago, combining the Dunedin City Council, Waitaki and Clutha district councils and the regulatory roles of the Otago Regional Council for that area.

A second unitary council could span inland Otago, merging the Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes district councils and the ORC’s roles in that area.

That would reduce the number of councils in Otago from five to two, with a separate catchment authority left to focus on the Taieri and Clutha catchments alone.

Alternatively, some councils with shared issues – such as the Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes district councils – could amalgamate, or seek greater efficiencies through more shared back office or other services.

ORC chairman Stephen Woodhead – chairman of the Otago Mayoral Forum – said the government reforms were a good reason to discuss possible changes, and he would be “happy to talk”.

However, he doubted the drivers for change to a unitary council model existed in the southern South Island.

“I’m not trying to defend the status quo at all. If there’s a better way, let’s have a chat about it and explore it.

“I just don’t see the underlying issues, the drivers or the benefits.”

There was a “significant difference” between the responsibilities and expertise of ORC staff and those of city and district councils, he said.

The latter focused primarily on service delivery, such as roads or water, while the ORC’s focus was on managing natural resources – water, air and land.

In particular, the Taieri and Clutha catchments required a “whole of catchment approach”, and the skills of expert staff, he said.

“It operates far more efficiently, I believe, in a separate organisation.”

Mr Woodhead said it was difficult to say whether savings could be achieved by the creation of unitary councils, and having the ORC’s base in Dunedin helped recruit skilled staff.

Mr Cull said the idea of unitary councils and catchment authorities had been raised elsewhere in New Zealand, but the issue in Otago was the big differences in the economy and topography within its borders.

“You’d have to look hard at it to see whether you could drive efficiencies by that method.

“I would want to be shown that the outcomes were better from both a governance and from an efficiency point of view.”


Ratepayers get chance to have say


By David Loughrey on Sat, 17 Mar 2012

With debate across Dunedin at fever pitch on rugby meltdowns, debt, the stadium and rates, the public will soon be able to join the cacophony, as the Dunedin City Council’s annual plan consultation begins.

The recent blaze of publicity the council has faced with the Otago Rugby Football Union bail-out is bound to boost the number of irate ratepayers itching to tell the council just what they think.

The consultation period starts today.

The draft plan was signed off on Wednesday not long before midnight, following the drama of the bail-out debate.

While the draft plan issue got a little lost amid all the controversy, councillors found time to vote to approve the draft plan, after a short debate.

Once approval was forthcoming, a 33-page colour document including a summary of the council’s financial position, the major issues it faced, and a host of other matters, was taken directly to the printers.

The summaries, along with the council’s latest City Talk magazine, would arrive in mailboxes across the city soon, communications co-ordinator Rodney Bryant said. The documents were also expected to be available on the council website from today.

At Wednesday’s meeting, finance and resources general manager Athol Stephens said there had been plenty of correspondence between the council and Audit New Zealand on the document.

“There have been minor changes – bits added to it – nothing ever gets taken out,” he said.

Audit NZ had raised concerns about the document’s treatment of issues including rates, debt, the Forsyth Barr Stadium and the council’s plan to insure itself.

Chief executive Paul Orders said the concerns related to Audit NZ making sure the information provided was the best it could be, for clear public assessment.

Cr Lee Vandervis said the document needed more information on stadium finances, and issues such as the capitalisation of interest.

He voted against approving the plan for consultation, but appeared to be the only councillor to do so.

The summary includes a submission form calling for feedback on items included, and any not included in the long-term plan.

It also asks whether ratepayers want to reduce the 40-year term of stadium loan repayment to 23.5 years or 20 years, at a cost a year for the average residential property of $13 or $26 respectively.

An introduction from Mayor Dave Cull and Mr Orders said achieving an affordable budget was “a challenge”, but staff and elected members were taking a positive approach.

Because of spending on the Tahuna sewerage upgrade, redevelopments of the Dunedin Centre, town hall, and Otago Settlers Museum, and construction of the Forsyth Barr Stadium, the level of debt was described as “unpalatable”.

That level was due to peak in the 2012-13 financial year.

Councillors had given a clear direction that operating costs needed to be reviewed, and Mr Orders would carry out reviews covering all of the council’s activities, with a view to saving money.

It was the first budget since the council learned of Dunedin City Holdings Ltd’s shortfall in funding, and councillors and staff had “worked hard to meet these challenges”.

“Now, we encourage residents to have their say,” Mr Orders’ and Mr Cull’s explanation said.

The consultation period ends on April 17, and will be followed by hearings in early May.

Dunedin City Councillors – how they voted


By Allison Rudd on Fri, 16 Mar 2012

Cr Colin Weatherall says he was at Wednesday’s council meeting in spirit, despite being more than 1200km away.

He said yesterday he had agreed a year ago to attend the national surf-lifesaving championships in Gisborne and decided not to change his plans when the extraordinary meeting was called last Friday.

He said he kept in touch with a council staff member by email throughout the evening.

Cr Weatherall, an ORFU board chairman in the early 2000s, said he would have supported a rescue package because it meant there was a chance half or more of the $400,000 owed to the council by the ORFU would be recovered, and that money owed to other creditors might also be paid.

“I would have supported it on the basis that 50% of something is a bloody sight better than 50% of nothing.

“I also have huge sympathy for the ORFU’s small creditors. If the ORFU is able to continue there is a high likelihood they will get some or all of what they are owed.”

Cr Bill Acklin said he left the meeting after “three to four hours” because he had a prior commitment to attend another meeting in the evening.

The council meeting began at 2pm and official council records show he left at 4.49pm.

He said he would have supported a package because it would ensure professional rugby was retained at the stadium and the ORFU could continue to organise “grassroots” rugby in the city.

Yes votes (8):

  • Mayor Dave Cull
  • Cr John Bezett
  • Cr Syd Brown
  • Cr Neil Collins
  • Cr Paul Hudson
  • Cr Andrew Noone
  • Cr Chris Staynes
  • Cr Richard Thomson

No vote (5):

  • Cr Fliss Butcher
  • Cr Jinty MacTavish
  • Cr Teresa Stevenson
  • Cr Lee Vandervis
  • Cr Kate Wilson

Did not vote (2):

  • Cr Bill Acklin (left meeting before vote was taken)
  • Cr Colin Weatherall (not at meeting)

Both indicated their preference to support the vote.


Tensions erupt at council meeting


By David Loughrey on Thu, 15 Mar 2012

Voices quivered with suppressed rage, and bitter spats erupted over who said what to whom, as discord reigned at the Dunedin City Council yesterday.

Councillors accused each other of “desperation” as a council apparently riven with tensions met, with the prospect of the Otago Rugby Football Union’s financial demise hanging over it.

Cr Richard Thomson was accused by Cr Lee Vandervis of “playing with yourself”, while Cr Thomson, in turn, described the media as “kitty litter”.

In the public gallery, anti-stadium campaigner Bev Butler waved a newspaper article about the union and pokie trusts, which served as background to an, at times, circus-like finance, strategy and development meeting.

And all that took place before anyone had uttered the words “Otago Rugby Football Union”.

The committee meeting had some meaty subjects to discuss – including Dunedin City Holdings Ltd’s (DCHL) financial results and the future of the council’s multimillion-dollar Waipori fund.

But Otago rugby came up early on.

Cr Kate Wilson questioned where in the financial result – which is a regular item on the committee agenda – the $400,000 shortfall that was the unpaid rental and rates from the union was meant to appear.

Finance and corporate support general manager Athol Stephens said the figure would have been “buried” in miscellaneous property figures.

Cr Wilson said the figure should have been apparent, and councillors should have been alerted earlier to the problem with the union.

She suggested a policy that would give “a heads-up” in such situations, an issue expected to be included on a committee agenda in future.

A debate on the DCHL six-month report – which showed a $5 million after-tax profit – sparked an angry debate between Cr Vandervis and Cr Syd Brown.

Cr Vandervis began questioning DCHL chief executive Bevan Dodds about Forsyth Barr Stadium-related companies Dunedin Venues Ltd and Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, but Mr Dodds said those two companies were not part of the DCHL group.

Cr Vandervis continued with the questions, but Cr Brown cut him off, saying they were not questions Mr Dodds had knowledge about.

“Amazing, just amazing,” Cr Vandervis said.

A discussion of the Waipori fund had Cr Vandervis arguing with Mayor Dave Cull about who said what.

After Mr Cull spoke about the fund, Cr Vandervis claimed the mayor had said it was “impossible to maintain the fund”.

“No, I didn’t,” Mr Cull said after making a point of order.

Cr Vandervis then claimed the mayor had “withdrawn” what he said, but Mr Cull bridled at that idea, and said he had not.

“I’ll leave it at that,” Cr Vandervis said, though he did not keep that promise for long.

Cr Teresa Stevenson also struggled with emotion during the debate.

After beginning with an indignant air while questioning Mr Dodds about the possibility of borrowing from the fund, rather than from other lenders, she became highly irate during a run-in with Cr Brown.

Cr Stevenson demanded an answer to a question after question time had closed and the committee had moved to debate, but Cr Brown refused to answer, and the exchange came close to a shouting match as Cr Stevenson stood her ground.

Cr Thomson turned on the media after Cr Vandervis – while indulging in an extended metaphor about back doors and cat flaps – accused him of putting forward a plan that was akin to “playing with yourself” to no benefit.

Cr Thomson responded, describing the media as “kitty litter”, for which he apologised after the meeting.

Committee passes plan minus costs


By David Loughrey on Thu, 15 Mar 2012

The cost of maintaining Harbour Cone, in Dunedin, is yet to be determined, despite a management plan for the property being adopted this week.

The lack of a financial aspect was the main criticism of the plan, but the community development committee that approved it heard that was the next step.

The council bought the property for $2.6 million in 2008, after public concern it might be split into subdivisions.

The management plan was put together following public consultation last year.

At a community development committee, Cr Paul Hudson said he understood the cost of owning the property would be offset by applications for funding and the sale of some land.

Acting community and recreation services policy team leader Dolina Lee said the decision not to sell land was the decision of the hearings committee.

That committee was Mayor Dave Cull, Crs Jinty MacTavish and Kate Wilson, and former Otago Peninsula Community Board chairwoman Irene Scurr.

Mr Cull told the meeting the hearings committee was asked to investigate how to get a financial return, but the committee decided selling some of the property was not a good idea.

There would have been “very little” profit if land was subdivided. As well, the property was “riven with instability”.

It had been very difficult to get funding for a council-owned property, though some funding had been found.

Cr MacTavish said the plan was built on there being a viable farm on the property, though no money was budgeted for improvements.

Cr Syd Brown said there should be a budget alongside the plan, so the community knew what the costs were.

“What are the revenue streams?”

Cr Chris Staynes said it was a two-stage process, with the plan first.

“Any cost still has to come through the council process.”

Cr Lee Vandervis said without knowing what the costs were, he could not approve the plan.

The plan was approved by a majority vote.


Hopes for early talks on erosion


By Chris Morris on Thu, 15 Mar 2012

The Dunedin City Council hopes talks aimed at tackling erosion problems at Te Rauone Beach, on Otago Peninsula, can be held before budget hearings later this year.

Cr Bill Acklin – chairman of the council’s community development committee – said this week he hoped to meet Otago Regional Council and Port Otago representatives before draft budget meetings scheduled for May.

The talks would help parties better understand what needed to be done to protect the beach and coastal property in the area from erosion, and how urgent the work was, he said.

It would also be a chance to discuss how responsibility for meeting the cost of any work should be shared, he said.

The ORC was responsible for the administration of the coastline under the Resource Management Act, and the city council for Te Rauone reserve.

However, exactly who should pay to protect private property in the area has been the source of disagreement between the parties.

“That’s all part of what needs to be worked through,” Cr Acklin said.

His comments came after the Otago Daily Times in January reported residents feared homes in the area would be under threat within the year, if erosion continued unabated, and that waves from passing cruise ships and container carriers were making the problem worse.

Port Otago had proposed a breakwater and beach replenishment project, but wanted $160,000 from the city council to help pay for the work – funding the city council said would need to be considered during the draft annual and long-term plan hearings in May.

Cr Acklin last month suggested a cost-sharing deal involving all three parties might be a way forward, but ORC chairman Stephen Woodhead was quick to reject the idea at the time.

The erosion issue was discussed again at this week’s community development committee meeting, with Cr Acklin reiterating a “round-table discussion” involving the three parties was needed.

Mayor Dave Cull asked if there was any precedent of city or regional councils providing help in situations where coastal erosion was causing problems.

Community and recreation services manager Mick Reece said when 2007 storms damaged the St Clair and Middle Beach areas, the legal advice then was the dunes were protecting council infrastructure.

If council infrastructure was in trouble, private property would have followed.

City environment general manager Tony Avery said it was “not a city council responsibility to protect private land”.

“There is no legal imperative for the council to protect private land.”

Cr Lee Vandervis asked about the role of the regional council, which owned Port Otago and was involved in dredging the harbour.

He said that the issue seemed “far more relevant to them”.

Mr Avery said the councils needed to discuss the matter.

Cr Jinty MacTavish noted there was much frustration within the community at Te Rauone, and it “deserved an outcome”.


School sale welcomed by community


By David Loughrey on Wed, 14 Mar 2012

Tomahawk School could have a new life, now the area has a clean beach and the Dunedin City Council owns the property, a local man says.

Vic Inglis, chairman of the Tomahawk pool committee, said yesterday the committee would be keen to raise funds for the pool if the council also put in.

And he saw other possibilities for a property that was becoming a popular spot for locals.

But there were a variety of responses at a council level this week to news the school had been bought by the council for $300,000 to safeguard the city’s coastline.

The property, formerly owned by the Crown, was sold to Ngai Tahu Property earlier this year and then on-sold to the council, which considered it an important part of the dune and beach system, one it needed to control.

A report to the community development committee this week detailed the purchase, and said ownership would provide, under the council’s coastal dune reserves management plan, “the required level of protection for the dunes”.

Cr Lee Vandervis was angered elected members had not been told about the purchase until after the fact, while Cr Syd Brown wanted to be certain it was bought for coastal protection, not as a community asset that would cost the council money in the long term.

Cr Jinty MacTavish felt the property was a community asset, one residents were “most positive” about, while Cr Fliss Butcher said it was essential the council bought the property to stop subdivision and residential development on land that was not suitable for that purpose.

Cr Vandervis said he could not see “one single reason” why buying the land protected the coast, and asked why councillors were not told about the purchase before it happened.

City environment general manager Tony Avery said at the meeting the purchase had been made under delegation from chief executive Paul Orders.

He said yesterday the money came from the reserves budget.

Cr Butcher said, as chairwoman of the hearings committee that considered the management plan, she was “very pleased” the land had been bought.

She told Cr Vandervis the residentially zoned land could have been developed into 15 properties with 15 houses, on land that was not suitable.

“This is a good outcome.”

Cr Vandervis said the district plan should be used to stop such activity.

Cr Brown said he wanted the council to bear in mind the land was to be held for coastal protection. There were buildings and a pool on the land, and he was concerned upkeep could mean a cost.

But Cr MacTavish said the purchase “means a lot to the local Tomahawk community”.

As the council representative on the Otago Peninsula Community Board it was one of the issues on which she had received the most positive feedback.

Mr Inglis said the beach had become popular now it was clean, following work on the Tahuna outfall pipe.

The school property was also popular with locals walking dogs and accessing the beach.

In “an ideal world” the property could be used, and the 25m pool saved for locals.

The report said discussions would be held with the community on future options for the site, and a report on that issue would go back before the committee.

• The committee voted to approve access to the beach to Nash and Ross Ltd, the company that takes sand to stop flooding in the Tomahawk lagoon.

The practice has caused anger in the community, but the reserves management plan notes sand extraction had been under way for many years, and did not have adverse effects on the reserve.

The company has applied to the Otago Regional Council, the council for which it does the work, for a permit to continue.

Otago Regional Council resource management director Selva Selvarajah said organisations including the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, Ngai Tahu and the Department of Conservation were affected parties under the permit, and all had given approval.

Once the full council approved the committee’s decision to allow access, the permit would go through.

The company did not charge to take the sand, but could be used for commercial profit.

The matter was non-notified.

Delta seeking damages from councillor over cable


By Chris Morris on Fri, 9 Mar 2012

A Dunedin city councillor being pursued by a Dunedin City Council-owned company for $19,000 in damages is seeking legal advice, but says the claim is “laughable”.

Cr Lee Vandervis received the $19,241.40 invoice from Delta Utility Services Ltd last month, 18 months after his volunteer damaged an 11,000-volt underground power cable during the 2010 local body election campaign. The cable was owned by another council-owned company, Aurora Energy Ltd, but maintained by Delta.

Delta chief executive Grady Cameron said in a statement the company had been seeking reimbursement from Cr Vandervis since the incident, but had so far not received payment despite letters and phone calls.

The council-owned company had an obligation to ratepayers to recover the costs, or would face a reduced dividend to the council, he insisted. However, Cr Vandervis scoffed when asked yesterday if he planned to pay the bill.

“I think it’s laughable. Why should I pay? It’s got nothing to do with me, or extremely little to do with me at the very best.”

Cr Vandervis and other council candidates were permitted to install temporary election signs at the Quarry Rd location and other council-designated election advertising sites, marked on maps given to candidates.

Cr Vandervis opted for oversized swing sets as part of his campaign, requiring steel pegs to secure them to the ground.

His volunteer was hammering in a steel peg when he pierced the cable, which failed later and cut power to 747 consumers from East Taieri to Taieri Mouth for about 40 minutes.

However, Mr Cameron said yesterday the sign had been installed about 20m south of the Quarry Rd signage site.

Cr Vandervis denied that, but said the site marked on the council map included a steep bank and candidates had “done the sensible thing” and installed their signs a few metres away.

His sign was installed next to others in the same location as signs during previous election campaigns, he insisted.

“Delta are grasping at straws trying to pretend that I’ve somehow been remiss in not putting the sign in the right place.

“There is a legal argument, but they’re drawing a very long bow on that one.”

Asked if the company would pursue the bill through the courts, Mr Cameron would only say his “first preference” was to discuss the matter with Cr Vandervis.


No glass at keg party


By Rosie Manins on Thu, 8 Mar 2012

Glass will be banned from the Hyde St keg party for the first time, in a collaborative effort between the University of Otago, its student association, police and the Dunedin City Council.

More than 7000 students are expected to attend the day-long social event on March 24, which in previous years has been marred by disorder.

The Otago University Students’ Association supports a glass ban in North Dunedin as an alternative to a proposed central-city liquor ban extension into the student area.

More than 3000 people have signed OUSA’s petition calling for an alternative to the liquor ban extension, which will be put before the council for consideration later this month.

OUSA president Logan Edgar said the keg party glass ban would serve to trial the idea of a permanent bottle ban in North Dunedin.

“I can’t see students not going for it [the ban]. It will make North Dunedin a better place to live and probably save the DCC millions,” he said.

Mr Edgar said the association would encourage students to lodge with the council submissions on the extension before a March 26 deadline.

He said the keg party was not an OUSA event, but the association had teamed with the university, council and police to ensure revellers were safe.

“Last year, the hospital was overrun with party-goers with cut-up feet and we don’t want people to have their day ruined by sitting in the emergency room,” Mr Edgar said.

First aid, barbecue food and portable toilets will be provided at the keg party.

Cr Lee Vandervis promoted a bottle ban in North Dunedin when he was on the council between 2004 and 2007 and says it is still an excellent idea.

He said any reduction to the amount of broken glass in the city would save Dunedin ratepayers money.

“Ban glass from the Octagon to the [botanic] gardens and massively reduce the cost of having to clean it up, as well as the number of students going to [the emergency department] with cut feet,” he said.

Cr Vandervis pledged “every bit of support possible” to the glass ban.

“It’s great to see it coming from the OUSA,” he said.

Almost every alcoholic beverage was available in aluminium or plastic packaging, which made little or no difference to student consumers even if others preferred drinking from glass vessels, Cr Vandervis said.

He countered arguments about a glass ban being impractical and difficult to enforce, saying it was worthwhile even if one less bottle was thrown at a person.

“You are never going to get rid of all the bottles from North Dunedin, but if you get rid of most then you get rid of most of the cost, most of the cut feet and most of the problem. I’m sure the fire department and police would be happier if there was a lot less airborne glass in Dunedin,” he said.

Bus shelter decisions to be made in two parts


By Chris Morris on Wed, 7 Mar 2012

A decision regarding about 80 new glass bus shelters planned for sites throughout Dunedin is expected within a week, after the Dunedin City Council hearings committee yesterday concluded a two-day meeting.

However, a final decision about plans for another 40 more contentious shelters could be delayed by “a couple of weeks”, after they drew opposition from neighbours, committee chairman Cr Colin Weatherall confirmed.

The committee yesterday heard from the last of about 15 submitters concerned about plans for about 120 new shelters at existing bus stops throughout the city.

The mainly glass shelters aim to encourage bus patronage, improve passengers’ visibility to drivers and discourage undesirable behaviour.

Plans for about 80 of the shelters were accepted without opposition or after negotiations, but homeowners continued to object to about 40 of the shelters, citing a variety of concerns at this week’s public hearing.

Cr Weatherall said yesterday he and committee member Cr Andrew Noone would release their decision in two parts, beginning next week with their views on the uncontested shelters.

However, site visits would be needed later this week, followed by further deliberations, before final decisions could be made in “a couple of weeks” about the remaining 40 shelters opposed by neighbours, Cr Weatherall said.

This week’s hearing began in bizarre circumstances on Monday, when Cr Lee Vandervis, the third member of the committee, withdrew from his role in protest.

He had earlier objected to the consultation process and submissions from lawyer Michael Garbett, suggesting the committee was restricted in the scope of issues raised by neighbours it could consider.

Cr Vandervis was absent yesterday, but Cr Weatherall again indicated it would be up to the committee to determine which issues raised by submitters it could consider.


Vandervis walks out of hearing


By Chris Morris on Tue, 6 Mar 2012

A public hearing on new bus shelters planned for Dunedin turned into a political spat yesterday when committee member Cr Lee Vandervis criticised the process and then quit the meeting in protest.

The walkout occurred near the beginning of yesterday’s meeting of the Dunedin City Council hearings committee, which was to hear from submitters who opposed plans for new glass bus shelters around the city.

It was believed to be the first time a councillor had withdrawn in such a manner, with previous withdrawals brought on by sickness or similar circumstances, committee chairman Cr Colin Weatherall said later.

Cr Vandervis – one of three committee members – began the session by grilling lawyer Michael Garbett about legal advice given to the committee that suggested it should consider only a narrow range of public concerns relating to impeded access.

Cr Vandervis was worried that precluded many of the other issues being raised by submitters, such as vandalism of the shelters, despite assurances from Cr Weatherall it did not.

Cr Vandervis also claimed the hearing’s outcome had been “predetermined” because the contract to build shelters had already been let, and consultation had occurred at a politically convenient time, just before Christmas, when many people were unable to respond.

Cr Weatherall cautioned him against such suggestions, but Cr Vandervis responded by requesting an adjournment.

He then retreated to a back room with Cr Weatherall and fellow committee member Cr Andrew Noone, followed by council governance manager Sandy Graham and Mr Garbett.

The group emerged 15 minutes later and Cr Vandervis announced he would “respectfully withdraw” from the rest of the two-day hearing and deliberations that followed.

“I’m uncomfortable with continuing, given the nature of the pre-Christmas submission process, which invites broad submissions but allows the committee to decide only on narrow access considerations,” he said, before packing his papers and leaving the room.

Yesterday’s three-strong panel was selected by Cr Weatherall from the eight councillors on the council’s wider hearings committee.

Cr Vandervis receiving $68 an hour as a hearings fee, but only for time served, Ms Graham confirmed.

Cr Vandervis remained available to sit on future hearings committees, but Cr Weatherall would not comment when asked what impact Cr Vandervis’ behaviour could have on future roles.

Cr Vandervis was also reluctant to comment when contacted, saying to do so “might prejudice” the hearing still under way.

However, he reiterated his claim legal advice from Mr Garbett had to be accepted, despite Cr Weatherall’s assurances the advice was only one view for the committee to consider.

His withdrawal meant Cr Vandervis missed submissions from property owners including Margaret and Ernest Diack, who objected to a shelter being added to an existing bus stop outside their Forbury Rd home.

The elderly couple, speaking through lawyer Devon Miller, argued it would reduce the value of their home, which featured an impressive fuchsia garden, and encourage more people to congregate outside, raising safety concerns when reversing from their driveway.

The council plans to build about 120 of the glass bus shelters at existing unsheltered bus stops over the next year on behalf of the Otago Regional Council, which is responsible for the city’s bus services.

The new design would improve visibility and safety for passengers and drivers and discourage “undesirable” behaviour, council transportation operations programme engineer Michael Harrison said.

Objections from 48 property owners had been received, but plans for five shelters had since been withdrawn and another 12 complaints resolved, leaving 31 objections for the committee to consider.

The hearing concludes today, with deliberations and site visits to follow.


Unpaid rent situation angers councillor


By Chris Morris on Wed, 29 Feb 2012

Revelations the Dunedin City Council is owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid rent by the Otago Rugby Football Union are “just not good enough”, a furious Cr Lee Vandervis says.

It was confirmed on Monday night the council was among creditors likely to be left with unpaid bills if, as expected, the ORFU goes into liquidation on Friday.

Council chief executive Paul Orders initially said the council was owed $412,000 in unpaid rent, accrued from the union’s continued use of Carisbrook after the ground was sold to the council.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said yesterday the actual figure was “slightly short” of $400,000 and comprised mainly unpaid rent but also other elements.

Mr Orders confirmed $399,000 was owed, but a detailed breakdown was not available yesterday.

Mr Cull said the size of the bill had prompted expressions of “surprise” from members of the public, councillors and council staff yesterday.

Mr Cull said he was “not happy” either.

“We’re owed [nearly] $400,000 and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get it. I’m not happy. It’s not because it’s the ORFU. It’s because it’s $400,000.”

Cr Vandervis said news of the outstanding rent bill had come as an “absolute, complete and utter” surprise to him, but it appeared Mr Cull and some council staff “knew all about it”.

“This is not what we’re here for. We shouldn’t be in a position where we find out about absolute financial disasters from the ODT, when obviously the mayor and senior DCC officers knew about it.

“It’s just not good enough. How can we represent the people when we don’t know what’s going on?”

Mr Cull said when contacted on Monday night the outstanding rent was an operational matter for Mr Orders, and he had few details.

He repeated that position yesterday, saying he was not previously aware of the size of the outstanding bill.

“I knew that they were behind. I think that’s been well known for quite a while, but I didn’t know the quantum.”

Asked if concerns should have been raised as the bill accrued, Mr Cull said he believed the situation had been handled within “proper process”.

“There’s been no suggestion of impropriety.”


Access to meeting venue assured


By David Loughrey on Thu, 16 Feb 2012

Access for community groups to a well-used Dunedin City Council function room appears to have been ensured, but the mechanism by which that takes place may change.

The council finance, strategy and development committee last week voted to add $20,000 to Mayor Dave Cull’s discretionary fund for the purpose, subject to consultation, but the meeting also voted for council staff to explore the implications of the council, rather than Dunedin Venues Management Ltd (DVML), having control of the Skeggs Gallery.

The issue arose after DVML, a council-owned company, was given the responsibility of running the Forsyth Barr Stadium, the Dunedin Centre, the Municipal Chambers and town hall complex, and the Edgar Centre.

A report to recent annual plan meetings from governance manager Sandy Graham said DVML took over after the redevelopment of the Municipal Chambers.

Before the redevelopment, council departments and community groups had access to facilities there at little or no cost.

In the year August 1, 2008 to July 31, 2009, there were 188 bookings for the Skeggs Gallery, which is in the Municipal Chambers.

Of those, 65 were for community organisations.

Under council policy, many groups paid commercial rates, but council departments used it free of charge, and community groups free, at the discretion of the mayor.

Now the redevelopment was complete, DVML charged $400 a day, or $250 a half-day, to use the Skeggs Gallery, with no free access for the council or community groups, and no mayoral discretion.

The annual plan meetings voted against a $100,000 fund to pay for access, and a report ordered after the meetings said $20,000 would be needed to allow community groups access.

Cr Lee Vandervis said he would prefer the Skeggs Gallery to be run by the council, as were other rooms in the Municipal Chambers.

It “saddened” him access could not be provided free of charge.

Cr Kate Wilson responded Cr Vandervis’ idea could cost much more money than supplying $20,000, while Cr Chris Staynes said the $20,000 would be “a money go-round”, as it would go from the council to a council-owned company.

Mr Cull said he did not mind what mechanism was used to allow free use for community groups, as long as he could decide who used the room.

The $20,000, ring-fenced for venue hire for community groups, was added “for purposes of consultation” to the discretionary fund. Staff were asked to clarify the implications of the Skeggs Gallery being the responsibility of the council.

Waipori fund policy change mood evident


By David Loughrey on Sat, 11 Feb 2012

Policy changes could be in store for the $67.6 million Waipori fund, which provides an annual cash return to the Dunedin City Council.

A mood for change was evident among some councillors during an extended debate on the matter on Thursday, but not enough to stop taking dividends, an action it was estimated would cost the city more than $3 million a year.

That outcome was pushed by Cr Lee Vandervis, who, asked how he would make up the money, said one way would be to get rid of staff.

The fund was established in 1999 using proceeds from the sale of the Waipori electricity generation scheme, and has been a valuable contributor to the Dunedin City Council’s coffers since.

Its principal, which was $56.7 million when the fund was set up, stood at $69.8 million last June, but has dropped to $67.6 million.

The fund’s quarterly report to the finance, strategy and development committee said many governments in high-income countries were “broke” after bailing out the private sector, and fiscal austerity was under way.

Investing in markets was risky, although the underlying conditions for doing so might be improving, the report said.

The fund had a surplus of $1.1 million, but a loss in value of $1.2 million, the report said.

Cr Vandervis argued the council’s policy on the fund stated it could not lower the fund’s value.

Committee chairman Syd Brown told Cr Vandervis the council had discussed the fund at annual plan meetings in January, while Cr Vandervis was away on holiday.

Cr Brown was referring to annual plan hearings at which the council discussed borrowing from the fund, instead of using commercial lending institutions.

Cr Vandervis moved the council should stop taking dividends from the fund.

He said he disagreed with the council’s approach, which was to predict how the fund would do in the following year and decide how much to take based on that forecast.

Instead, it should wait and see how much it made, and then use any surplus, he said.

Finance and corporate support general manager Athol Stephens said that would mean a shortfall for the council budget of $3 million, and that shortfall would have to be funded by debt.

Cr Richard Thomson said he “instinctively” wanted to disagree with Cr Vandervis, but he agreed the policy was not good and needed to be changed. However, stopping taking the dividend was going too far, Cr Thomson said.

Earlier, he said the policy that the fund could not lose value was “dumb”, as markets moved from day to day.

That policy needed to be reconsidered, he said.

Cr Jinty MacTavish agreed, and said she looked forward to a report on the fund ordered for the next committee meeting.

Mayor Dave Cull said Cr Vandervis was right to identify a problem, but not taking further distributions from the fund would mean more debt, which Cr Vandervis often said he opposed.

Mr Cull said he wanted more information so the future of the fund could be dealt with in a “more thoughtful way”.

Cr Vandervis, who campaigned on a proposal to cut hundreds of staff at the council, was the only councillor to vote for the motion.


Council in favour of museum’s post office plans


By Chris Morris on Wed, 8 Feb 2012

The planned $1.5 million refurbishment of the former North Dunedin post office by the Otago Museum has won support from Dunedin city councillors, despite some verbal volleys aimed at the project’s design.

The concerns came from Crs Teresa Stevenson and Lee Vandervis at yesterday’s Dunedin City Council community development committee meeting, but were not enough to stop councillors voting to accept the museum’s design plans for the building.

The plans, detailed in the Otago Daily Times on Monday, included a refurbishment of the building’s interior for conferences, functions and exhibitions, and a new glass conservatory, courtyard and pathway.

The decision requires final approval at the next full council meeting on February 20, and is subject to detailed landscaping and design work being completed and resource consent obtained.

The council granted the museum a 33-year lease to use the unoccupied building in 2010, at an annual rent of $12,000, subject to the building being restored.

Most councillors yesterday praised the museum for work that would allow the building to be restored and reused, but Cr Teresa Stevenson questioned the impact the “glass box” would have on the building’s exterior.

She also wanted more detail about how the museum planned to use it once finished, saying she was concerned the museum could use the building for commercial activities inside.

That prompted Cr Paul Hudson to raise a point of order, arguing the concerns were matters for a resource consent hearing, which was yet to begin.

Committee chairman Cr Bill Acklin initially agreed it was not the job of councillors at the meeting to “pick the plans to pieces”, and disallowed Cr Stevenson’s question.

However, he was forced to reverse the decision moments later, after advice from governance manager Sandy Graham.

Cr Stevenson swooped, labelling the conservatory a “shipping container attached to the side” of the building, and asked council heritage policy planner Glen Hazelton for his views on the design.

He refused to comment on the “taste” of the design, but said it was now common practice to differentiate between heritage and modern elements of a redeveloped building.

Cr Vandervis was also concerned the plans showed the redeveloped building expanding beyond its original footprint, which would “considerably alter” the look and balance of the building.

He “loved” the plan to reuse the building, but wanted it redeveloped within its existing footprint, without the “fairly significant add-ons”.

“To me, the development plans don’t respect the original footprint of the building.”

However, Cr Syd Brown said the building was in “such disrepair” it was “basically unusable”, but the investment needed to restore it was beyond the means of community groups.

The museum’s plan would see $1.5 million raised to restore it, without calling on council funding, he said.

“Here’s a golden opportunity for the regeneration and adaptive reuse of a heritage building … it’s an opportunity the city cannot turn down.”

Crs Kate Wilson, John Bezett and deputy mayor Chris Staynes agreed, while Mayor Dave Cull pointed out the building had been modified in the past, and congratulated the museum for its “excellent example of heritage reuse”.

The building was completed in 1878 and had a category 2 listing with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, but the museum’s plans had initial support from NZHPT Otago-Southland area manager Owen Graham.

Museum experience and development director Clare Wilson said recently the integrity of the bluestone building would be maintained, with heritage features either highlighted or protected in line with a conservation plan.


Councillors not moved by campaign


By Chris Morris on Fri, 3 Feb 2012

A marketing campaign promoting active lifestyles in Dunedin appears to be a flop with city councillors, despite the civic leaders voting to spend more than $100,000 funding it.

Information released to the Otago Daily Times showed just one city councillor – Cr Kate Wilson, of Middlemarch – has signed up for the council-funded MoveMe programme since its launch last April.

That was despite calls by Cr Fliss Butcher at the time for all elected representatives to take part, neatly sidestepped by fellow councillors.

The programme aimed to encourage physical activity by offering tips, exercise programmes and promoting Dunedin’s recreation opportunities, and was supported by the University of Otago, Sport Otago and other groups.

It was launched with start-up funding of $110,000 from the council, which was continuing to co-ordinate the programme – at a cost of $35,000 since then – on behalf of all other partner organisations.

However, just 392 people had so far registered for the programme, including just six using Dunedin City Council staff email addresses, although 12,464 had visited the programme’s website.

Contacted this week, Cr Butcher said the results, including the efforts of her fellow councillors, were “a bit disappointing”.

“But, you know, people get busy and all these other things happen.”

Some city councillors were already active in other ways. Crs Jinty MacTavish and John Bezett were among those known to be regular cyclists.

Others were less keen on organised exercise. Cr Lee Vandervis, arguing against the programme last year, recommended “waving a chainsaw” around the garden instead.

Cr Bill Acklin was among those appearing slightly nervous during last year’s debate, conceding some councillors were not doing “as much as we should be” to remain active.

And, despite voting for it, Cr Butcher said this week the poor results showed the programme was a waste of money.

“Everyone can go for a walk if they want to get fit. They don’t need to have some ratepayer-funded internet sign-up programme to do it.

“Other things are more important.”

She had intended to sign up after urging others to do so last year, but damaged her knee shortly afterwards, and was to have surgery on it.

“I’m looking forward to being fully active again afterwards.”

Council community recreation adviser Hamish Black said it was “probably fair” to say the number signing up was lower than hoped for, but he was pleased with the total number of people visiting the website.

“These sort of initiatives do take a while to create a bit of profile through the community.”

He planned more community-based events and to prepare more maps, activity plans and information brochures to promote the programme, but the key remained encouraging more people to sign up.

“It’s just that conversion rate that we’ll hope to improve.”

The council was not alone in funding the programme. The Southern District Health Board, through its Healthy Eating, Healthy Action initiative, contributed $15,000 over three years, and other partners offered their own time and resources, he said.

It was hoped another $25,000 from the council’s active city budget would be approved for 2012-13 as part of the council’s annual plan process, and funding was being sought from community funding organisations.


Councillors at odds over spending cuts


By Chris Morris on Fri, 20 Jan 2012

A push to slash spending on Logan Park and other Dunedin projects has been criticised and Dunedin City Council spending cuts have emerged as an early battleground for budget debates beginning next week.

Council community development committee chairman Cr Bill Acklin criticised the proposed cuts yesterday, vowing to fight them at a workshop and public meetings to be held next week.

He said the proposed 4.7% rates increase for 2012-13 was “unrealistic” and had been achieved only by council staff taking a “slash-and-burn” approach to spending.

That was after council chief executive Paul Orders, detailing the proposed budget changes, said staff had tried to avoid taking that approach.

“I don’t believe that’s the case at all,” Cr Acklin said yesterday.

“I think that’s exactly what has happened – slash and burn.”

He said the cuts, if approved by councillors following public consultation, would see too many projects stopped around the city.

Plans included saving $4.6 million by delaying Otago Peninsula roading improvements, including cycleway work, for three years, dumping the seal extension programme, saving $4.7 million, and cutting upgrades of city parks, saving $4.2 million over 10 years.

Another $1.7 million had been removed from the Logan Park redevelopment fund, among the suggested changes.

Cr Acklin said the changes were “strictly management and staff’s recommendations”, and yet to be approved, but cuts to Logan Park project were “horrendous”.

The impact on sports groups, if park upgrades were axed as well, would be “horrific”, he predicted.

“There would be a lot of sports that just wouldn’t be able to go about their business.”

Debate would begin next week and continue after public consultation, but Cr Acklin said he was unsure of the outcome.

“I’m only one vote, and I’m not out to try and push [rates] up. But I’m also not prepared to see everything be binned just because there’s a bit of a blip in the rates.

“I know that we’ve got to tighten the belt … and I think that we should and we will, but not at the expense of all the things that are being cut in there.”

However, Cr Richard Thomson defended the cuts, saying the $5 million annual shortfall in dividends from Dunedin City Holdings Ltd meant they were necessary.

He applauded Mr Orders for taking “the bull by the horns”, and said the cuts had reduced the “quite unmanageable” rates increases initially while also giving more time for a closer study of council operating costs.

“You do have to cut your cloth accordingly.”

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull and most other councillors contacted yesterday were unwilling to comment in detail ahead of next week’s discussions.

However, Cr Lee Vandervis supported any move to axe the Logan Park redevelopment and insisted cuts should go further – starting with further reductions in the number of council staff.

“In fact, pretty much everything has got to go on the backburner, because there is no money. When people wake up to that fact, I think we’ll be much the better for it.”

Cr Jinty MacTavish said staff had done a “good job”, but the council faced a tough year ahead and needed to listen to ratepayers during consultation.

“I think anyone looking at what has had to be cut to make that happen, or what has had to be deferred to make that happen, will understand that that hasn’t been easy.”

The council also had a list of unfunded projects – including Ocean Beach work – needing consideration, so consultation would have to establish ratepayers’ priorities and whether a 4.7% increase was affordable.

“It’s still more than the increase on many of our citizens’ salaries … and it’s greater than inflation, and that will be hard for a lot of people.”

Cr Syd Brown would say only he was “as determined as I can be” to keep next year’s proposed rates increase to 4.7%, but would keep “an open mind” to be convinced by debate or public submissions.

Cr Neil Collins said the work by staff was “encouraging”, while Cr Kate Wilson was “very impressed” with their efforts.

However, she worried wholesale cuts could lead to a perception of Dunedin as a centre of “doom and gloom”, and hoped councillors would be “realistic”.

“We don’t want to stop all development in the city at all,” she said.

Cr Andrew Noone said the proposed rates increase was “a good effort” by staff, and it was now up to councillors to “get the final result we’re after”.

“We need to just work our way through and see what is politically acceptable and financially prudent.”


Councillors clash on quake opinion


By Chris Morris on Fri, 13 Jan 2012

There are fears Dunedin businesses could miss out on a slice of the estimated $30 billion Christchurch rebuilding effort, amid an outcry over a controversial call to rebuild some of the shattered city’s infrastructure in Dunedin.

The claim came yesterday from Cr Syd Brown, chairman of the Dunedin City Council’s finance, strategy and development committee, after an opinion piece by Cr Lee Vandervis, published last week.

Cr Vandervis had called for key Christchurch infrastructure to be rebuilt in Dunedin, given the continued seismic instability in the Garden City.

This prompted a mixed reaction and Cr Brown’s warning yesterday.

Cr Brown said Dunedin’s reputation was “definitely” being damaged by the battering, and the fallout also risked efforts to secure rebuilding work for Dunedin companies by forging partnerships with other companies in Christchurch, he believed.

“This is totally not helpful to our case and so I want to put it to bed.

“The Christchurch community … really do not need an uneducated opinion from someone else in another city, who admits in the same sentence that he’s being provocative, at a time when the community’s still having trauma.

“I think it’s just poor taste,” he said.

Despite that, Cr Brown said he supported continuing efforts to bring Christchurch businesses to Dunedin, a push that has so far attracted only a handful of companies. He believed the Government should reconsider how vital infrastructure was clumped together.

However, simply shifting Christchurch’s vital resources to Dunedin would be making the same mistake – clumping infrastructure together, Cr Brown believed.

“If we’re a smart society we learn from tragedies, and from natural disasters, on how best to go forward.”

Cr Vandervis hit back late yesterday, denying Dunedin’s reputation was being damaged and insisting he was trying to help protect the entire South Island economy.

The sudden loss of Lyttelton Port in an earthquake, and the damage it would do to South Island exports, was an example of what could go wrong by centralising resources in Christchurch, Cr Vandervis said.

“If all these people want to rush around with their heads in the sand … and pretend that that isn’t a really serious risk to the whole South Island, Christchurch included, then they are deluding themselves.”

However, Cr Brown said councillors had already debated the city’s response to the Christchurch earthquakes.

They had opted for a “neighbourly” approach, offering whatever help was available.

Doing so would bring benefits for Dunedin businesses.

As part of that, the council was working with former Naylor Love managing director Trevor Kempton towards future partnerships between companies in both cities.

Mr Kempton said, when contacted, a shortage of tradespeople in Christchurch meant there was a “very significant opportunity” for Dunedin businesses to benefit from rebuilding work in a “win-win” relationship.

While Cr Vandervis’ comments had no effect on plans to rebuild in Christchurch, continued fallout would “certainly have the effect that Syd [Brown]’s talking about,” Mr Kempton said.

Cr Brown said the council had budgeted $350,000 to pay for a Dunedin representative to work in Christchurch over the next two years, helping Dunedin businesses secure work in the city.

It was also in Dunedin’s interest for Christchurch to be restored as a “vibrant centre”, providing the gateway to the South Island and standing ready to help should Dunedin need it in future, he said.

“We want a positive association with our neighbours, because we’re never sure that some natural disaster [won’t] come in our own back yard,” Cr Brown said.

We’ll be fine in Christchurch, thanks


Opinion, by Islay McLeod • Thu, 12 Jan 2012

I have just read the “opinion” piece by Cr Lee Vandervis and I urge him to visit the GNS website map of active faults and see what’s on Dunedin’s doorstep.

While undoubtedly the seismic risk to Dunedin is far less than Christchurch and Wellington, that’s hardly a good reason to shift Christchurch to Dunedin.

I attended the recent GNS and Canterbury University experts’ briefing on the seismicity of Christchurch, and we’re in for the long haul. Things are going to bump around up here for decades but that’s no reason to pause the rebuild, they say.

There’s a very low likelihood of a magnitude 7 originating on what’s now called the Kaiapoi Fault and the Alpine fault will go with at least a magnitude 8.

That last statistic takes care of pretty much all of the assertions made about ports and airports.

The whole South Island will be affected by that one.

But there are some assertions made by Cr Vandervis as “fact” which are not. Recent geotechnical and historical evidence do not indicate the “earthquakes have ended”, nor the reverse. Recent geotech surveys have in fact shown faults they had no idea about, and previous quakes provided no such evidence either. What indicator of Dunedin’s seismicity did the 1974 quake provide?

I have no idea who Cr Vandervis has been talking to but I have never heard of this “always anticipated terror” which “has now become a permanent epidemic of social shellshock”.

This has absolutely no basis in fact whatsoever.

The people of Christchurch, by and large, are coping and coping well. We all have a shot at what size that last one was, and everyone has www.canterburyquakelive.co.nz on internet “favourites”, and what we owe to our children is the love, care and concern in making light of the situation in this way, infinitely better than uprooting them on the premise they’re safer elsewhere.

I’ll leave it to others to point out the errors in the claim that Christchurch is no longer the South Island’s main business hub, but we all know up here that the Canterbury contribution to the nation’s GDP has varied virtually nil.

District councils and the North Canterbury Federated Farmers can get stuck in about the claim that not much business is generated north of Christchurch.

Sure the heart of Christchurch is physically broken. I wouldn’t want to be walking down Princes St in a 6.3 either, or living in South Dunedin, or sitting in the Forsyth Barr Stadium.

But with the engineering and ingenuity of Canterbury University, Christchurch will be reborn, safe and beautiful. Our businesses will continue to flourish as they do now, albeit in better buildings.

The best revelation from the Christchurch/Canterbury earthquakes has been the community togetherness of the people. That was once referred to as “one-eyed Cantabrians” but that small-town-in-a-big-city feel has really come to the fore and we the people of Christchurch do not want to move anywhere else.

Especially, it seems, Dunedin.

This is the second pot shot the Dunedin City Council has taken at poaching Christchurch businesses. Put simply, if Christchurch businesses saw any opportunity at all in Dunedin, they’d be there already. I’m afraid that this whole lame-brained and cack-handed effort to boost the city’s coffers off the broken backs of your friends up the road will be seen for what it really is.

There is a deep, dark river of resentment in Dunedin, sustained by a handful of those who remember the glory days of the city. That minority of mediocre talent never had (or made) the opportunity to move on, literally and mentally.

Their cry has been obstructively insular. “We can do it here”. To them I say, well, if you can why haven’t you? And what does it say about those who claim justification for kicking a community when it’s down already?

It might take 10 or more years for the full fabulousness of the new Christchurch to start being revealed but by all accounts, by then we’ll have a new town hall, convention centre, Olympic standard sport facilities … oh, and that will include a covered stadium.

  • Islay McLeod is the deputy chairwoman of the Hagley Ferrymead Community Board, the most earthquake-affected ward; and she is the national fundraiser for LifeLine New Zealand.

Why build on risky ground? It costs us all

Opinion, by Ian Smith • Thu, 12 Jan 2012

Rebuilding Christchurch’s CBD in the same area already devastated by earthquakes makes no sense, says Dunedin writer Ian Smith, given recent predictions of further aftershocks for years to come.

No-one disputes the enthusiasm of MP Gerry Brownlee for the rebuilding of Christchurch, any more than they would denigrate the attempts by Mayor Bob Parker for rallying the city and its people after the second large “shake” which rendered much of the central city a wasteland.

But sentiment, and political opportunism aside, Lee Vandervis has raised an important issue, even if he has gone somewhat over the top with some of his suggestions regarding relocation of Christchurch businesses to Dunedin, which was bound to raise hackles in any such discussion.

Let it be remembered, however, that in the spate of head office relocations a decade or two ago, Christchurch was a grateful beneficiary of Dunedin’s misfortune, and although an aura of brotherly love may be afoot post quakes, it is not long ago that a strategic plan to close down the remaining vestiges of our neurosurgical services had the hospital complex ringed, three deep, with local supporters, but elicited neither one shred of sympathy, nor any offer of a more equitable compromise, from Christchurch.

Mr Brownlee, bombastically convinced as ever of the righteousness of his cause; Prime Minister John Key, wearing his “Christchurch boy” hat, when politically expedient; even the long-suffering Bob Parker, (for whom, I am sure, most of us have the greatest admiration), must take on board one very significant fact.

The rebuilding of Christchurch will not be financed by Christchurch alone, far from it. The people of Christchurch have borne the human cost in terms of inconvenience, dislocation and sheer disheartenment, but the real cost, the significance of which will remain long after the rhetoric has ended, will reverberate, big time, across every property insurance premium to be paid, New Zealand wide, into the almost infinite future.

The country has been conditioned to accept there will be one rebuild of Christchurch. Its people would be dismayed to find the sacrifices they have made through their insurance and other costs (and they must be real enough for those on fixed incomes in low-income parts of New Zealand to have doubts as to whether re-insurance will actually be affordable) will continue into perpetuity.

The initial enthusiasm for the Christchurch rebuild, consultation with Christchurch citizens as to the shape a revitalised city should take, and initial planning, was all conducted on a basis that, from the time of the major shake, aftershocks and tremors would continue on a decreasing scale until, finally, everything would reach a state of equilibrium again.

More recent and better-informed prognoses, however, have said aftershocks are likely to continue for at least the next 30 years. Under those circumstances, it is perfectly possible Christchurch, in an advanced state of rebuild, could be levelled again.

Christchurch is to be rebuilt in an area no city should have been put in the first place, on gravelly alluvium, prone to liquefaction. Christchurch was originally built on what has proven to be a less than ideal site.

No-one is to blame for that, because the knowledge was simply not available at the time development started. But, now that information has come to light, and we have been appraised of the potential risks of rebuilding on the same site, it would be financially reckless to adopt a head-in-the-sand attitude and regard the disastrous quake of February 2011 as a “one-off” when all projections are that it was likely no such thing.

Putting aside for a moment the opportunism of which Cr Vandervis stands accused, I question, and suspect many others do, the wisdom of rebuilding the Christchurch CBD in the same place as its predecessor.

Sentiment aside, it doesn’t make much sense, given the prognosis of further seismic activity of who knows what magnitude. While Cr Vandervis has laid himself open to accusations of narrow parochial interest, this is an issue which should be aired openly.

Equally, other centres besides Dunedin see the opportunities on offer due to a mass exodus from Christchurch; Nelson, for one, although the recent floods may have caused some would-be Christchurch evacuees to have second thoughts about that city as a long-term destination.

Those in Christchurch who have had enough – and their numbers must have surely been augmented by the prospect of ongoing liquefaction clean-ups into an indefinite future – deserve a place to go.

A final point. Mr Brownlee is the minister in charge of Christchurch’s recovery. A gung-ho public image and scorn poured on the heads of everyone standing in the way of his objectives is expected of him by both Christchurch and those who tug on his political strings.

A pity then, that he wouldn’t take a more rational view of the wider implications of the problem which has been dropped into his lap. From his somewhat catty remarks, he may regard being forced to live in Dunedin as a fate worse than death.

Actually, he doesn’t know what he is missing. We live in Dunedin by choice, and, if it is their wish to do so, that choice should not be denied the people of Christchurch.

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Vandervis comments rankle in Christchurch


By Chris Morris on Wed, 11 Jan 2012

A call by a Dunedin city councillor for some Christchurch rebuilding to be shifted to Dunedin has drawn the ire of Christchurch residents and scorn from Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Cr Lee Vandervis raised the prospect in an opinion piece first published in the Otago Daily Times last week, and reprinted in Christchurch newspaper The Press on Saturday.

His argument prompted a storm of criticism, with responses by Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay, hundreds of online messages – many angrily anti-Dunedin – and blogs criticising Cr Vandervis’ view.

Cr Vandervis was sticking to his guns yesterday, telling the ODT the public outcry showed Christchurch residents were living “in denial” about the seismic reality facing their city.

Mr Parker’s response, arguing the earthquakes instead represented a new beginning for the city, also showed he was living “in dreamland”, Cr Vandervis said.

The southern stoush continued to escalate yesterday when Mr Brownlee waded in, saying Cr Vandervis’ “somewhat ill-informed” argument was – like the earthquakes – distressing for the people of Christchurch.

“I just think it’s terribly tragic that a Dunedin city councillor can only see a future of Dunedin by being a pariah on someone else’s misfortune.

“It’s distressing enough for people in Christchurch to have to go through the difficulties that the earthquake events continue to present, without actually scaring them completely by suggesting that they’re going to have to relocate to Dunedin.”

He said expert geotechnical analysis clearly showed Christchurch could be rebuilt, and the city’s economy and people were standing up well in the face of adversity.

“The activity there is very, very strong and the will to rebuild is also very strong.” Cr Vandervis’ argument won some support from Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull yesterday.

Cr Vandervis’ views were those of only one councillor – not the city – but had “some credibility” from a geological perspective, given continued seismic activity in the area, Mr Cull said.

It would be wise for the Government to consider spreading the risk, rather than concentrating key facilities and infrastructure in Christchurch, he believed. “But I don’t think it should be just Dunedin [that benefited],” Mr Cull said.

Speaking earlier, Cr Vandervis said he was being deliberately provocative to try and prompt national debate about the merits of rebuilding Christchurch.

He believed money destined to rebuild Government offices and key Christchurch infrastructure – such as the Lyttelton Port – should instead be spent in Dunedin.

The continued relocation of the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Christchurch office – shifted five times in the last year – was an example of the “madness” of rebuilding in Christchurch, Cr Vandervis said.

He apologised if his comments had upset Christchurch residents, but said he had no regrets about raising the issue and denied his comments risked damaging Dunedin’s brand.

No place for parochialism over Christchurch rebuild

Christchurch reader Albert Salmon, on holiday in Dunedin, a city where he lived during some of his university days, responds to Cr Lee Vandervis’ recent suggestion that the earthquake-torn city should not be rebuilt in Canterbury but in Dunedin.

When I first came from Christchurch to visit Dunedin in the late 1970s I was struck by a different set of values that pervaded the city, expressed by this newspaper on the front page where, under a sizeable leader, there was an article about an elderly widow who had lost her cat.

While feeling for the poor woman, my main response was intrigue; that in the early days of globalisation the ODT felt a widow’s loss was more important than, say, the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, the opening of the first commercial cellphone network or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

For a while, I thought it a sign of small-town-think, of a vibrant city desperately wanting to be a seaside holiday destination (you know, like those English ones we see on telly where it rains all the time). I was wrong.

It was more, in the face of an emerging priority given to predatory financial success as an indication of the value of a person, an attempt to maintain a good-hearted respect for peoples’ lives and a community spirit of nurture as central to a way of being.

Spending a few days in Dunedin with dear old friends, I have discovered that this is what I love most about Dunedin. And it is what, I suggest, will continue to make it a wonderful place to be in.

Mr Vandervis’ recent opinion (ODT, 6.1.12) on the need for Dunedin to prey on the consequences of the Christchurch earthquakes, grates.

Dunedin had a significant kick-start with the gold rush and was the powerhouse of early New Zealand, despite associated problems with sewage and crime.

It was unable to maintain that position. People choose where they want to live and more chose Christchurch.

This may not necessarily be a bad thing, of course. When economic advantage determines where people want to live, well, the adage “follow the money” has something going for it. Those who choose to stay are often the ones you want to stay.

I laud Mr Vandervis’ entrepreneurial spirit; the efficiencies of taking over someone else’s achievements, rather than creating your own.

The concern he expresses for others in his comment that developing Dunedin as the centre of the South Island would be in the benefit of the whole of Te Wai Pounamu (except, presumably, the 40% who live in Christchurch) is admirable, if not a little hollow.

I respect his cleverness in “overlooking” the economic grunt of the wine regions in Marlborough, the energy production of the West Coast and the vibrant Nelson tourism economy when commenting that there is little business north of Christchurch.

And I agree with Mr Vandervis that parochialism is not sure grounds for making decisions about rebuilding Christchurch. Nor is it a rational argument for moving Christchurch to Dunedin.

As a strategy for developing Dunedin’s place in the world, predatory business practices won’t cut it. There are other places in New Zealand that, over the past 150 years, have done it much more effectively.

Further, Dunedin will be up against several billion dollars of domestic insurance money that will be pumped into the Christchurch economy over the next five to 10 years and is not in the hands of the Government to dispense as it sees fit.

I would suggest that Dunedin’s huge potential rests in its ability to develop economically while, at the same time, maintaining a spirit of valuing people for the right reasons.

However, should Dunedin wish to pursue Mr Vandervis’ vision of relocating Christchurch’s population and business resources further south, it should not forget infrastructure.

In a year or two, there will be thousands of spare Portaloos in Christchurch.


Post-quakes rebuild should be in Dunedin


Opinion • Fri, 6 Jan 2012

Lee Vandervis asks whether Christchurch should actually be rebuilt.

“When will it end?” contains the assumption that the earthquakes in Christchurch will end. We all hope the earthquakes have ended, of course, but recent geotechnical and historical evidence suggests otherwise.

Earthquakes in other urban areas around the world have usually been one-off disasters.

Christchurch is an unusually ongoing seismic disaster that has had unprecedented psychological effects on people living there. The seismicity map shows continuous events for more than a year, from Darfield through Christchurch to Lyttelton.

The commonly described reaction during one of the many big quakes has been “terror” but this ongoing, always anticipated terror has now become a permanent epidemic of social shell shock. Terra infirma. When children become skilled at accurately predicting the Richter scale number of yet another quake, don’t we owe it to them to bring them up somewhere secure?

My main question is, why rebuild in Christchurch?

Given the choice, many residents continue to leave. Given the choice, who would want to move or invest there?

Why put the biggest rebuilding effort in New Zealand history on the same shuddering substratum that destroyed those buildings in the first place?

Rebuilding must take place for sure, but why would you put so much of it into the same bedevilled dirt?

Why not rebuild instead in New Zealand’s lowest earthquake-risk city – Dunedin?

The 10 years of less than 40km-deep earthquakes map above highlights Dunedin’s distance from earthquake-risk areas.

Dunedin used to be the main centre for the South Island and I believe it should be again for many stability reasons, cultural as well as geotechnical.

Parochialism accounts for much of the assumption to rebuild in Christchurch – a provincial “this is where we have always lived”, and “we are Cantabrians” etc. Certainly some rebuilding in Christchurch is justified to use the undamaged infrastructure that must service the area, but to rebuild Christchurch as the South Island’s main city/port again seems insane to me.

Insanity has been defined as “doing the same thing and hoping for a different result”.

Rebuilding in swampy, sandy Christchurch and hoping for no more earthquakes will doom Christchurch and the South Island to long-term loss of investment and to indefinite insecurity. Biblical warnings against building on sand apply even more to swamp and liquefaction.

For the South Island to flourish, we need solid industry and ports and communications.

Port Lyttelton will always present a potential failure, as will the Christchurch airport.

As a viable alternative, all Port Otago needs is an enlarged inland assembly port and improved road/rail links. All Dunedin International Airport needs is runway extensions for larger aircraft and improved terminal throughput.

Not much business output is produced north of Christchurch anyway, making Dunedin the ideal central portal for everything from dairy to fruit to forestry products. Government rebuild spending in Dunedin would give a much better result than sinking it back into Christchurch.

Urban expansion all the way from Corstorphine to Blackhead beckons as one of many infill areas that would better utilise existing Dunedin infrastructure.

With Dunedin’s enormous potential and historical track record, it makes no sense to me to put all our rebuilding eggs into the Christchurch basket-case landscape.

Christchurch is no longer the South Island’s centre, it is the epicentre. Christchurch can no longer reliably serve as the island’s main business hub – it needs to share this function with Dunedin to ensure southern investment and continuity into the future.

It is truly said that “change is opportunity”. The opportunity to rebuild should be looked at as an opportunity to rebuild where best advantage can be realised. We have all witnessed a major change in the South Island landscape and this change should be recognised before we remake the founding forefathers’ mistake of building on Canterbury’s shifting sands, swamps and scree.

What is needed is long-term political thinking, more enlightened insurance company policy, and the courage to do what is best for the whole of the South Island.

The heart of Christchurch is broken, and should be by-passed.

Dunedin sensitivity about being predatory on Christchurch seems to me like an excuse to sit on our hands and do nothing. Predation is the basis of business competition and is necessary for vitality in business and for viability in world markets. If we can do it better here than in Christchurch we should, and government – local and national – should be right behind us.

At national government level, the decision to rebuild Christchurch in Christchurch looks like simple electioneering, or worse – lack of thinking.

The election is over now, and continuing more serious quakes have given all New Zealanders a challenging Christmas message.

When will we learn?



Best day of your life: Lee Vandervis


Magzine • Wed, 4 Jan 2012

Summer Times asked 12 Otago people to describe the best day of their lives. (To ensure variety, we ruled out the day contributors met their partners, married them, or their children were born.)

August 8, 1970

Turning 15 was always going to be a big deal day for a boy in Balclutha, because, in 1970, this was the day when you could book your driver’s test and know you would instantly become a fully fledged driver.

No L plates, learner’s licence or other paperwork indignity.

The test involved driving the local cop round the block and answering a few questions.

If anybody ever failed this test, they never told me.

I had been saving all pocket money since learning about this “Driver Day” several years before.

Dad had been giving me lessons since I could reach the pedals with the help of two big cushions.

Being from Dutch descent, all pocket money was earned, at the rate of 10c every time I mowed our lawns, which I added to the pennies I had saved pre-decimalisation.

Getting close to Driver Day, and knowing that a licence without a car was pointless, I was doing the lawns three times a week.

Granddad had bought an Armstrong Sidley and was selling his old Austin A40 for $400!

Years of planning and saving and the dream day unfolded perfectly. Test, A40, and I was away, free as a bird, with high hopes of scoring one now that I was the only fifth-former in South Otago High School with his own car.

No need to try keeping up with the boozing party animals – I got invited anyway, because I could drive people home.

Surprisingly few threw up on the creased leather A40 upholstery with its musty reassuring smell. Out the window or a part-opened door was the norm, as was my leaving them at their gate or dumping them on their porch.

I never did get to tuck any of them into bed, although with certain passengers the thought occurred more than once.

Driving that day was the longest adrenaline rush of my life.

On wide gravel roads out to Owaka, I tried keeping up with cockies in their Valiants and Fords and Holdens.

Wide grass verges were forgiving and the second gear “opposite-lock power-slide” rapidly transcended to third gear, complete with imagined rooster tails of gravel, which, looking back, might have just been a few stones kicked up by a spinning inside wheel.

With a gutless English tractor under the bonnet, passing manoeuvres had to be pre-planned; slingshot surprises, which occasionally succeeded.

Whatever I had for breakfast kept me going all day, as hunger took a backseat to a truly Wind in the Willows passion for motorcars.

In one day, I went from being someone else’s baggage to the director of my own delirious destiny. This was my best-ever day, as I attacked the edges of adulthood, unaware that I would soon be driven into some adult realities by blown head gaskets, burned valves and shagged suspension resulting from overland excursions.

My life began on that perfect day when I turned 15.