Re-Election Sought – Speech to Waimakariri Combined Probus Club 28 March 2013

Speech to Waimakariri Combined Probus Club

 

At Rangiora RSA, 28 March 2013

 Thank-you for inviting me to speak to you today.  It is always a pleasure to speak to a Probus Club because I believe the eight clubs in our District, in Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Woodend,  play an important role in building community in the Waimakariri – more on that later.  As most of you know, all Probus clubs are set up by Rotary Clubs and as a member of the Rangiora Rotary Club, I am proud of the role that we have played in establishing all six Probus clubs in Rangiora and Woodend as well as the three in the Hurunui District.

 It is most appropriate today that I should be speaking to the Waimakariri Combined Probus Club because you are the one that is named after the whole District and I want to use this opportunity to look back over the last two-and-a-half years of this term of Local Government as well as looking into the immediate future:  a kind of state-of the-District address if you like.

 I am also taking this opportunity to publicly announce that I am seeking re-election as your Mayor in the elections this coming October.

 People often ask me if I am enjoying the role. Yes, I am, partly because I enjoy being out in our community and also because I enjoy playing my small part in a Waimakariri District that is moving forward at an unprecedented pace.  At the same time, however, I am very aware that we have been going through, and continue to go through, extraordinarily tough times for a significant numbers of our people. The earthquakes have changed the lives of many of us, but for many the loss of and damage to homes and the effects on businesses and jobs have been very tough.  Helping those people remains my, and your Council’s, top priority.

 When, nearly three years ago, I announced my candidacy for the mayoralty no-one could have anticipated what lay ahead of us.  On 4 September 2010, nominations for the council elections for had closed, my billboards were up and my leaflet printed.  Even at the time when I and the Council were elected, we could not have anticipated what was coming. At that stage we, both elected members and staff,  were working hard at what we call social recovery – getting alongside people to help them through their difficulties – and we were starting to think about the replacement and repair of community and utilities infrastructure in the badly-hit areas of Kaiapoi, The Pines Beach and Kairaki. We knew it was going to be a huge task, and so it has proved, but many of the twists and turns that we have faced since then could not have been foreseen.

 The Council the District elected in 2010 had four new faces amongst the eleven of us, one of whom having been a mayor and another having been a councillor in the past. I believe that we in this District have been very fortunate in having a Council that has remained united and focused throughout this term. We don’t agree on everything, of course, and you would probably think that something was wrong if we did. Nevertheless, we have continued to prioritise social recovery, making land available for new homes and restoring our town centres and community facilities, first of all in Kaiapoi and more latterly in Rangiora and Oxford as well.

 The Council has also been able to establish excellent working relationships with the Community Boards and with the staff. The Kaiapoi Community Board, with the particular challenges in its ward, has worked really well under the leadership of their chair, Robyn Wallace. The Council staff, under Jim Palmer’s outstanding leadership, has faced and met huge challenges. Our community owes them a huge debt for their dedication and sheer hard work.

 The first priority has been social recovery. As Jim Palmer said after the September quake, our success will not be measured by the pipes we lay or the roads we repair, but by how well our people come through this. The Government has continued to fund earthquake recovery coordinators and we have integrated them into what we are doing to support people.  Along with them pastoral care teams coming out of churches not only in Kaiapoi but also from the wider District have been on the ground checking on people and providing a listening ear.

 Beside that we also put a priority on helping dislocated community groups to find new homes. Our communities are held together by the plethora of institutions, community events, clubs and societies that we find everywhere in New Zealand: the schools, the youth organisations, the sports and cultural clubs, the interest groups, the service clubs, the Probus Clubs – the list is endless.

 I believe that building community is actually the most important thing that a Council does and the physical stuff – the pipes, the parks, libraries and so on – are only a means to that end.  Waimakariri is blessed with strong local communities and it has been one of our objectives to keep those ties strong.

 After the September quake, it was clear that significant areas of eastern and central Kaiapoi and of The Pines and Kairaki had suffered considerable damage to the land.  There was also a bit of land damage in other beach areas such as Waikuku.  Most houses across the whole of Waimakariri had suffered at least some damage, but it was in those areas that had suffered from liquefaction and lateral spreading that we saw the most of the worst damage.

 The Government with its geotechnical advisers decided that the best way to deal with the land was to shore up the banks that tended to slip towards lower-lying areas like rivers and to deal with liquefaction by consolidating the land and putting in better foundations where rebuilds were necessary. Remember the so-called walls that that everyone was talking about?  This Council was project-managing the task in Waimakariri. We held meetings for Africa in Kaiapoi explaining what was going to happen, the order that we would be fixing the land in the three areas, the routes the trucks would take, and so on. We were three weeks away from starting, when the Government asked us to stop.

 There were two main reasons, I believe, for this change of direction. Firstly, the February quake had vastly increased the area of damaged land in Christchurch so the size and the cost of strengthening had gone up hugely.  Liquefaction and infrastructure damage happened in the Kaiapoi area too, but tended to be in the same areas as in September.   The other factor was a recalculation by seismologists of the likely return period of a similar size earthquake.

 With that information the Government decided to retire significant areas of land for housing.  Within a few months, 1050 Kaiapoi, Pines and Kairaki houses had been “red zoned” and people were looking for new places to live.

 To put things in a regional perspective, Waimakariri’s red zones are proportionately similar or greater in extent than those in Christchurch when one takes into account the relative sizes of the two populations.

 Overnight, your Council turned from one that was oriented towards engineering to one that was oriented towards planning for new housing areas, and then, later, building control as the building consent applications started to pour in. This was one of the twists and turns that no-one anticipated in October 2010!

 The other significant change has been the reassessment of commercial and community buildings against earthquake codes.  As we are all aware, no buildings fell down in Rangiora in the earthquakes.  Actually, none really fell down in Kaiapoi either, although some were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished in the following days and months.

The result of this continuing assessment process, which is still going on, from both the Council and owners, has been the closures and demolitions that you all are familiar with.  This has been occurring in both Rangiora and Kaiapoi.

 

So where are we at now?

This District is experiencing rapid shifts in population as people leave the red zones and as people relocate into new houses. The new houses around Rangiora and Kaiapoi and in Pegasus and in our rural areas, are being filled by people from both within our District and from outside. There is, nevertheless, tremendous pressure on our housing stock and the scarcity of rentals and the

Issue of affordable housing to buy remain very much before us.  Fortunately, the infrastructure for the new subdivisions, especially the water and sewer, is already in place. Sorting out stormwater, however, has to be done development by development and can be a problem, as around Woodend. And we all know that our roads are under increasing pressure – traffic queues in Southbrook are a common topic of conversation!

This rapid growth does present us with a bit of a challenge as a community.  Waimakariri has always been a fast-growing District, and we are used to new arrivals. The numbers, however, are unprecedented: last year we consented more new houses than Wellington City and almost as many as the entire Greater Wellington region! Bringing our new residents into our local networks is important for us and is important for them.  The Probus clubs have a role to play!

 Town Centres are important. Rangiora and Kaiapoi are not suburbs of Christchurch, they are towns – in fact Kaiapoi is as old as Christchurch. It is important that the Government and the regional bodies remember that – along with Lyttelton’s, these town centres need to be restored as the hearts of distinct communities.

 In Rangiora, the question that is asked of me daily is whether I know what is happening about The Farmers.  The answer is as you have read in the newspapers: all tied up in an argument between insurers, engineers, owners and The Farmers as tenants. The real problem is not whether you can buy your winter pyjamas locally, or even about the fences taking up parking spaces, it is the detrimental effect that the current closure of the town’s anchor store is having on some of the other businesses.  The story isn’t all bad, because some businesses are doing OK, but for those that depend on foot traffic, the loss of The Farmers has been very damaging.

 The importance of foot traffic is why we are pressing ahead with the rebuild of the Kaiapoi library on its original site. That, and the rebuild of the demolished part of Blackwell’s department store, now well underway, will bring more people into the centre of Kaiapoi.

 We have town centre strategies in place for both of the towns. The intention is to encourage the movement of the Kaiapoi town centre to the west and Rangiora to the north. The demolitions that have already taken place in the centre of Rangiora provide an opportunity for that to happen.  Future generations will never forgive us if we do not use those gaps to connect the High Street with those areas to the north that can provide the town with the retail floor area it needs to serve its catchment area.

 The Council has been proactive in developing the town centres to make sure development happens the way we and the community want it happen. Since the September quake, we have bought three properties in central Kaiapoi for that reason (and on-sold one of them) and one in Rangiora to help progress the strategies.  We remain in conversation with building owners.  To keep the town centres alive, we have provided temporary accommodation in both towns, particularly in Rangiora, and the offer remains open if it is practicable for us to help.  Since last year, we have been in conversation with CERA, exploring additional powers to make things happen faster. That isn’t as easy as letter-writers to the local newspapers seem to think it is, but the recently-announced draft Land Use Recovery Plan should present some opportunities.

 In the longer term, the population growth that we are experiencing in this District will make it an excellent place to do business.  We can see that already, with new shops in Kaiapoi and Oxford, the several new buildings that have gone up are being built around the fringes of the Rangiora town centre and plans for more new commercial buildings in Oxford.

 Our community still has other earthquake-related projects ahead of it.  The rebuild of the Kaiapoi Aquatic centre is almost complete but within the next year we will see starts on the new Kaiapoi Library and Museum, and on the strengthened and enhanced Rangiora and Oxford Town Halls – all part of our town centres recovery. 

 Besides all the earthquake recovery, the other business of local government has continued. I might say I still prefer “recovery” to “rebuild” because “rebuild” suggests that it is all about buildings, roads and pipes, when it is not. It is still about people, their homes, their businesses, their jobs and their community groups.

 Anyway, the other business goes on – a new water supply for Rangiora is now fully operational, and a new supply for Tuahwi is under construction. We open an extension to the Woodend Community Centre next month, providing a much-need meeting space for that important part of our District.

 We have managed to do all that I have been talking about with average rate increases of 5.1% this year and a projected 4.9% next year. That is of, course, higher than the rate of inflation although lower than some of our neighbours. I do have to remind you all that those are only averages because some are more than that and some are lower. But I think that is some achievement considering that we are going through the worst natural disaster, in property terms, in New Zealand history in insurance terms, the fourth worst in world history.

 We also need to remember that we could not have done that without huge amounts of Government and insurance money – and there is a lot more of that to come.

 In the background, and it has been a diversionary nuisance from my point of view, has been the talk of local government reorganisation. Something is obviously going to happen in Canterbury with ECan, but beyond that the various scenarios seem to offer less to the people of Waimakariri than what they have now.

 People sometimes talk about a “super city” of Christchurch.  My response to that is that urban Christchurch came under one authority in 1989. We in Waimakariri and wider North Canterbury are not part of Christchurch. We are a rural and small town community with different perspectives.

 I wouldn’t want to campaign on Harold Macmillan’s “You’ve never had it so good”, because in some ways we’ve never had it so bad. But I do claim that in the last three years, the Waimakariri community has shown that it is coming through these times very well.

 We are 50,000 people who are largely doing OK and our Council has been playing its part in that. 

 We do, of course, have a lot to do, but I strongly believe in this Waimakariri District of ours and that is why I want to lead it for the next three years.

 

 

 

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