The good, the bad and the ugly: How did the Christchurch City Council fare in 2018?
Source: http://www.stuff.co.nz/news/109442649/-

2018-12-28 16:16:30

From exploding boilers and secrecy over a touchscreen to a rebuilt sports facility and cash for a new stadium, the Christchurch City Council has had a year of ups and downs.

With an election looming in the next 12 months there will be increased scrutiny on how our elected members fare. DOMINIC HARRIS examines the good, the bad and the ugly of the council's 2018.

The Good...

TŪRANGA

The new central library is a shining example of success, in more ways than one.

Despite the cost of the project rising since 2013 it did not experience any major budget blowouts and was completed broadly on time, minor delays because of problems sourcing materials from abroad pushing the opening back to October.

Since then more than 180,000 people have enjoyed its books, technology and a natter over a coffee – despite the odd naysayer complaining about its te reo Māori name – triggering a massive leap of 58 per cent in the number of visitors to nearby Cathedral Square.

It is a credit to Christchurch and something to be treasured.

CHRISTCHURCH STADIUM

Rightly or wrongly a new stadium remains the jewel in the crown of the Christchurch rebuild for many, and councillors agreed in September when they earmarked $220 million of Crown money for the project to go with $253m from the council's own pocket.

The $473m fund will – whisper it – hopefully be enough to fund a mooted 25,000-capacity covered stadium, with scope for an extra 5000 seats.

Designs should be submitted to the Crown by mid-2019 and last month Dalziel said authorities were "focused" on a 2023 opening.

NEW BRIGHTON PLAYGROUND AND HOT POOLS

Residents in New Brighton sometimes feel they are the forgotten, distant neighbours to Christchurch's central suburbs. So the opening of the new beachside playground a year ago saw the tide turn for the coastal community.

There is more to come, with work beginning imminently on the long-awaited $11.2m hot salt water pools, which should open in late 2019.

Though the beloved old whale has swum its last, there is a replica.

QEII TAIORA SPORTS FACILITY

The 17-month project to build the $38.6m QEII sports and recreation centre came to an end in May. A replacement for the original complex that was demolished after the February 2011 earthquake, it proved a hit from its opening night when hundreds poured through the doors.

Despite being branded "QE Poo" following repeated closures of pools in the early months because of faecal contamination, it has put the east of the city back on the map.

Plans for a new playground, basketball court and upgraded community centre were unveiled in August as part of a 10-year project to upgrade the wider QEII park.

NGĀ PUNA WAI

Despite being delayed because of vandals and saturated ground conditions, the first stage of the Ngā Puna Wai sports hub opened in spring.

Yes it was two years late and yes it required the council to find more cash, but seeing youngsters hurtle around its blue athletics track on a sunny October day was proof it is a boost for a generation who have grown up without proper facilities.

In the first six weeks it was used more than 12,000 times, and with hockey pitches opening earlier in December, rugby league fields scheduled for use from February and tennis courts due to open in April it will be a boon for sport in Canterbury.

The Bad...

CHLORINATION

It is arguably the issue that has defined the council's year. From the moment mayor Lianne Dalziel, chief executive Karleen Edwards and medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey revealed back in January that Christchurch's drinking water was vulnerable to contamination, the council has been fighting to keep its head above water.

Arguments with contractors, concerns industry bodies were overblowing the problem and dealing with a public furious over the taste, smell and damaged boilers have proven major headaches.

The revelation in October that staff kept the issue from councillors for seven months was fuel to the fire to those calling for heads to roll.

Council strategist Helen Beaumont was parachuted in in June to steer the problem to calmer waters. Since then she has quietly gotten on with the project, pushed through changes and, publicly at least, been honest and open about the challenges ahead.

The sight of people queueing outside a Cashmere well underlines the passion Christchurch residents have for clean, pure water.

Despite Beaumont and her team's work, the elephant in the room remains – will the chlorine be out of the water by the May deadline?

TOWN HALL

It may house one of the finest acoustic venues in the world but the beleaguered Town Hall is something everyone wants to forget about until opening night on March 1.

Beset by poor leadership and repeated financial blowouts that have seen costs spiral to almost a third more than the original budget, the project has come under such scrutiny that the council stepped in in May to order a full review and bring in new management.

It didn't help when the council then tried to cover up the ballooning dollars, the problem only coming to light after it was leaked to Stuff.

Councillors appeared almost embarrassed in December when they approved a $15m bailout to get it over the finish line, Dalziel saying the council had learned its lesson about keeping things behind closed doors.

MANCHESTER ST

It was meant to reshape a key central Christchurch street, transforming it into a bus priority route that would allow public transport to zip quickly across the city.

Instead the two-year, $20m revamp of Manchester St ended up a bit of a dog's breakfast.

Completed in August, the widened footpaths, new bus lanes and super stops looked great, but left drivers seething at being stuck in nose-to-trail rush hour traffic – with reports of it taking as long as 20 minutes to drive a single kilometre.

Within months the council had caved in to the clamour from angry motorists, altering the timing of traffic signals to try to get vehicles moving.

While the road cones are fast disappearing from the city centre, this was a case of planning that went badly awry.

The Ugly...

COASTAL CONSENTS

In September, city councillor David East stood at a press conference and, flanked by supportive community board members and community campaigners, claimed council staff had deliberately tampered with the district plan over consents in coastal areas.

It was triggered by frustration on behalf of people left on their knees by legislation that stopped them rebuilding and repairing earthquake-damaged homes.

To its credit the council moved swiftly, Dalziel fronting up to angry residents in New Brighton and promising a resolution.

It emerged the problem had been down to a bureaucratic blunder – a multi-million dollar missing clause. Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods gave the green light to fast-track an amendment to the plan in December, bringing turmoil for residents to an end.

East has apologised and backed down over his claims, but the debacle leaves a nasty taste. It is still not entirely clear how the problem arose or who was to blame, and East and his coastal colleagues still have the spectre of disciplinary action hanging over them.

SECRECY OVER TŪRANGA'S TOUCHSCREEN

It was an issue that really should never have happened, and left the city council branded the "most secretive" in the country.

For five months the council refused to release the cost of a 7-metre interactive touchscreen wall that was being installed at the central library.

Council staff buried their heads in the sand over legal obligations they "inadvertently misunderstood", Dalziel eventually laying the blame at the door of her chief executive, Edwards.

It was only when the country's top law officer, Attorney-General David Parker, threatened legal action that the council caved in and revealed the screen cost $1.245m.

It was all rather unnecessary and painted the council in a bad light. Plus, visitors to the library seem to enjoy using the screen.

CLOUD OCEAN WATER

Proposals by a China-owned business to take Christchurch's pure drinking water and sell it overseas for a vast profit have caused great consternation as details of the Belfast bottling plant's plans have become clearer over the last 12 months.

But an Environment Canterbury-appointed commissioner's granting of permission this month for Cloud Ocean Water to access a deep aquifer led to fury at the city council and has led to a stoush between it and ECan, with senior figures on both sides taking public potshots at each other.

That the city council – which has responsibility for ensuring drinking water is safe – should not be allowed to give its opinion on who does what with the city's aquifers is a situation that will mystify many, and councillors feel pushed to one side.

The situation has cast a dark cloud that needs sorting out fast – and blaming the Resource Management Act simply does not hold water.

END OF YEAR REPORT CARD: 7/10

The city council takes a lot of flak from a lot of quarters – some justified and some unfair. Rebuilding a city is no mean feat and those responsible can be forgiven the odd slip. However, with projects finally moving forward the council must keep momentum and not let the forthcoming elections delay progress.

It's worth noting that the public tend to value honesty, openness and integrity above almost everything else – a point those at the council would do well to keep firmly in mind for 2019.

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