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John MacDonald: Christchurch City Council's $13 million question

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Apr 2024, 1:08pm
Te Kaha Christchurch multi-use arena Stadium. Photo / Christchurch City Council
Te Kaha Christchurch multi-use arena Stadium. Photo / Christchurch City Council

John MacDonald: Christchurch City Council's $13 million question

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Apr 2024, 1:08pm

You know how you hear people talk about “the million dollar question”? Today, it’s a $13 million dollar question that needs answering.

It’s all to do with the streets around the new stadium in the centre of Christchurch: Te Kaha. You might remember, a while back, how the council came up with this idea of spending $34 million getting the streets ready for the stadium opening in 2026.

And how it wanted to do daft things like widen the footpaths, take away car parks and slow-down speed limits in the area —even more to as low as 10 kilometres per hour. There was some underground infrastructure stuff, which is the boring stuff that usually makes the most sense.

But $34 million, and we said to the council, ‘what the hell are you thinking?’ They said, “good point guys” and pulled the pin on it. But then, a few weeks later, they had a re-think and it was all-on again.

They did listen to some of the big property developers around town who weren’t happy with the original idea of making Lichfield Street one-way, between Manchester and Madras. But, apart from that change, it was all-go.

And, at the time, what made it so attractive to the council was that $13 million of the $34 million was going to be coming from the Government.

But the city council has just found out that that money from central government is at-risk, because NZTA says it has no idea whether the work will be a priority spend for the new government.

And the council is going to have to wait until October to find out whether the $13 million it was expecting to come from Wellington for the project, is still going to be coming.

But here’s the tricky bit. And this is where the $13 million dollar question comes into it.

If this work on the streets around the stadium is going to be finished in time for when the stadium is due to open in 2026, the work has to start in July. Three months before the council will know whether the government money is still coming - or not.

And the decision facing the council now, is whether to press-on with the work in July and risk NZTA and the Government saying in October that the $13 million isn’t happening anymore leaving ratepayers to pay the extra.

Or pause the work until it knows what the central government funding situation is. Or come up with a cheaper option.

I’m in no doubt what the council should do. I think it needs to find a cheaper way of doing it.

Because do you really think the Government’s going to see this as a priority, when it’s already pulling funding from all sorts of things? And when it has said time-and-time again that taxpayers have put enough money into Christchurch’s recovery?

So of course it’s not going to be a priority. And, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if NZTA tells the council at some point to do exactly what I’m saying today. Go away and sharpen your pencil.

And if it was me who was given the job of sharpening the pencil - here’s what I’d do.

I would forget about all the beautification and footpath-widening stuff. Because you might remember Annabelle Turley from the Central City Business Association saying when this all first surfaced, that the council planners seemed to have forgotten our old friend the easterly wind.

They want to widen the footpaths around the stadium to six metres so people can do things like go to restaurants and sit outside and have dinner. As Annabelle said back then, they seem to have forgotten about the wind blasting from the east.

Although, maybe the stadium is going to act as some sort of windbreak. Either way, I’d ditch all that stuff.

Another way I’d cut costs, is to do away with this idea of permanently reducing the speed limit around the stadium to 10 kilometres per hour. Because the process of doing that will cost money.

I know previously the council’s transport manager has said the speed limit should be permanently reduced to 10 kilometres per hour so the council doesn't have to spend money on expensive traffic management plans when big events are held at the stadium.

If that’s the trade-off, then so be it, I say.

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