DENIAL OF DEMOCRACY

The wrecking balls of Gerry Brownlee and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA)  have now wiped out almost a third of Christchurch's heritage buildings  and there are still more to come down. Little of  Christchurch's distinctive character  will remain after the carnage is over.  It is symptomatic of a rebuilding process that has placed corporate interests  well ahead of the interests and concerns of the  people of Christchurch.  The corporates will reap the big profits  while local people will get the big bills.

To date, 174 of the 585 listed heritage buildings in Christchurch have been demolished - about a third of them. And local people have had no say in the matter.

Despite increasing local anger, the Christchurch City Council says it is powerless to stop the destruction. Many  councillors  are angry that the council has effectively  been sidelined and are becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation they find themselves in.

Cr Peter Beck  told  The Press earlier  this week: 'It's another example of the way in which the local community, through the council, is being ignored. The view of the people in this city is not being listened to.''

 Cr Yani Johanson, chairman of the council's community recreation and culture committee commented: ''We have got to the stage where the frustration is immense. We have sent lots of letters but I think we need to start meeting face-to-face with the minister.''

Cr Glenn Livingstone said: ''This is a loss of democracy; it's like trying to negotiate with kidnappers.'

Christchurch and Labour MP Lianne Dalziel has echoed the concerns of councillors.  In a opinion piece for The Press she says  a 'top down' approach to the rebuild of Christchurch has been foisted on local people.

Writes Dalziel: 'The minute the Government decided to establish a government department to run the recovery, as opposed to an independent Crown entity, and exclude the people and their democratically elected council from the process, the recovery was on the wrong track.'

She goes  on to say:   'Empowering communities is vital after a disaster, and yet this Government has disempowered communities, as well as their democratically elected council. The failure to work collaboratively with the Christchurch City Council over the Government's blueprint for the central city has locked out the voice of the people even further. '

Last year The Christchurch City Council launched its 'Share An Idea' campaign which allowed local people input into  a new vision for Christchurch. It elicited thousands of responses.    These ideas were party  of a draft Central City Plan .

But the draft city plan was not viewed favourably in the corporate sector.

The NZ Property Council, which represents 'commercial, industrial, retail, property Funds and multi unit residential property owners, managers and investors', was not impressed.

Connal Townsend , the chief Executive of the Property Council,  writes in its 2012 Annual Report:  'By September Christchurch City Council had released a highly prescriptive draft Inner City Plan that generated considerable disquiet throughout the country. The release, on 13 October, of the formal letter from CERA  to Mayor Bob Parker advising the city that the inner city plan was not  acceptable to the crown in its present form as it did “not represent  the requirements or aspirations of commercial property owners or  investors” was a great relief'.

Clearly 'the requirements or aspirations ' of local people are of no consequence to Connal Townsend and the NZ  Property Council.

Tony Sewell,  National President of the Property Council (and Property Manager with Ngai Tahu), shares a  similar elitist and undemocratic  view.  He writes in the annual report:

'...On 13 October, months of hard work by National Office and the South Island Branch Executive paid off when the new Christchurch re-development agency, CERA, formally rejected Christchurch City Councils Inner City Plan - and resolved to develop a new plan in house - this time in consultation with Property Council members....'

Sewell's casual dismissal of the aspirations of the local Christchurch community is breathtaking  - as is his contempt for local democracy.

CERA  showed its true colours and did the bidding of the corporate sector.

The   Christchurch City Council inner city draft plan was  simply tipped into the rubbish bin by  the  Christchurch  Central  Development Unit which went ahead and developed a corporate-friendly plan.

Not surprisingly, the corporate sector and its cheerleaders embraced it.

Christchurch's richest man, Philip Carter of the Carter Group said "...it stacks up commercially, we'll be looking at it. We are committed to Christchurch.'

Mayor Bob Parker said he was 'very excited by the plan'.

Mark Solomon, the Chair of  Ngai Tahu, commented that the new 'revised' plan: '...provides a robust framework to promote community, business and investor confidence in the city.

CERA's Roger Sutton said the new plan was 'unbelievably exciting'. .

 'I, like so many others, am staggered by the vision and the boldness of what the CCDU team produced.' said Sutton, also clearly not concerned that the concerns and ideas of local people  have simply been ignored. 

What  we now  have is the blatant  denial of democratic process or community involvement in the rebuild process.  It seems that a select few in the corporate sector are to  benefit from or have any say in the rebuilding of Christchurch.

But, despite being shut of the rebuilding process, local people are expected to bankroll many of the new facilities. The corporates, like Ngai Tahu and the Carter Group, will take away the big profits and local people are expected to pay the big bills for a city plan that they have had  no input into.

 In her book The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein writes:

Unlike the disaster capitalists who use crisis to end-run democracy, a People’s Recovery....would call for new democratic processes, including neighbourhood assemblies, to decide how hard-hit communities should be rebuilt.

Graphic: Porcupine Farm

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