Last night I stayed up past midnight (very late for me!) watching the Governance and Administration Select Committee submissions from East Lake Trust and Regenerate Christchurch on the issue of the inclusion of a flat water facility (technical speak for a massive rowing lake) in the Otakaro-Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan. You can watch that HERE.
The background to this hearing is long and convoluted, but the short version is that when Regenerate Christchurch was first established by Gerry Brownlee at the closure of CERA, East Lake Trust was encouraged to believe that a 2km lake would be a likely contender for inclusion in the Regeneration Plan. In the two years following, it became clear that this wasn’t going to happen, and they were not happy. The hearing is the outcome of the ongoing fight they’ve been having.
Here’s my take. I can understand the argument that some are making, which goes something like this:
The lake is good for east Christchurch – it provides a regeneration opportunity that we desperately need. It’s good for rowing. The community want it. There is only a moderate risk that it won’t be swimmable. It will only cost about $160 million dollars to build, and only take three years.
I don’t agree with any of this. I can see that there is a potential economic benefit to the lake, but I think the bad outweighs the good by a long way. If economics was the main driver for our decision making, then we should pave over Hagley Park, and close all our libraries. But from where I stand, it looks like the ecological and social benefits of NOT building a lake vastly outweigh the economic ones of having it there. I am not sure most people truly understand how big the proposed lake is, and the impact the lake will have on the people of East Christchurch. And not just my little suburb of Dallington. The proposed lake would close New Brighton Road, which is a main through-route from the Inner East to New Brighton. This would be hugely detrimental to communities that are already struggling with the loss of large parts of their suburb, and just beginning to adjust to having a green zone right through the middle of them. A gigantic lake is only going to exacerbate already existing issues of social isolation and feelings of being cut off from the rest of Christchurch.
Just to understand the scale of what is being proposed, here is my very crude attempt to fit the proposed 2.2km lake into Hagley Park – it’s a green space most people in Christchurch can bring to their minds eye.
The blue blob is HUGE! I get the impression that a lot of people in Christchurch think of the Red Zone as a vast empty space that they can do anything with, and forget that it’s surrounded by communities that need to live with whatever is built. Not to mention that the lake proposal would necessitate the removal of MORE housing in Dallington to accommodate it. If you lived in Merivale, how would you feel about this? It would be massively impactful, as will this proposed lake for the east.
Why has no one asked if there has been a social impact assessment to go with the ecological and economic ones? Why is social benefit not given the same weight as other benefits? I am skeptical of those that argue that the lake will be beneficial for the east – that’s what we were told when they closed our local high schools and moved them. It hasn’t worked out well for us – we now have NO schools in Dallington. It was a sneaky trick, and I suspect this would be too.
And don’t even get me started on the idea that a small group of rowing enthusiasts can waste many thousands of dollars of public money arguing about this, and casually note that the lake will “only” cost $160 million, give or take 10%. Putting aside the estimate of $200m+ from Regenerate Christchurch, do we really want to spend this much on ANOTHER sporting facility for our city. We have Metro sports, we already have a rowing lake, and now we need another one? Can we rebuild our lost social housing first? The Christchurch City Council has run out of money to replace the housing stock that was lost in the earthquake, much of it in east Christchurch. I would like us to focus on the basics before we build more monuments.
And finally, if you’ve made it this far through the rant, Garry Moore recently posted about this in his Tuesday Club – he sums up the issue quite well I think:
During the week I made a submission to the Christchurch City Council’s Annual Plan. I sat through Annual Plans and Long-Term Plans 15 times as a Councillor, and then as Mayor. I always enjoyed the exercise. It goes like this; the staff produce a budget which more or less is around what the Council table finds acceptable; then submissions are called for; then every person/group come to the table and ask for the earth, without suggesting what should be replaced to pay for their excessive demands; then the Council finds that the staff have discovered additional costs which were not known when the budget was proposed; then prima donna Councillors play to whoever they think would be impressed with their excellent understanding of finances, adding items to the budget and standing strong that they would not support any rates increases which are above the rate of inflation; then the horse trading begins, and somehow the rates increase is around what was announced in the first place.
As I sat at the end of the table on Friday I wondered if we have the wrong process, and that the exercise is a complete waste of time. The Council politely listens to all sorts of decent people who care about the City and the groups they work with, and for. People are not challenged to see where their demands fit into the grand scheme of things. They are not asked to consider that there might be other groups with a better call on the resources of the City. Instead they present in good faith what they expect, and then get disappointed when nothing arrives in the mail confirming that they have got everything they demand.
I’ll give an example. One group before me was the East Lakes Trust. This group want us to fund a lake for them to enjoy rowing, at our expense. I have heard the most preposterous claims from these guys. “It will enable schools like Aranui to participate in rowing” etc. Yeh right. Look who these low decile schools are up against. Christ College, St Andrews, Villa Maria, St Bedes. All schools with bottomless pits of money. I listened, when they presented their case to the Tuesday Club, to one of their prominent promoters (where are these guys when a group want to promote sporting facilities at Aranui, or Hornby?) advocating that the course could be built “within existing Council resources”. I rang up a Council engineer I trusted, and asked him was this possible. His response was not polite but he suggested that some of the major infrastructure of the City passes through the area where this lot propose us to construct their play pool. The cost of shifting it would be eye watering. It took one phone call to find a major hole in the East Lake Trust’s argument. Regenerate Christchurch did an excellent job in sinking this proposal. Despite this, here were these guys in front of the elected reps last Friday pleading for more public welfare for their expensive sport which already has two world class rowing courses in the South Island.