The Government has now given its initial reactions to the draft Central City Plan, with Gerry Brownlee calling it a “wish list” and Prime Minister John Key backing that up in his slightly more cautious manner. I think this is an unfortunate tag to give the Plan, and is something the people of Christchurch do not deserve. Yes, this needs to be debated and we need to be cautious but calling it a wish list was a needlessly negative thing to say. Thankfully, Brownlee’s comments seem to have gone down like a cup of cold sick with the public, and the Government’s reaction hasn’t actually been all that bad. In fact, John Key even said that there can “be a place” for light rail in Christchurch! Considering the Governments usual attitude to rail, this is a promising start.
At the end of the day the light rail proposal, while ambitious in its ultimate vision, is really about a short line from the Central City to the university. Focusing on this one project was a really good move from the Council as it isn’t too ambitious and is more likely to get funded yet will spur public demand for more.
The real issue with central government is going to be about who pays for all of this, and that is the way they may be able to derail some projects. Gerry Brownlee has already hinted that he sees some aspects of the Plan having to be dropped due to cost issues so the Plan needs to be rock solid on funding. Mayor Bob Parker claims that the Plan is “very sustainable and very affordable” and that about half the plan could be funded by existing council budgets and insurance money, with another $500 million borrowed over 10 years, leaving the Government contribution at only up to $250m. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the Government, especially considering the cost of big projects in Auckland and Wellington they have contributed to in recent years, not to mention the ones they have been asked to pay for such as Auckland’s inner city rail link.
“There was little point in coming with a plan that was so full of wonderful visions but actually couldn’t be delivered. That would be letting our community down, and it’s too important an issue for us to do that.” – Bob Parker
A factor that may aid Christchurch is that the Government might not want to rock the boat too much, particularly in an election year. If the Council put together a tight plan for funding, and get widespread buy in from residents, business and other interested parties, then we may see this thing get off the ground in one piece.