The good people of Christchurch will pay nearly $300 million for a massive convention centre but will see few benefits from it. It's all part of a rebuild of central Christchurch that is economically unjust.
I DID NOT DETECT A LOT OF excitement for the proposed Christchurch Convention Centre when it was unveiled last week.
Perhaps that's because many people have other pressing matters on their minds. Like - why am I still living in a severely damaged home over three years after the big quake? Why am I still living in a garage? Is this destined to be permanent?
A young couple near me were also nonplussed by the unveiling. In fact, they did know it had happened until I told them. Their view was straightforward and to the point - 'they' should fix the mess in the suburbs before even contemplating spending $500 million on a convention centre that people like them will be unlikely to use.
But, of course, their view is biased. They are forced to find $600 a week rent to house themselves and their small child in a small two bedroom house. They are victims of a government that has allowed private landlords to run amok while Gerry Brownlee (a landlord himself) smugly assured the city that 'competition' would eventually bring rents down. Not surprisingly they are less than impressed with his frequent appearances in the local media declaring what 'great progress' Christchurch is making.
They would certainly not be impressed with Brownlee waxing enthusiastically about the convention centre in the latest issue of the CERA propaganda broadsheet, the Greater Christchurch Recovery Update:
'The venue will be one of the jewels of the central city and have huge benefits for tourism in Canterbury and the South Island. Convention centres attract high spending professionals and capturing more of this high-value expenditure would be of considerable benefit to the wider Canterbury economy'.
The proposed Convention Centre itself is, architecturally, a dog. It's a metal and glass pancake dropped in the middle in the city. The Christchurch Convention Centre fails to acknowledge or reflect 'our past, our shared experiences, and our common future.'
I'm quoting Mark Solomon of Nga Tahu. This is what he wrote in a foreword to the Central City Recovery Plan - which Nga Tahu had a big hand in writing.
Now - are we surprised ? - Nga Tahu is also part of the consortium that will build the convention centre, which also includes the Carter Group and Plenary Conventions.
These three firms will generate large profits out of this project. Meanwhile the people of Christchurch are expected to fork out some $280 million as its contribution. With the Christchurch City Council already in a financial hole it is unacceptable that this project is being pursued.
As Eugenie Sage of the Green Party has pointed out, if so much public money is going in to the convention centre then it should be owned by the good people of Christchurch.
But what is essentially a public works project isn't a public works project at all.
Plenary Group are a company that specialises in public private partnership (PPP) and that means the convention centre could simply see, as Sage says, a direct transfer of public money to private profit.
What is also galling about the convention centre is that isn't even being built for the needs of the local community. It's been built, as Brownlee enthuses, for 'high spending professionals' - ie tourists and convention goers.
It will be a focal point in creating a gentrified central city. The immediate blocks around the convention centre will be publicly -financed gentrification facade aimed at putting Christchurch 'on the map for the conference and convention market' (Brownlee).
The local economic elite will frequent the upmarket retail stores and restaurants but those of us who don't have a fat wallet we will effectively be locked out of our own central city.
But we will end up paying for the party via exorbitant rates, the sale of public assets, and cut backs in other services. As an
aside, one of the 'dirty little secrets' the Christchurch City Council
does not want you to know is that it is dipping into the mortgages of
an increasing number of financially stressed citizens to pay for
outstanding rates - while, at the same time, it gives 'rates holidays'
to wealthy property developers in the central city.
As I've said before, only a powerful, unified, and organized political opposition contesting for power could hope to lead an altogether different urban renewal. While there have been sporadic and isolated outbreaks of resistance, such a grassroots opposition has obviously been missing. When we needed a 'People's Recovery' we've ended up with a corporate money-grab.
The rebuild of central Christchurch is economically unjust and could well prove to be a fiscal disaster as well.