Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lessons from the quake

The devastating quake which hit Christchurch and large parts of rural Canterbury has demonstrated how unprepared the New Zealand Historic Places Trust has been to deal with the emergency. Local staff members are being worked off their feet to help with assessment of damage to heritage buildings, but with the best will in the world they cannot cover enough ground.  They  simply do not have enough manpower to deal with the scale of the damage.

What has become very clear is that the NZHPT, as the lead heritage agency in the country, should have had an earthquake contingency plan in place.  Such a plan should include provision for an emergency team that can be called in to assist with assessments of earthquake damage.  The team would be drawn from a list of engineers sympathetic to heritage buildings, heritage architects, archaeologists, stained glass conservators,  earth building specialists,  and skilled heritage stone masons, to name just some of the obvious  skills likely to be required. It is important that the list of skilled people able to form an emergency team should be drawn from across the country so that no matter where a quake hits, there will always be people available somewhere .

What would have happened if members of the local staff had been incapacitated by the quake? How soon would we have seen an HPT presence here.  As it is, buildings are being lost because there are not enough heritage consultants on the ground to assist property owners to make informed decisions about the prospects of retaining buildings.  It is now a week after the event, and no-one from head office has been near the city.  It is apparently being viewed as a purely regional issue, despite that fact that a high number of Category 1 buildings (and therefore buildings of national significance) have been damaged in the quake.  

In stark contrast to the absence of any comments from the CEO of NZHPT,  ICOMOS New Zealand issued a Press Release soon after the quake, urging caution before taking the decision to demolish any damaged heritage buildings.  Since then emails of solidarity and support have been received from members of the heritage community around the globe.  It is clear that the world is watching to see how we deal with our heritage after this natural disaster, and I am afraid that the response of the NZHPT will be found wanting. 

I hope before another major quake hits somewhere in New Zealand, NZHPT will have addressed the shortcomings of its response to this event and that it will have in place national and regional emergency plans so that it is in a position to step in and help immediately with all the manpower necessary to adequately cover the affected area.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The recent announcement that Jen Crawford  has been appointed to the Arts Centre Trust Board was both surprising and disturbing.  Those who were involved in the recent resource management hearings will be aware that she was the lawyer representing the applicants for the proposed music school. Her appointment has all the appearance of stacking the Board with yet another member who will promote the pro-development stance it has adopted over recent years.   Given all the bad publicity the Board has received since the music school proposal was made public, it would have been a smart move on their part to appoint someone with impeccable heritage credentials.  The Board is full of business and development oriented members but conspicuously lacks anyone who brings substantial heritage expertise to the boardroom.  That is one reason why they so completely failed to foresee the great groundswell of public opposition to placing additional buildings on the site.

Public statements by Director Ken Franklin since the music school was turned down indicate that development is still very much on their agenda. The Board may be chastened by defeat but they evidently remain unchanged in their determination to develop the vacant sites.  They prefer to consider the opposition as coming from a small, implacable group intent upon derailing their plans by fair means or foul. But in the end the decision was based firmly on the requirements of the City Plan.  If they continue to ignore the widespread public desire to keep the heritage buildings free from modern intrusions and retain the open space which allows the buildings to breathe and be seen clearly, they are setting themselves up for further battles. The public has clearly indicated a desire for greater involvement in decisions being made for the future of our Arts Centre. So it is not reassuring to be told that it would be a year to eighteen months before  “any announcements”  are made concerning new plans for the site.  There is no suggestion here that the Board intends to consult with the public.   

It is interesting to note that when Ken Franklin’s appointment as director was announced he stated: “We must earn the support of the people of Canterbury......To build community confidence we will operate with transparency, providing insight into our intentions, encouraging open debate…”    It is difficult to reconcile these words with the music school debacle where debate was stifled on the Board, leading to resignation of one member, where citizens collecting petitions against the proposal were threatened with trespass notice and where public interest groups opposing the plans are said to have subjected the Arts Centre to unprecedented  attack.. " Far from being open and transparent, Mr Franklin and the Board adopted a seige mentality and unless this changes it does not bode well for the future of the Arts Centre. Unfortunately the recent public skirmishes with the stall holders, who feel bullied and threatened, indicates that the Board have a long way to go to restore any public confidence in their administration.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

More changes at the Arts Centre

The Arts Centre Trust Board seems determined to change the Arts Centre as we know it.  The latest announcement is the news that stall holders have been told they must move from market square within six months to make way for car parking.  It was always obvious that if the music school was given the go-ahead, some stallholders and the food vendors would have to move.  It was also clear that if the Board proceeded with plans for underground parking beneath Market Square, the market would need to move while construction took place. However, it came as a surprise to stallholders to be told that the move would be permanent. They were equally surprised at the timing of the notice, given the fact that we are still awaiting the outcome of the resource consent hearing and even if the decision favours the Trust Board, opponents have indicated that they will appeal.

The reason for the rush remains unclear, in spite of Director Ken Franklin's explanation that the move was not just about the music school but was "part of a broader plan to build an underground carpark and free up the market square for events". What sort of events they have in mind has not been explained. There is not even an active resource consent application for an additional underground car park as far as anyone is aware. 

Of course, mention of car parking under market square, immediately brings us back to the issue of the mysteriously disappearing underground car parking spaces for the Council, which were withdrawn prior to the commencement of the resource consent hearing.  Yet these parks were part of the Council's funding agreement.  It is difficult not to be cynical and expect that additional car parking will be authorised in a non-notified resource consent as soon as the music school gets the go ahead,  so that the Hereford St car park entrance will be available for the extended site under both market square and the new "3rd quadrangle."    

Logically, construction of car parks under the quadrangle would have to take place at the same time as the music school construction (even if construction of the market square portion takes place at a later date).  Any other scenario would be completely disruptive to the functioning of the music school.  Perhaps the Arts Centre has abandoned its plans to include car parks under the new quadrangle area, but this seems most unlikely. On the other hand, the likelihood of a separate publicly notified resource consent application for car park construction in the quadrangle also seems improbable as that would cause further delays in completion of  the music school, which the university has repeatedly stated to be a matter of urgency.  I hope my cynicism is unjustified, because if  a non-notified consent were granted  and building of part or all of an extended car park proceeded at the same time as the music school, it would represent a gross abuse of process.

Underground car parking aside, it seems that at least for the duration of the music school construction the car parking desert which so offends supporters of the music school, will be shifted to the much more prominent market square part of the Arts Centre.

And what of the market itself.  That is to be shut away in the north and south quadrangles, where stall holders will have great difficulty in getting goods to and from their stalls.  Long term stallholders remember the difficulties they faced when the market was located here and have no desire to return to this part of the Arts Centre. One could almost think that this is just a clever ploy to encourage stall holders to give up on the site.  Perhaps the market does not suit the Arts Centre's re-branded creativity works image with its emphasis on the Arts Centre as a place "where people can turn creative skills and talents into successful, unique, innovative business" and its  aim to attract "new high quality creative industry tenants". 

The market was moved from the North and South Quadrangles on sound conservation grounds, so that the buildings and the spaces defined by the buildings can be appreciated.  It is a backward step to return it there. It would be interesting to know what sort of "events" are intended to take place in market square which would justify permanent removal of the market from this part of the Arts Centre.

The Stall holders have organised  a petition against the move which can be downloaded from the Save our Craft Market website . Click here for a link.



Thursday, January 21, 2010

Arts Centre related blogs

I recently came across an excellent blog on the history of the Arts Centre. Anyone who has a general interest in the Arts Centre should certainly visit the site, which includes newspaper articles about the buildings from the Star in the 1870s and 1880s.  Click here  

Also visit Canterbury Heritage  for another perspective.  This blog, like the previous one, will be of general interest to anyone who is keen on learning more about some of the more obscure aspects of Canterbury history. 

Some strongly expressed opinions against the Music School proposal can be found on Against the Current.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Money squandered to no effect

The large advertisement in the Press today (19 December 2009) asking people to view the model  of the proposed Music School building at the Art Gallery, prompts me to ask just how much the University is spending on continuing to promote a cause which the overwhelming majority of Christchurch residents have proclaimed loudly and clearly that they do not want on this site. Today's advertisement is only one of several large advertisements which have appeared in the Press in recent days.  Earlier in the campaign the university also ran a series of large scale advertisements.  Added to this are the glossy brochures, the question and answer handouts and the large colour posters appearing in various locations around the city.  The model itself can't have come cheaply  The promotional bill for this project must be starting to reach a sizable sum by now.   Nor should we forget the cost of all the staff time that has been diverted from productive teaching and research roles to writing submissions and sitting in at Council consultation hearings. On top of that, of course, are the fees for the architects, growing by the minute as plans are changed and designs resubmitted. Then there are the fees for all the other consultants including resource management planners, engineers, heritage consultants and lawyers. Expenses will grow dramatically when  legal hearings begin.  Many of these consultants would have been unnecessary for a building at Ilam and if resource consent is not granted a whole new set of expenses will be incurred to redesign on campus. Rumour has it that the University has already spent $1.25 million, with nothing to show for it.  The tragedy is that the much needed new music building could already be well underway by now if the University had chosen the logical course of building at Ilam.  The money frittered away in the attempt to impose a building where it is not wanted could have been spent on ensuring that a truly inspirational design was developed for a music school combined with a multi-use performing arts centre on campus, which would enrich the lives of all students and be of benefit to the whole of Christchurch.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Disharmony in the city.

Events relating to the proposed music school are heating up. First there was the announcement by the applicants that they were delaying the resource consent until February out of concern for the opposition, to give them adequate time to prepare their case. Not very convincing, considering that the filing of the resource consent application had been timed to maximise inconvenience to opponents. Submissions would have fallen due while the Council consultation hearing was still taking place, if they hadn't, in their haste, overlooked the fact that they were lodging the application in the name of a Joint Venture which did not at that stage legally exist. As a consequence it had to be resubmitted. Aside from the pressure placed upon opponents by this untimely application, the very fact that it was lodged well in advance of the Council's final decision on funding suggests that the applicants knew something that submitters opposed to the proposal did not know.

Just incidentally, it was stated that the applicants were using the delay to deal with some of the issues raised by opponents in regard to the design. The new-found concern for the opposition was quickly revealed as nothing more than spin because word soon got about that the Council's own heritage consultant had been less than impressed with the building. As a face saving tactic it might almost have worked except that there is clearly more than one leaky institution in this city.

The Council became distinctly tetchy over inquiries into the Vines report. Depending on which Council officer was spoken to, the report was described as incomplete, a draft only, or containing misleading information. Queries as to whether it had been passed to the applicants were vigorously denied, but I doubt that many observers believed this. Claims under the Offical Information Act have so far failed to extract a copy of the report.

However, if word of the Vines report caused a stir, it paled into insignificance compared with the reaction to the announcement on Saturday that SOAC has filed for an interim injunction to delay the resource consent hearings until the issue of the correct interpretation of the Trust deed could be decided by the High Court. At first the University tried to pass it off as a publicity stunt ( an expensive one, it would have to be said, if it involves lawyers fees!) However, once the documents were received cries of publicity stunt were quickly replaced by yells of foul play. The Arts Centre spoke darkly of betrayal and an attempt by SOAC to prevent all but a select few from having a say on the building.

We are asked to believe that a legitimate legal process intended to clarify for once and for all the true extent of the Board's powers is in some way an abuse of process. It is not this action which is denying others their right to be heard. The reality is that the groundswell of people opposed to the developments are the ones who have been denied a real right to be heard. A resource consent hearing is no substitute for a public consultation around the long term plans and policy directions for the Arts Centre. From the outset, opponents of the scheme have argued that a full and wide-ranging public discussion about the future of the arts centre should take place before any sort of development is approved. Our requests have been thwarted at every turn. The consultation was limited to the issue of finance, because, we were told, other issues would be dealt with in the resource consent process. That is simply not true. Resource consent hearings are defined by the nature of the applicants proposal and are restricted to a limited range of issues around the city plan.

What are the documents which have led to accusations of betrayal. It appears from the Press that they include minutes and financial details. Let us not forget we are dealing here with a charitable trust which administers the buildings for the people of Christchurch and New Zealand. You would expect many financial details to be open to public scrutiny in the annual reports of the Board. It is also difficult to see why the minutes of a charity administered in the public interest should be confidential. After all, they are highly unlikely to contain the sort of information which has a legitimate claim to confidentiality such as the lease agreements between the Arts Centre and any tenants. The role of the Board is in formulating policy and this should be open to public scrutiny.

The reaction of the Board suggests that they do indeed have something to hide. Rumours of bullying and muzzling Board members who disagree with the views of the inner cabal suggest that this is a Board which has problems. There is also a strong suggestion that huge sums of money have been squandered on various development projects that have never come to fruition (and probably should never have been contemplated). Rumour also surrounds the chairman of the board, John Simpson, whom it appears may have undeclared conflicts of interest on account of a continuing role on a subcommittee of the University Council.

The further unfolding of this saga will be awaited with interest.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Archive of radio and television interviews

25 August 2009  
Mike Yardley Interview With Dr Rod Carr  Part 1 . 
General discussion on the University.

Mike Yardley Interview with Dr Rod Carr.

Part 2  The Music Conservatorium.

Interview with Rod Carr  Part 3

October 12  2009  

Mike Yardley interview with Richard Sinke and Elric Hooper  

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

19 October 2009
Mike Yardley Interview with Ken Franklin, Director of the Arts Centre 
Parts 1 & 2

Ken Franklin Part 3

20 Nov 2009
Mike Yardley speaks to Councillor Yani Johansen on the consultation process 

28 Nov 2009
Kim Hill speaks to Rod Carr