It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Christchurch city councillors hearing submissions on the council’s long-term plan. A vast range of community groups and individuals, fronted by positive, passionate people concerned for Christchurch’s wellbeing, have presented funding wish lists both great and small. However, there is a finite amount of money and hard decisions need to be made.
The hardest decision will be whether to bring forward or push back the $253 million budgeted for the proposed “multi-purpose” covered stadium, currently budgeted for 2022-2024. (It’s called a “multi-purpose” stadium but we all know the main drivers of the project and the major beneficiaries will be rugby)
All Black Captain Kieran Reid fronted the rugby union’s plea for funding to be brought forward. Reid says the lack of a stadium “highlights what we’re missing out on – All Black tests, I don’t get to play in my home town, there’s concerts – Ed Sheeran, Elton John. When the stadium was built, I believed I’d get the chance to play in a new stadium. Now, I just hope I have a stadium I can be proud of to take my kids to.”
It was a heartfelt, honest plea.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson was more blunt. “People are paying to get hailed on. Our stadium is the least suitable stadium in Super Rugby by over 8,000 people”
It’s an optimistic call that a new, covered stadium would bring All Black test matches to Christchurch. The writing is on the wall that commercial demands will mean Eden Park may well be the only venue acceptable for future big test matches.
Nevertheless, a multi-use stadium would be very nice to have for the city.
With Rev Sheena Dickson, I presented a submission which challenged the spending priorities in the draft plan. We think the capital funding for the stadium needs to be put back to allow the city to deal with its most urgent capital spending – the 400 council rental houses destroyed in the earthquakes which have not been rebuilt.
There was already a housing shortage for low income tenants and families before the quakes. Since then the problem has mushroomed – not just in Christchurch but across the country. The best estimate for homelessness in New Zealand is 41,000 with the government announcing in the budget a plan to build a miserly 1600 new state houses each year. Christchurch can only expect a small fraction of these.
The need is critical. So many families are doubled (sometimes tripled) up in homes and each year we see more families living in cars, vans, sheds and garages as well as under bridges.
The council’s draft 10-year plan however sets aside no money to rebuild the quake-destroyed units and the Otautahi Housing Trust, which administers the rental housing for the council, has neither the capacity nor the resources to do so. The council tells us it doesn’t have the money to rebuild these destroyed units and neither does it have the money to rebuild Lancaster Park.
So the two projects stand in line for funding. Neither Lancaster Park nor the 400 housing rental units can be repaired through earthquake insurance. But the council is proposing spending $253 million to replace the stadium but has proposed budgeting nothing for the replacement of the council rental units.
This is wrongheaded.
Families struggling with housing are not as well-connected to the city’s power structures as All Blacks and yet they have needs which vastly outweigh the need for a new covered stadium.
The $250 million budgeted for a stadium could provide at least 700 warm, dry homes for tenants and families. It would be an investment in our city which would bring a return in human development as well as rental income.
The needs of rugby patrons standing in hail to watch a game do not trump the needs of struggling tenants and families for warm, dry homes.
It would be great to hear the Canterbury Rugby Union say that in the wider interests of the people Christchurch they are willing to wait a bit longer.
That’s the kind of leadership that wins hearts and minds.