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Christchurch & Oamaru 

I have been down in Christchurch and Oamaru for a week - and what a revelation. I have deliberately avoided visiting what were my home and school towns - funk is the only reasonable explanation.

I don't think that we have been kept well informed about the situation in Christchurch - it is far worse that I had imagined, and there does appear to be anguish and despair beyond anything we have been informed about. It is not just about the obviously intentional EQC leaks, characterised as mistakes, but clearly politically motivated sabotage - of that we can now be certain. They will continue now that the pattern has ben set, and occur from other agencies as well. Just how they can operate with this kind of 'white-anting' is hard to imagine. It is not a case of people being entitled to the information - that can be handled in an orderly fashion, and the OIA used in order to ensure that specific information is made available when the copious amount of detail relating to each claim has been acquired - to have it released piecemeal in this manner will cause even more grief in an already fraught situation.

I was staggered at the number of abandoned homes in suburbs such as St Albans - not in the 'red zone' - simply homes from which people have walked and apparently disappeared from Christchurch - this is common in numerous suburds that have not been in the forefront of the news. The results of the census will be very revealing, and I suspect will shock a number of authorities. There appears to be a huge amount of activity and orange clad workers clambering around barricades, and vast numbers of tradespeople at work carrying out repairs - nearly every chimney appears to have come down one way or another so that the tell-tale roof patches are obvious everywhere you look. Then there are the overgrown sections over vast areas of the city of recently demolished homes - many of which were in the 'grand' category. The roller coaster streets and footpaths bears witness to the probable condition of the underground services.

But that is just the inner suburbs - time prevented more extensive exploration. As for the town centre, I can only describe the total feeling of desolation as I stood on the courageously restored section of Cashell St (converted containers of remarkable ambiance!) and looked across to High Street. Those who can relate to this section of the city will be as amazed as I when looking at a clear sky to the West rather than buildings - they have all disappeared - no rubble, nothing, just clear sky. In the midst of all this Ballantynes carries on as if nothing had happened - an oasis of hope in the midst of devastation. I guess anyone who experienced London in the late forties and fifties will understand the feelings. 

Then to Oamaru - a town that has transformed itself through an amazing community spirit, bound up with an extremely wealthy hinterland, and pervading clarity of vision. My word there are some lessons for this town if it is serious about preserving its identity and heritage.  It does not take transformation - simply the ability to work with what we have already in place. The Victorian section of the town is heading for World Heritage Status - a remarkable achievement, and the buildings - previously neglected or derelict have been restored to levels unprecedented in this country. It is well worth a visit. The business's that have established in the sector clearly have to allow for seasonal downturns, but the efforts made to encourage tourism through regular events and festivals is a really starting to pay off. The opening of the restored Opera House by Kiri T. a week or two ago was an outstanding success. They managed to raise over $10m for the purpose - just one of many outstanding restorations that have been primarily sponsored by the District Council, but paid for through the hard work of supportive local groups.   

For the record - the District Council finances are in fine shape, everything appears in good order, and  Mayor Alex Familton (who I know) was horrified when I described the formula of lowered rates / increased borrowing that we have entered into here. He suggested that in this course may well be contrary to LGA, and if not it should be. I quizzed Alex about the likely effects of the new regulations, and assessments - the restorations have been under the old regulations. He was remarkably sanguine and expressed the belief that the Government would have to modify its position - the consequences would be otherwise unsustainable for every small town in the country. I hope he is correct.   




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