Monday, February 23, 2015

Quake Anniversary Feb 22

In the to-be-written economic analysis of the Canterbury quake series, there will be wonderful case studies for Public Policy, Management, and Engineering students, for decades to come.

Some streams/anecdotes:

  1. Most business that survived carried on.  There were no overall shortages of fuel, gas, food, power or FMCG beyond the first week:  the old adage of 'keep a week's canned food' was in practice fulfilled by barbecuing the contents of powered-off freezers.  There were certainly localised pinch-points.  But everything, basically, just carried right on.
  2. CBD businesses were decimated:  not because of the quakes, but the lockout that followed.  A few wise ones signed up as demolition workers, got their stock and records, then resigned.  Lawyers hired crane firms to swing them into their maroooned high-rise offices and retrieve case and client files.  But small busnesses either relocated and bought new plant and inventory if they could, or simply folded.  A good research project here.
  3. A Baron Haussmann frenzy then ensued:  the infamous 'Share-an-Idea' kept the masses happy typing ludicrously inept ideas about Grand Green New City, while the Planning Mandarins in CERA and CCDU hatched the equally shambolic idea of Precincts (entire city blocks) on the notion that this would encourage design elegance, uniformity, and high standards.  What they got, of course, was acres of car-park, a four-year wait with commercial construction inflation rollicking along at 12-15% per annum, endless '100-day' promises, no commercial takers and hence complete stasis on the ground.  The only tenants with deep enough pockets for all of this Poo-bah shtick are the Gubmint agencies, funded by, quelle surprise, you, me and Swiss Re.  Hence the Justice and Health precincts will survive.  The rest haven't.
  4. My own estimation of city-wide damage (my architectural eye-o-meter) is 85% just fine albeit with some ripples in the Gib, 5% totalled (say, 8,000 of the 160,000 rateable properties city-wide), and 10% somewhere in between.  This accords neatly with the business survival, which was instant (if possible at all) and which has been inestimably aided by the vast stupidity of the CCC relative to its country cousins.  Selwyn DC and IZone have, simply put, eaten CCC's lunch, as a glance at Rolleston will confirm.
  5. CERA has been rolled into DPMC, which assures it of micro-management and equally of doing nothing startling.  It has acted well over red-zone residential clearance, appallingly over CBD lock-down, and in the true spirit of unfettered bureaucracy grew to around 500 warm if doubtfully useful bodies or so at its peak.  Not counting consultants, PR, IT and other outsourced stuff.  My overall impression is that it was not bad at tactics, clueless about strategy.  But then politics (DPMC, remember) largely dictates all this.
  6. CCC is fixated on CBD-corpse-CPR.  All its traffic, planning and other energy has been poured into this (Bloomberg's words) quake-ravaged wasteland.  But the joke (and it's a bad one) is that no-one cares about the Old CBD: they have a New CBD distributed across points west (West of Avon to Bealey Ave, Riccarton, Addington, Middleton, Hornby, Airport, Rolleston, West Melton).  There's nothing to go there for except Ballantynes (an institution like K&S in Wellington, S&C in Awkland), it's painful in terms if memories, and the roads are dreadful, slow and have lost all their landmarks.  Yet CCC keeps right on pumping the chest.  In doing so, it has neglected the suburbs, their facilities, their population, and has alienated itself from them as a direct result.  Good luck with extracting swingeing rates increases from them in future....Sir Bob the Jones wrote an early article stating baldly that the CBD could not be rebuilt.  He was right.

As I said, great case-study material lies here.  People are fine or at least making do.  Their institutions, not so takes a generation or two to unremember all those mis-steps.

And, just in case yez feel in need of an alternative POV, try this:  notice the change in tone as the awful realization dawns.  It dovetails neatly, methinks.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Housing Supply - the blame game

Housing supply articles routinely ignore the tragic comedy of planning policy at the TLA level, which is where the majority of the blame lies.  This CityMetric article explains a London equivalent, and do notice that London is relatively decentralised (32 boroughs) cf Awkland.

My own solution would be threefold:

  1. Take away all local planning from the economically clueless TLA's and hand it off to local Commissioners (unelected).  Hey, can they possibly be worse than ACC's legion of brown cardies?  Thought not, but have a raft of KPI's to keep the Commishes - er - Commishing.  Like total costs not to exceed 1% of total build.
  2. Institute a risk-assessment approach to building (e.g. all single storey residential builds would be Schedule 1) to cut through the endless processing of very minor proposals.  The current rule-based approach is hopelessly Byzantine, costly, ineffective, economically disastrous in terms of misallocated resources, and easily circumvented by finding less stupid jurisdictions.
  3. Kick-start modularised, SIP, flat-pack, multi-proof-consented housing factories, partly to employ the hapless minions released onto an unsuspecting world by #1 above, partly to lower unit costs overall, and partly because I love CNC processes in general.  Cars, caravans, planes and boats are built this way - houses next....Could be funded by the zillions released from Council revenue streams by #'s 1 and 2

Next problem?

Monday, February 09, 2015

Territorial Local Authorities (TLA's) and Risk Assessment

One aspect which has quite a lot of bearing on TLA cost structures is that of the attitude to risk.

The current attitude is rules-based, which has a number of undesirable consequences:

  • Every single proposal, for anything, has to be 'processed' and set against known rules.  Cost #1, as such processing is staff-intensive.
  • Decisions resulting from this 'hold up against known rules' are not easily challenged.  So truly dire decisions are usually just swallowed by applicants.  Cost #2, as optimal solutions are almost by definition, not taken.
  • No clear or known rule = no decision, plus a protracted consultation to plug the gap with yet mo' Rules.  Cost #3 - mo' staff..
  • Time = money, a concept any banker will be happy to explain, and all of the above adds mucho Time.  Cost #4, but as this falls on Applicants, Council staff simply don't care.  Their salaries arrive with the regularity of a sunrise..
  • While discretionary powers exist (Schedule 1 to Building Act 2004 is a good example) to end-run Rules, they are so rarely exercised that in practice these worthy provisions may as well have been repealed for all the use they get.

The alternative is a thorough exercise in risk assessment, which acts as a drafting gate for proposals.  A quick risk assessment, if decided to be low risk, should result in applications being waved straight through.

A useful example is single-storey timber-frame residential builds:  houses to y'all.  In Christchurch, my estimate is that 70% of these pre-dated modern building codes:  they were either unconsented (pre 1970's) or lightly consented (1970-90's) by the old, sensible TLA's of the era.

These structures have, in Christchurch, been through a perfect risk assessment via a series of Gaia-initiated wobbly moments.

Subtracting exogenous sources (URM chimneys, rockfalls etc) no-one died from a cause attributable to a single-storey timber-frame residential build structural failure.  Therefore, such structures are demonstrably low risk, however constructed.

So, despite the plethora of new requirements for such structures, every single one adding its own layer of cost, the net benefit of today's build versus a 1950's comparable build in a future quaky event, would be close to zero.  All cost, no benefit.

The logical regulatory outcome of this should be to include single-storey timber-frame residential builds in Schedule 1 to the Building Act 2004, on the grounds that they are inherently (and demonstrably) low risk exercises.  Just like a verandah. pergola, carport, shed.

But this would require a number of attitudinal adjustments to TLA staff culture:

  • No Mo' 'our way or no way'
  • Assessments open to swift challenge (a Low-Risk Claims Court approach)
  • Low risk = low fees, fast turnaround, layers of cost removed.
  • Staff become enablers, not obstacles.

But enough already.  One can tell from this simple example that we will wait a long time to see such a change.  We'll see trailer parks with tiny houses (which end-run the PooBahs), before we see a risk-based TLA approach.....or lower rates.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Mo' Moolah Required

The Left Honorable Sir Larry Fool, president-for-life of the Small-Nation Association For Urbanista (SNAFU), has recently spoken out on behalf of the vast majority of TLA employees who feel under threat from public demands of accountability, austerity and productivity.

'Let me be perfectly clear', Larry said.  'Employees are not elected, so youz ratepayers cannot vote us out.'

'And, speaking for the sector as a whole, the unique mixture of temperament, capability and ethic which we collectively exhibit, means that we just so totally justify our current remuneration.'

'Plus, our union will bite the generative bits off of any person, body, association, company or collective, which publicly expresses a contrary view.'

'Our main issue is that we just don't have enough moolah to pay ourselves even more.'

'So we are looking for ways to reach deeper into your undoubtedly capacious wallets.'

'Please assist us in this totally essential endeavour.'

'And, as well, we as the embodiment of all local authorities, fully intend to devolve to small local groups, the multitude of tasks and of course costs, that we cannot be arsed to bother with any more.'

'And in doing so, it should go without saying, we will retain and extend our present perquisites.'

'Over to you, our funders'.

'Turn out your pockets!'