© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2019

Left-leaning council against asset sales, determined to fight mandatory chlorination

Steven Walton
council 2019
The 2019 Christchurch City Council moments before their first meeting of the term. Steven Walton

The new Christchurch City Council is left-leaning, not interested in assets sales, determined to fight against mandatory chlorination, and backs the multi-use arena, a METRONEWS survey has found.

METRONEWS has surveyed the 16 people elected to the Christchurch City Council in October's election. Mayor Lianne Dalziel was not surveyed.

The survey asked the 10 returning and six new councillors for their views on rates, the central city, asset sales, climate change, the multi-use arena, chlorine, and cycleways.

Councillors were staunchly against mandatory chlorination of Christchurch's water and many of them say they'll take whatever steps necessary to fight back - that is if chlorination is mandated by a new nationwide regulator that will be set up next year. 

Cr Tim Scandrett says he'll support high court action against mandatory chlorination. 

Notably, the mutli-use arena is proving to be a more divisive issue than the city's cycleways. While all councillors say they support the arena, opinions are split on the how large of a priority the project is.

Meanwhile, the cycleways and central city revitalisation both appear to have a majority bloc of support. 

Get a quick overview of the key takeaways from the METRONEWS survey of the 2019 Christchurch City Council.

The survey also shows the council leans more to the left of the political spectrum, with nine councillors saying they are either left or centre-left.

First-term councillors Catherine Chu and Sam MacDonald both say they are centre-right, while the remaining five placed themselves in the centre.

The addition of MacDonald and Chu to the council, taking over seats respectively held by Raf Manji and Vicki Buck, has decreased the number of independent councillors from eight to six.

MacDonald and Chu are part of the Independent Citizens political grouping, along with Fendalton councillor James Gough. 

The left-leaning People's Choice/Labour group has seven members on the 2019 council, the same number as the previous term.


Lincoln University's Jean Drage, who researches local government, says political parties have struggled locally in the past because of a perception that those councillors will have loyalty to parties, not residents.

But, it's a bit of a "double-edged sword"; Drage says. She explains that standing with a party tells voters where the candidate stands and many people don't vote because they don't know enough about candidates.  

"There seems to be a bit of an idea that politics at the council table is bad, well it's not bad," she says, adding that democracy is a contest of ideas.

CHLORINE

It was supposed to be gone by March, then in May, then July, and perhaps maybe by Spring - but now almost two years later, parts of Christchurch's water supply remain chlorinated. 

13 councillors specifically mentioned removing chlorine in questions about what they hope to achieve or what the public can expect from the council this term.

melanie coker inaguration
First-term Spreydon councillor Dr Melanie Coker is hopeful that chlorine will be "a long forgotten memory" by the end of the council term. Steven Walton

When asked about the important issues they personally hope to achieve, four councillors - James Gough, Tim Scandrett, Yani Johanson, and Pauline Cotter - all directly mentioned removing chlorine. 

Councillors gave impassioned pleas when asked what they'd do if mandatory chlorination is mandated by the government.

In 2020, a new water regulator will be established to improve water quality standards nationwide in response to the Havelock North water crisis, which left 5000 people ill. 

A cabinet paper released by the Government in June acknowledges permanent chlorination as a possibility and says any supplier will need a "heavy onus" to prove an exemption is warranted. 

Councillors say they're focused on ensuring Christchurch's water is safe, which they say should be enough reason to grant an exemption.

aaron keown council
Harewood councillor Aaron Keown says chlorine is the most important issue for the council this term. He says it's a "scam" and not needed in Christchurch. Steven Walton

When asked what they'll do if an exemption isn't granted, Cr Tim Scandrett says he'll support high court action while Cr Yani Johanson says he'll "challenge it every step of the way".

Cr Mike Davidson says he'll support council looking at "every avenue possible" while Cr Andrew Turner says he'll commit to "whatever steps are necessary".

ASSET SALES

A majority of the councillors believe the council should not sell assets, which means the city is likely to hold onto the eight companies it owns for the next three years.

The council has a majority shareholding in companies such as Red Bus, Christchurch Airport, Orion and City Care.

To see Councillors views on asset sales, click on the bubbles and then click on a Councillor's name to see their comments.

The last time the council investigated the idea of asset sales, in September 2018, the Finance and Performance Committee voted 5-4 against an external evaluation of their assets

In response to our survey, 10 councillors say the city should not sell assets, while six say the council should commit to a review of asset performance before making a decision about sales. 

All seven People's Choice/Labour councillors voted against reviewing assets while the three Independent Citizens councillors voted in favour.

Deputy Mayor and People's Choice councillor Andrew Turner says there is no financial reason to sell assets. He believes any review should be undertaken by the company that owns the assets, Christchurch City Holdings Limited (CCHL), as "part of their ongoing and regular business". 

james gough
Fendalton councillor James Gough said in September last year that those who voted against an external review of Christchurch's assets were "abdicating their responsibilities". Steven Walton

Cr Sam MacDonald, a chartered accountant, supports a review of the city's assets and says one should happen every term, "to ensure they are delivering for ratepayers". 

RATES

Rates were a hotly-contested issue during the election campaign after businessman and Mayoral candidate Darryll Park promised to freeze rates if elected. 

Stuff reported the council's long term plan predicted a 52.35 percent rise in Christchurch rates by 2028. This year's average rate rise is 4.79 percent, the lowest increase in three years. 

The majority of councillors want the average rise of rates to continue decreasing.


Decreasing the percentage of rate increases is the policy campaigned for by Mayor Lianne Dalziel. No councillors chose to back the fixed rates policy originally put forward by Park. 

Independent Citizens councillors James Gough, Sam MacDonald, and Catherine Chu all say limiting rate rises is one of their personal goals for the next three years. 

THE MULTI-USE ARENA

Christchurch's new multi-use arena has the unanimous support of the council, but some councillors remain wary about whether it's a priority for Christchurch.

Councillors were given a yes or no question about whether they supported the stadium - all 16 answered 'yes'. 

However, when asked to rate the project's priority on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest priority, divisions began to show.  


Five councillors rated the multi-use arena's priority five or less while four gave it the highest priority rating. 

Cr Tim Scandrett says one of his personal goals this term is progressing the arena ahead of schedule. 

Work on the arena, which is being funded by the council and central government, is expected to begin in 2021 with a final completion date in 2024.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Responses to the survey show a majority of councillors won't change the city's carbon-neutral target of 2045, but they do believe climate change is a priority.

This year, the council declared a climate emergency and then set the city's carbon-neutral target to 2045, five years ahead of the Government's target in the Zero Carbon Bill. 

council meeting
The 2019 Christchurch City Council during their first meeting of the new term. Steven Walton

11 councillors say the council's carbon-neutral target should remain at 2045. Cr Yani Johanson suggests 2030, Cr Aaron Keown and Cr Andrew Turner say 2040, and Cr Tim Scandrett says 2050.

Cr Sam MacDonald didn't specify a year but spoke of a pragmatic approach. 

The METRONEWS survey also asked councillors how adequately they thought the council has responded to climate change and how large of a priority it will be in the future. 

Five councillors - Sara Templeton,  Pauline Cotter, Dr Melanie Coker, Jake McLellan and Jimmy Chen - directly named climate change as one of the most important issues during the upcoming term. 


"We will all be affected by climate change and preparing to mitigate and adapt to it is important in every single decision the Council makes going forward," Cr Melanie Coker says. 

THE CENTRAL CITY

Cr James Gough told METRONEWS in early October the central city "desperately" needs more residents. "And if the council is a roadblock to this outcome, that's disgusting," he added. 

When asked how large of a priority revitalising central city business and residential living is on a scale of one to 10, Gough says 10 - an answer shared by councillors Jake McLellan and Tim Scandrett. 

Gough, who will chair a central city working group this term, says the central city core is "critical to overall success of Christchurch".

Newly-elected Central councillor Jake McLellan says all the great cities of the world have dense cores. "I want to see the same for Christchurch."


More than half of the councillors rate central city revitalization eight out of 10 with regard to how high of a priority it is.

Most councillors emphasize the central city's success is crucial for Christchurch as a whole. 

Cr Yani Johanson gave central city revitalization the lowest rating at five. He says although it's important, revitalization should not be at the expense of fixing broken infrastructure in the suburbs. 

CYCLEWAYS

Cycleways have been popping up across Christchurch since the earthquakes, with new routes connecting the University, Northlands Mall, and Halswell to the central city. 

A narrow majority of councillors see the continued development of cycleways, such as the Heathcote Expressway and Templeton to the city development, as a project they support. 

When asked to rank how supportive they are on a scale where 10 is 'very supportive' and one is 'not supportive', five councillors answered with a 10.


Councillors Dr Melanie Coker, Sara Templeton, Pauline Cotter and Tim Scandrett, all voted 10 and say encouraging cycling will decrease the city's carbon emissions, 53% of which are produced by transport.

Cr Anne Galloway, who also voted 10, says simply, "we have to plan for the future". 

Cr Phil Mauger, newly elected to the Burwood ward, voted four out of 10 and says he has "no problem" with cycleways, but he simply feels there are more pressing issues. 

This point is shared by Cr James Gough, who voted five out of 10.

He says ensuring roads are in good condition should take priority. "Encouraging alternate modes of transport is positive however it cannot be at the direct expense of today’s needs," he says.