Sprawl still the plan in post-quake Christchurch

sprawl chch

Source: Stuff.

Byron Clark is an activist based in Ōtautahi / Christchurch.

This article was written for Fightback’s magazine issue on Urban Revolution and the Right to the City. To susbcribe to our publications, click here.

Six years on from the earthquake that levelled much of the city, the population of Christchurch has almost returned to pre-quake levels. As with everywhere in New Zealand, house prices are up, but rents have fallen slightly from the high point of the city’s accommodation crisis.

Construction is now more common than destruction. In fact, much of the recent population growth has been driven by skilled tradespeople moving to Christchurch from overseas and elsewhere in New Zealand to participate in the rebuild.

The story of Greater Christchurch is different, however. When people moved out of the city following the quakes, many didn’t move very far. While Christchurch’s population declined, the surrounding districts of Waimakariri and Selwyn swelled. These continue to be popular destinations for people searching for relatively cheaper homes than those offered in the city.

In the past year, the population of the Waimakariri District grew 3.7 per cent, and that of Selwyn District 6.6 per cent. This compares to 1.9% for Christchurch City. Even before the earthquake, almost half the population from these districts either side of the city commuted to work in Christchurch. The northern motorway into Christchurch now sees 50,000 cars a day – 10,000 more than before the earthquakes.

Waimakariri is now the South Island’s third largest population centre, bigger than Nelson and Invercargill. However, the regional council (Environment Canterbury, aka ECan) has been ineffectual at providing transport options. In 2014 commuter rail was ruled out as the $10 million price tag was seen as too expensive. Yet currently, $900 million worth of motorway projects are happening around Christchurch.

Despite some bus priority lanes in the northern suburb of Belfast, public transport commuting from North Canterbury is no quicker than travelling in a private motor vehicle. Buses are an option mainly used by those without the option of a car.

Meanwhile, the new commuter town of Pegasus, promoted as a place where one could “live where you play”, was a spectacular flop. The development shifted hands from one property developer to another while those who bought homes there never got the promised amenities such as a supermarket – let alone the yacht club and equestrian centre that were promoted in advertising for the town.

Now a new development, Ravenswood, is about to begin construction. Larger but less ambitious than Pegasus, artists’ conceptions of Ravenswood depict – refreshingly honestly – enormous car parks surrounding the buildings in the commercial area. Anchor tenants have already been found: a supermarket, a petrol station and a fast food outlet. Ravenswood in its current conception depicts an anachronistic model of suburban living that is not sustainable in the twenty-first century.

In the south-west of the city, while commuting times might be shorter (thanks in part to an already completed motorway project) the same suburban story is told. Writing in The Press, Philip Matthews describes the new subdivisions of former farmland:

“Wigram Skies and other new suburbs tell you that the near future will still be car based. These are not pedestrian suburbs. You rarely see anyone walking. The monotony of housing is broken by occasional playgrounds and childcare centres but there are no corner stores and few community facilities. No churches. Shopping is the communal activity.”

The rebuild of the central city has looked more positive. With a new bus station and cycle lanes separated from the roads, Christchurch is starting to look like a modern city should. However, most central city apartment complexes and town houses have been priced out of reach for all but the wealthy, with some priced as high as $1.5 million.

The boarding houses and bedsits that once provided shelter to the inner-city poor are gone, and social housing hasn’t filled the gap. The City Council had 2649 council homes for rent at the start of September 2010, but only 2292 available for rent as of 11th December 2016, according to figures from an Official Information Act request obtained by the State Housing Action Network. Meanwhile, central government plans to sell 2,500 state houses in the city.


Desperate people: Christchurch’s slum dwellers

Brownlee is a landlord in Christchurch.

Brownlee is a landlord in Christchurch.

Fightback is running a series of articles on the housing crisis in Aotearoa/NZ.

This article by Byron Clark examines the housing situation in Christchurch.

Desperation is the word that best describes the situation in Christchurch for those with insecure housing. In the years following the series of earthquakes that destroyed a third of buildings in the central city, as well as many in the suburbs particularly in the east of the city, large numbers of people were displaced. At first housing-related protests were held frequently, however the core of these protests were homeowners angry with insurance companies or the Earthquake Commission (EQC) for slow speeds with repairs and rebuilds.

It was not unusual to hear a speaker at one of these rallies talk about having to move out of their home and into their investment property – what happened to their now former tenants was not mentioned. The plight of the homeless was discussed only at these rallies as a sort of add-on at the end of a list of grievances, to add weight to the ‘main issues’.

One of the last major actions of Occupy Christchurch was a rally around the theme of housing as a human right, taking place at the electorate office of Earthquake Recovery minister Gerry Brownlee, a local landlord. The Occupy movement had become a place welcome to the city’s homeless, but had been deliberately excluded from EQC related protests by organisers concerned about the public image of their events.

With the internal problems of Occupy Christchurch at that stage, and the difficulties that come with having no fixed abode, no larger movement grew out of the brief occupation of Brownlees lawn.

Many people adapted to the ‘new normal’. The population of North Canterbury swelled as people moved further away from their workplaces (plans for a commuter train were made by the regional council, but ultimately scrapped) caravans and portable buildings popped up on front lawns, students decided living with their parents another year was their best bet and young couples kept flatting rather than renting a place to themselves.

Meanwhile, workers flooded in from around the country and overseas to rebuild the city, all of them also in need of accommodation. Building consents have been granted to create villages of single-bedroom units to house these workers, such as Cressy, (named after the ship which carried labourers to build the city in the 1850s). But for the most part these villages have yet to open.

With much of the city’s social housing damaged, and recently arrived tradespeople filling boarding houses, the people who pre-quake were at the bottom of the heap – recovering addicts, recently released prisoners, people discharged from psychiatric wards without the needed level of care in the community, were still at the bottom of the heap, only now the bottom was lower than it had been before, when at least a council flat was a possibility.

Into this situation stepped opportunists like Craig Skilling. Skilling, a former car wrecker who filled the former site of his business with chemical toilets, caravans, converted buses and shipping containers, told The Press he housed people “no-one else wants”.

“I have no problems because I run it like a jail. The tenants ring the police on me. I have had the cops down here with guns to my head and everything. I’m not doing this for no c..t except me. It’s called survival.” he told the paper when it reported his “hovel” was likely to face closure. “I’m the one who is going to lose the most. I don’t care where they go. These people don’t care about me. I don’t care about them. I’m providing a service.”

In the article Skilling comes across as a horrible person, but there are hints he was not always that way, “I have to go out my door and flick a switch in my brain and turn into a totally different person.” he told the reporter. He also lives on the site himself, with his partner and three children.

Skilling is a failed businessman who became a slumlord, but in Wellington more successful businessmen – and Brownlee is not the only landlord – are privatising state housing and blocking attempts at policies like a rental warrant of fitness. Skilling’s site is being closed not because it is a slum, but primarily because regulations only permit one residence on a commercial site.

Social housing NGO’s (non-government organisations) are in line to purchase privatised housing and take advantage of income-related rents previously only available to state house tenants, and are therefore unlikely to kick up a fuss. The left-leaning city council voters elected in 2013 has talked of more social housing, but this has been delayed, in part due to a $1.2 billion funding shortfall which is seeing the council abruptly change course and embarking on a there-is-no-alternative style austerity and privatisation agenda which could see charges for water use while rates increase (and be sure those increases will be passed on to tenants).

A national hui on the state housing crisis will be held in Auckland on February the 21st.
Register at statehousinghui@gmail.com
[Facebook event]

Christchurch event: Socialist Feminism Day School

smash patriarchy

Fightback presents: Socialist Feminist Day School
2pm, Saturday November 16th
WEA 59 Gloucester Street, Christchurch

Feminism 101 – Heleyni Pratley (Fightback)
Men, anti-sexism and rape culture – Ian Anderson (Fightback)
Why Marxists need to be Feminists  – Alison Pennington (Socialist Alliance, Australia)

[Facebook event]

Christchurch’s housing crisis

Kelly Pope

On Saturday 26th May, protesters gathered outside earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee’s Ilam electorate office to draw attention to the housing crisis faced by many Canterbury residents. Occupy Christchurch activists involved in organising the action decided to hold the demonstration over the weekend, as electorate office staff could not give a time in the foreseeable future when Brownlee would be in his office to meet with residents regarding their concerns. This came as no surprise to protest organisers, as Brownlee had recently publicly denied the existence of a housing crisis in Christchurch. He has claimed that while individuals may be experiencing housing issues, there is no widespread or systemic problem with provision and availability of shelter in the city.

Illustrating that this is clearly not the case, protesters shared their own personal stories over the megaphone of homelessness, hosting displaced friends and family, and finding themselves unable to stay in their homes, not because of earthquake damage, but as a result of rent raises making accommodation unaffordable to families on low pay. [Read more…]

Solidarity around the country

Lyttelton picket

Kelly Pope

Support for the striking Ports of Auckland workers has been evident in Christchurch and across the country this last month. On the 7th of March port workers in Lyttelton refused to unload the ship the Lisa Schulte which had been worked on by non-union workers in Auckland, following similar action by Wellington and Tauranga port workers. Around a hundred and fifty workers planned to boycott the ship in solidarity with Auckland workers and did so until that night.

In response to the action by staff, Lyttelton Port Company filed for an injunction to prevent workers from continuing to boycott the ship and the case was heard on the day. As solidarity strikes remain illegal, the court ordered workers on the picket line to resume work unloading the ship or face penalties which could include fines and imprisonment.

Workers remained on the picket line while the court case was attended by union organisers. In the evening a group of around thirty people marched down Lyttelton’s main street to the wharves in a display of support for the port workers challenging the anti-strike laws and drawing attention to the struggles of Auckland workers.

While the group, including representatives from a number of unions and political activists, were at the wharves, Libby Carr, secretary of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union arrived from the court hearing. Though bringing the news of the ruling, she told those present that the workers would be heartened to hear of the support from the community and invited people to continue supporting the workers by attending the stopwork meeting for RMT and MUNZ union members the following day.

Thousands protest against Christchurch City Council CEO’s pay rise

Kelly Pope is a Workers Party member in Christchurch who took part in the February protest for democracy in Christchurch. On our website we’ve already published a smaller article about the protest which was also written by Kelly.

One of the largest protests Christchurch has seen in the past decade took place on February 1 in response to lack of democracy and transparency within the Christchurch City Council. News sources estimate that up to 4000 people attended the midday demonstration held at the site next to the council offices where the St Elmo Courts building stood prior to earthquake damage and demolition. Protest organisers arranged for music to be played from the temporary stage and speaker set-up from 10am, and many people arrived early, having lunch in the empty lot.

When the protest got underway, people expressed their outrage, calling for the resignation of Mayor Bob Parker and council CEO Tony Marryatt as well as Autumn elections to select new council representatives. From the middle of the space where people gathered it was impossible to tell how far back the crowd stretched in any direction. A large number of people held banners and signs and the frustration was audible as people chanted and cheered. [Read more…]

Thousands Protest against Chch City Council

Get rid of the Bob and Tony ShowApproximately 2,000 people turned out to protest at the Christchurch City Council offices today, angry at a $68,000 pay rise for City Council CEO Tony Marryatt, taking his annual salary to over half a million (Christchurch average wage, $47,000pa). After enormous pressure from the public Marryatt has turned down the pay rise, after initially accepting it, but the protest incorporated a number of issues relating to democracy and transparency in local government.