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Chris Ford: Christchurch's rebirth hampered by National

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 On Friday, Christchurch commemorated the second terrible anniversary of the February 2011 earthquake. This second earthquake devastated the city. It's now leading to its rebirth, albeit, one being hampered by National.

In 2011, the National Government endeared itself to the people of Christchurch - so much so that its voters awarded National a plurality of the party votes cast there. A stunning feat in what had been a solidly Labour town for eons.

Christchurch old boy John Key could seemingly do no wrong. Compensation packages, rebuilding plans and financial assistance poured forth. The people of Canterbury were also genuinely grateful for the attention paid to them by its prodigal son.

Cue 2013 and the love affair between Christchurch and the Government is coming unstuck.

Just last week, the people of Christchurch were given the Government's second anniversary present to the city - 19 school closures and mergers, many forced.

To compound the misery for some of these schools, the Government's promises that they if did close it wouldn't be until the end of 2014 were broken. Instead, schools like Manning Intermediate (which had just moved into new buildings two years ago) were told that the last bell would toll for them before the 2013 Christmas holidays.

Hekia Parata's decision was a massive blow to communities still traumatised by the events of two years ago.

On top of that, Gerry Brownlee has become the new Emperor of Christchurch. His imperious style has seen, for example, the return of democracy at Environment Canterbury postponed even further. This means that Canterbury voters won't get any say over their environmental future until 2016. The obstensible reason given by Brownlee and the Government is to maintain the gains made in the organisation's performance since un-elected commissioners were foisted upon that body in 2010. The reality is, though, that big farming wants to continue to have its wicked way over potentially environmentally damaging irrigation schemes.

Another example is the slowness of the rebuild in coming to the most deprived communities. I saw a television report the other night about a family in working class Aranui having to live in cramped, crowded conditions while awaiting an Earthquake Commission pay out. All the while, media and anecdotal reports still abound of unscrupulous landlords jacking up rents and of people living in tents, caravans and cars. Misery is still the lot of many Christchurch residents, a good number of them too poor to afford somewhere decent to live. Meanwhile, the business community applauds the construction of a new CBD while poorer areas await their turn.

All of these factors have seen National's support in Christchurch fall. From what I've heard it hasn't completely collapsed (given the progress being made) but the opposition could be smelling the first signs of a comeback, via the city, in 2014.

And if that's the case, then National might well have lost the love of the city of Christchurch for good.





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