Talk Of Selling Christchurch City Council Assets Is
Deja Vu All Over Again

Christchurch's Mayor, Lianne Dalziel, was recently quoted as saying: "What I would like is to be able to have an intelligent conversation without somebody just standing there with a little placard in their hand saying 'no asset sales' or 'keep our assets'".

Lianne must have been having a senior moment because Keep Our Assets Canterbury (KOA) was never so coy as to muck around with "little placards".

On several occasions we went right into the Christchurch City Council's Chamber during Council meetings with a great big banner saying "Keep Our Assets".

Joking aside, KOA is pleased that the City Council has passed its Long Term Plan with no asset sales included.

Obviously the Mayor is not so happy.

We remind her that Christchurch has very recently had "an intelligent conversation" about asset sales.

It was called the 2016 local body election, where KOA ran John Minto as our Mayoral candidate on a "No Assets Sales" platform.

Obviously, Lianne won the Mayoralty but enough Christchurch residents and ratepayers voted for John, and the Council candidates who also opposed asset sales, for the message to sink home.

The people of Christchurch delivered their intelligent answer.
They didn't want assets sold.

This is deja vu all over again.

The arguments presented in 2015/16 for asset sales are the same ones as being presented now - that Christchurch can't afford the rebuild costs and is going into too much debt.

The arguments for keeping our assets are the same as then.

Put simply - that the people of Christchurch are better off with those assets than without them.

And, once they're gone, they're gone.

One obvious solution is to renegotiate the onerous cost share agreement imposed on the previous Bob Parker Council by the previous Key government, forcing Christchurch ratepayers into paying for various anchor project white elephants.

We keep being told that what is now called the "global settlement" is being prepared between this Government and the Council.

But no details are being made public.

The whitest of the white elephants is the stadium, for which the Council has budgeted $253 million and brought it forward by two years in its list of priorities.

There's an obvious candidate for saving a cool quarter of a billion dollars or, at least, putting it further down the list of priorities until the city can afford it and more pressing needs have been met.

By contrast the Council has budgeted a measly $30 million for repairing or replacing Council housing damaged in the quakes.

Those priorities are the wrong way around - the Crusaders have got a home, at the temporary Addington stadium; the Council needs to prioritise those that need a home.

Put  a roof over their head before putting a roof over a stadium.

To add insult to injury, the Rugby Union - which will be the biggest single beneficiary of the stadium - is refusing to contribute one cent to its construction.

Councillor Raf Manji has resurrected the idea of partial asset sales, specifically by listing the airport company and Enable (the city's broadband network company) on the sharemarket.

Why would the city sell assets that make money - Christchurch Airport is a heavily used cash cow - for ones that don't make money, such as a stadium that will sit unused and generating no income for a lot of the time?

That's voodoo economics.

Nothing has changed as far as KOA is concerned.

The case for keeping our assets is as strong as ever.

YES to Metro Sports Facility

NO White Elephant Stadium

The Government has announced that Christchurch is to have both of the much delayed Metro Sports Facility and the covered rugby/events stadium.

Keep Our Assets Canterbury (KOA) welcomes the Metro Sports Facility, although we note that it is being downgraded.

This facility will actually be of use to a number of different sporting codes and to the wider Canterbury public.

But we repeat our longstanding opposition to the proposed stadium, which is the whitest and most elephantine of white elephants, to which the previous Government saddled the previous City Council under the name of "anchor projects".

To add insult to injury, the City Council is committed to paying $253 million of ratepayers' money towards it.

The justification for this is that it will guarantee Christchurch getting into the big boys' club of rugby venues.

No, it won't.

A myth is being spread that, because we didn't have a suitable stadium, Christchurch missed out on getting an All Blacks' test during the 2017 Lions tour.

A fact check is necessary.

When the NZ Rugby Union announced the itinerary for that tour (out of which it made a hefty profit), it announced that - for the first time in more than a century - the Lions wouldn't play the All Blacks anywhere in the South Island.

The Rugby Union ruled out Christchurch not only because it didn't have a suitable stadium - but the Rugby Union considered the city itself not up to scratch in terms of facilities to handle the number of touring fans, etc.

OK, so did the Lions play the All Blacks in Dunedin, which boasts the country's newest stadium, and only covered one?

No, they didn't.

Because the Rugby Union deemed that the covered stadium in Dunedin to be neither here not there, it decided that the city of Dunedin per se was not up to handling an event of such magnitude.

The Lions played their three tests against the All Blacks in Auckland and Wellington.

The England rugby teams plays all its home games at Twickenham. How long before the NZ Rugby Union decides that every All Blacks' home test will be played at Eden Park.

The message from the Rugby Union is very clear - "sorry, South Island. it doesn't matter how many covered stadiums you build, you suffer from a terminal case of 'not Auckland syndrome'".

The Christchurch City Council has got more pressing priorities on which to spend a quarter of a billion dollars - such as repairing its public housing units damaged in the quakes, replacing those destroyed in the quakes, and upgrading its whole stock of public housing in terms of healthiness, warmth and comfort.

Or, use it to pay for the rapidly escalating cost of fixing Christchurch's water network.

I speak as a rugby fan who regularly attends games at the perfectly adequate Addington stadium.

In fact, I was there on the wettest and stormiest night of winter 2017, on a day where the City Council declared a state of emergency due to flooding.

So I have plenty of first-hand experience of that stadium, including in lousy weather.

Indeed commentators remarked about that game (Crusaders versus Highlanders) that the visiting team was at a disadvantage because it had forgotten how to play games that aren't under the shelter of a roof.

But then again, on Saturday night I watched on TV a game played at Eden Park, the country's premier rugby stadium.

It was played in torrential rain.
City Council should do what you always do with an anchor.

Chuck it overboard
But there was absolutely zero clamour for Auckland ratepayers to fork out for a roof over that.

The NZ Rugby Union has got plenty of money, bolstered by its healthy profit from the 2017 Lions' tour.

But it hasn't offered to contribute one cent to a stadium from which it stands to be the major beneficiary.

Time for the Rugby Union to put up or shut up.

As far as this particular anchor project is concerned, the City Council should do what you always do with an anchor.

Chuck it overboard.

Murray Horton