Ali Pugh of TVNZ's Breakfast agrees with the Prime Minister that departing CERA boss Roger Sutton has 'done a great job for Christchurch'. But that is not the real story.
ON TV3 THIS morning the Prime Minister was explaining to a docile Michael Wilson what a great job departing CERA boss Roger Sutton has done for Christchurch. Over on TV1 presenter Ali Pugh was also explaining what a great job Roger Sutton has done for Christchurch. Roger Sutton is, apparently, just 'a great guy'.
It must be so satisfying for the Government that both TVNZ and TV3 news services are not only incapable of holding it to account they actually cheerlead for it as well.
It is quite remarkable that Sutton could be lauded in such a way in a city where there are 7000 homeless, where areas in the eastern suburbs where I live still look like battle zones and where the much hyped 'blueprint' for the central city has produced very little. In stark contrast there has been building activity in areas out of the control of Roger Sutton and CERA.
And we can't forget all the financially and emotionally stressed owners of quake damaged homes who have been in hand to hand combat with an unsympathetic and intransigent CERA.
Roger Sutton has done such a great job for Christchurch that he has allowed most of the central city to be demolished. At the end of 2012 174 of the 585 listed heritage buildings in Christchurch had been pulled down - about a third of them.
Former councillor Peter Beck told The Press that '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.''
Roger Sutton has been the chief of an organisation that has deliberately excluded the local Christchurch community from having any real say in the rebuild process. Any form of involvement has been little more than tokenistic, designed for national consumption.
In December 2012 former mayor Garry Moore attacked the lack of democracy and the deliberate sidelining of community involvement in the rebuild project. Sutton's response was to tell Moore to 'get real'.
'Someone has to dictate the path of recovery' he garumphed. But, apparently, that 'someone' could not be the good people of Christchurch.
One avenue of community participation was supposed to be the CERA Community Forum. It was established not long after the big quake and promptly did nothing. Indeed in 2012, Lianne Dalziel MP and now Christchurch Mayor, was one of the signatories to a letter to CERA that criticised the forum's lack of action. Said the letter:
"The community forum put in place to allow such consultation has become a farce with Mr Brownlee or Roger Sutton having attended only a handful of times.'
Blogger James Dann did some checking to see how many times Gerry Brownlee and Roger Sutton attended the forum in 2013. Brownlee did not attend at all, sending Amy Adams instead. She managed to get to just 8 of the 18 meetings. Roger Sutton only showed up twice.
As James Dann observed: "This whole sorry mess seems to be a good example of CERA’s modus operandi; set up a body to give the impression you are being responsive and engaging (communities! interaction!) then let it wither and die through a combination of bureaucracy and negligence"
But the imposition of a 'top down' bureaucratic approach to the rebuild was set in place the day Roger Sutton unilaterally dumped the Christchurch City Council's plan for the rebuild. This was a plan of more modest aspirations befitting a city of just 400,000 people and that did not include financially crippling 'anchor projects' like a massive sports stadium and convention centre. It was the product of the council's 'Share An Idea' campaign which allowed local input into a new vision for Christchurch.
The plan immediately attracted an unfavourable response from the corporate sector which wanted it dumped - and that it was what it told Roger Sutton. He subsequently wrote to then Mayor Bob Parker to inform him 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.”
Sutton filed the Chistchurch City Council's plan in the rubbish bin.
Subsequently an offshoot of CERA, the Christchurch Central Development Unit, went ahead and developed the corporate-friendly blueprint we are stuck with now.
The contempt shown for local democracy displayed by Sutton, representing the interests of the corporate sector, was breathtaking. It was also hypocritical because, at the same time, he was claiming that it was 'important that the people of Christchurch get behind the recovery'.
But, in Roger Sutton's case, that seems merely to involve a disempowered local community standing on the sidelines cheering on the 'movers and shakers' of CERA and big business. Oh, and he organised a few 'pop up picnics' in the eastern suburbs to demonstrate how much CERA 'cared' for the local community.
In her book The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein observes that a People’s Recovery "....would call for new democratic processes, including neighbourhood assemblies, to decide how hard-hit communities should be rebuilt." That certainly is not what we have in Christchurch and Roger Sutton has been central in preventing such a People's Recovery. That is his legacy.