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John MacDonald: Christchurch's $1.4M folly

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 13 Nov 2023, 1:24PM
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

John MacDonald: Christchurch's $1.4M folly

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 13 Nov 2023, 1:24PM

Christchurch really is putting on a show this week. And I’m not talking about Cup and Show Week. 

I’m talking about the city council’s ridiculous show of wasteful spending of public money on its beautification trial on that little bit of Gloucester Street where the Turanga central library is on one side, and the new Court Theatre is being built on the other side. The Isaac Theatre Royal is just down the street a bit. 

The council’s spending $1.4 million on a 10-week trial of changes to that little piece of Gloucester Street and, if it decides that it doesn’t really work, it’s going to rip it all up again and go back to how it is now.  

They’re going to bring-in a 10kph speed limit and do some other things to make it prettier. Or, as the council puts it: to make the street “a more inviting space for hospitality, performers and theatre-goers”. 

Which is really going to work wonders when you consider all the trucks going to and from the Court Theatre construction site. And today, all that work is getting underway.  

This is at the same time as the council is realising that it’s going to have to pull the pin on other permanent cycleway and transport projects in the city because the funding it was expecting to get from Waka Kotahi has been put on hold. 

So 11 projects designed to make it easier to walk, ride a bike or use public transport in Christchurch.  

Total cost for the 11 projects expected to be $26 million. With 90 percent of the money coming from Waka Kotahi’s Transport Choices programme, which is funded by the Government’s climate change emergency fund.  

Just like the money for the Gloucester Street debacle is mostly government money too. $1.2 million in taxpayer money. The rest - ratepayer money. On something that might not even be permanent. A $1.4 million experiment.  

And the fact that most of its government money doesn’t make it any less wasteful.  

So the work on that starts today. And on Wednesday this week, city councillors are going to have to decide how they deal with the fact that they’re now going to get less government for these other projects.  

By the way, too, all of the money for these other projects is on hold until the new government is in place. 

So what the Christchurch City Council has to do, at the very least, is work out how to cut costs on these 11 projects by 10 percent. And councillors are going to get -together on Wednesday to try and suss that one out. 

And one of the things they’re going to be considering is pulling the plug on is a cycleway project. 

Which is where all of this makes absolutely no sense. Because who-on-earth would think that spending $1.4 million on a temporary thing in a location  where there’s a construction site operating with trucks coming and going is a good idea? At the same time as your being forced to cut back on other permanent projects.  

That’s the key point here: spending money on something that could turn out to be temporary, but cutting spending on things that will be permanent. In fact, not just cutting spending. It's looking like the council is going to cut some of these projects altogether. One of them is a new cycleway on the southside of town.    

If I had my way, I’d be heading to Gloucester Street and telling the crew in the high-vis jackets to find something else to do.  

Because how can these councillors possibly think it makes sense to cut back on permanent projects, but blow more than a million bucks on something that might not be there on the other side of Christmas?  

I said months ago that they should have told mayor Phil Mauger to get on the blower to Waka Kotahi and say ‘hey, about that money. We think there are much more important things for you to spend it on, so we’re going to say thanks-but-no thanks’. 

But, oh no. They’re pressing on with the work today. And then, on Wednesday, they’re going to decide what they’re not going to do about these other projects because there’s going to be less money coming from the Government. 

What do these council muppets not get? Why is this Gloucester Street thing so obviously nutbar to me, but not to them? The answer lies in the fact that so much of the money for Gloucester Street and these other projects is coming from the taxpayer. Not the ratepayer. 

Do you remember when they were talking about Gloucester Street and one councillor said it would be a shame not to do it because they’d miss out on the government money? Remember that?  

They’ve got their noses in the taxpayer’s trough and it seems to be impossible for them to pull them out. 


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