It won't come as a surprise to learn that I'm not one of those who think that city councils should stick to the 'core' services - as the Minister of Local Government Rodney Hide thinks they should. Local councils have a social role to play well beyond the upkeep of roads and drains.
Here in Christchurch Mayor Sideshow Bob and his council supporters - the conservative 'independent' councillors ( some who have links to the National Party) - have shown a suspect and unenthusiastic commitment to that social role.
Two notable examples in recent times have been the attempt by Sideshow Bob and his council chums to put council rents up a massive 24 percent - which was squashed by the High Court. I think Sideshow Bob - backed by his right hand man Tony Marryatt - has an agenda to sell off some, if not all, of the council's housing stock.
Similarly the cutbacks to community funding also demonstrated that here is a Mayor with a dubious commitment to the community he purports to represent.
The claim that cutbacks had to be made in these tough times is entirely fatuous when we consider what Sideshow Bob has been spending ratepayers money on.
This includes $5 million for the naming rights to an Auckland garden show and $18 million for five-over valued buildings from besieged property developer and Sideshow Bob supporter, Dave Henderson.
The latest proposed addition to the list of dubious budgetary items is the intention to spend some $25 million on a music school in the Christchurch Arts Centre - one of the city's most valued cultural and tourist sites.
The formal council vote was 7-6 in favour, with the casting vote of Sideshow Bob tilting the balance in favour of the new building.
Mike Wall, Barry Corbett, Ngaire Button, Gail Sheriff, Claudia Reid, Bob Shearing and Mayor Bob Parker voted in favour of the deal, while Helen Broughton, Norm Withers, David Cox, Yani Johanson, Sally Buck and Chrissie Williams voted against it.
Councillors Withers, Cox and Buck initially voted in favour of the scheme in July.
It's been a favourite refrain of Sideshow Bob and his council supporters that they 'listen to the what the community is saying'. The reality though is that they pretend to listen and then do what they want anyway.
Such was the case with the proposed new University of Canterbury music school.
Public consultation on the proposal attracted 475 opposing submissions and only 31 in support.
It has also included excluding the public on a council workshop on the music school - but allowing university Vice Chancellor, Rod Carr, to attend.
Councillor Yani Johanson walked out of the workshop, describing it as 'undemocratic'.
Under the proposed deal, the Arts Centre would lease the site to the council, which would borrow money to build the music centre. The university would sign a long-term lease that would cover the council's borrowing and lease expenses. The council would borrow $24.3m to cover the cost of constructing the building and 38 car parks, a 20-year pre-payment of the land lease to the Arts Centre Trust Board, working capital and 40 extra car parks for council use.
It will effectively turn public land into private land.
Withers, Broughton, Williams and Cox said central government, not the council, should fund a university building.
The building will dwarf the historically important buildings of the Arts Centre -which the Arts Centre Trust is, by legislation, required to protect.
Celebrated architect Peter Beaven has accused the council of 'fundamentally poor heritage practice.'
He says the stone buildings of the Arts Centre are of national and international importance and that the uniqueness of the Arts Centre would be destroyed by 'building a modern insertion'.
John Wilson, a local Christchurch historian and heritage advocate says that ' there are too many examples in Christchurch of developments close to historic buildings leaving those buildings intact but compromising their heritage value'.
He also points out that heritage is not just bricks and mortar.
'The traditions of easy public access and varied activities that have grown up at the Arts Centre through the forty year since the University vacated the site are now part of the city's heritage and should be jealously protected.'
The proposed new building will be part of a block mostly off limits to the general public'
Opponents of the proposed new building will fight Sideshow Bob and his supporters through the resource consent process and will lodge other appeals as and when required.
It will likely mean that the whole scheme will be lost in a legal maze for years to come.
Sideshow Bob may of well bitten off more than he can chew this time. His opponents are well organised and not without financial resources.
Save Our Arts Centre