Christchurch's 2015: The Year that Was



Annus horribilis for farmers

The year started with farms in wider Canterbury region on the brink of a serious drought, and is ending with the most severe El Nino weather pattern in almost 50 years. Prospects of a even hotter and drier summer are looming over the farming community in and around Christchurch. Record drop in Fonterra's milk price forecast – which having touched $3.60/kgMS is hovering at $4.60/kgMS now – added to the distress throughout the year.

Red Zone cats

But it was not all doom and gloom. In an inspiring example of human-animal bonding, Jane Newman, a Christchurch-based geologist, with help from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, and using infra-red cameras, rescued more than 50 stray cats from Christchurch's red zone.


Cricket fever envelops the city

With more than 1000 performers taking part in the opening ceremony of the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Christchurch; and picturesque Hagley Oval successfully hosting the opening game of the tournament, the city finally had something to be proud of. Eventually, the Black Caps - justifying the country's faith in them and utilising home advantage to the fullest - would go on to reach the tournament's final, only to loose to arch enemies Australia in Melbourne.


Hosts Te Matatini – the national Kapa Haka festival

Started in 1972, the five-day festival, themed “He ngakau aroha” this year, was held between March 4 and 8 at North Hagley Park in Christchurch. The theme was selected by Ngai Tahu – the principal iwi [tribe] of the country's South Island – in recognition of the support the city has received from other Maori tribes around the country. Of the 45 performing teams, Te Kapa Haka o Te Whānau a Apanui was the overall winner and won the coveted title of Toa Whakaihuwaka.


Asbestos: not a major rebuild risk

A new report titled Asbestos Exposure in New Zealand: Review of the Scientific Evidence of Non-occupational Risks, was published by the Royal Society of New Zealand and Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. It found that the health risks of asbestos exposure to residents of houses undergoing renovation and repair work are generally low, with exceptions being if home-owners perform the work themselves without taking proper precautions. This came as a major relief to the city because a WorkSafe investigation last year had found flaws in managing asbestos risks in the early phases of the Canterbury Home Repair Programme initiated after the earthquakes.


Christchurch Town Hall restoration

The decision to restore and repair Christchurch's earthquake-damaged Town Hall seemed possible when Deloittes declared the estimated costs to be within the City Council's budget. Later the Council voted to spend $127 million restoring the heritage-listed building by June 2018. The restored building will comply to new building standards, and will have upgraded audio and lighting systems.

Cathedral Square rebuild stalls

Meanwhile, development plans around city's iconic but severely earthquake-damaged Cathedral Square kept on collapsing with no consensus in sight. With the $500 million convention centre also been pushed to 2018, and the newly-launched joint council-government entity Regenerate Christchurch announcing no plans for the Square as yet, people are hoping for 2016 to bring some good news.


CTV building engineer cleared

In a case that had caught the entire nation's attention since the 2011 Earthquake, Alan Reay of Christchurch design firm Alan Reay Consultants, responsible for the six-storey Canterbury Television building which collapsed in the earthquake claiming 115 lives, was cleared of all charges of misleading New Zealand's professional engineering body - The Institution of Professional Engineers (Ipenz). With this, the ongoing criminal investigation on the building collapse is yet to conclude whether anyone will be charged; even after interviewing more than 100 witnesses and raiding the offices of Engenium Consulting Engineers, formerly Alan Reay Consultants.


Racism: the ugly side of the city

Raising questions over the biennial New Zealand General Social Survey, which pointed earlier this year that the “long-held perception that Christchurch is the racist capital of New Zealand may be unfounded”, Sake Aca – a Fijian rugby player, was racially taunted during Christchurch's senior club final. Fijian-born Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo and former Blues player Ben Atiga shared similar experiences. Jale Moala, sub-editor at The Press, Christchurch's provincial newspaper, and a Fijian migrant, related his experience of racism in Christchurch and the surprise he felt by its levels here. When the year-end Christchurch Santa Parade displayed a monster truck with a massive Confederate flag, which city-based columnist Johnny Moore rightly called display of “racist white pride”, it became clear that the city has a long way to go before it can shed its tag of being the “racist capital of New Zealand”.


Earthquake Commission (EQC) débâcle

Contrary to its mandate, EQC faced a class action suit, and allegations of oversight on shabby repair works, nepotism and favouritism this year. A report into the Building Code compliance of earthquake repairs to Christchurch homes by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) revealed more than a third of the surveyed homes failed to meet the building code. Then, more than 100 Christchurch home-owners approached the High Court in a class action suit against the EQC. The Commission also faced negative media coverage all year long, especially as regards to a young claims assessor Nikki Kettle – daughter of Gail Kettle who is the general manager of customers and claims at EQC. Questions were raised on how Nikki, in-spite of facing scrutiny and internal investigations for her general conduct, technical decisions and conflict of interest, had continued in her role for so long.


Regenerate Christchurch

In a first for New Zealand, the Crown and Christchurch City Council outlined plans to establish Regenerate Christchurch (RC) - “a jointly owned and funded entity tasked with overseeing the long-term $40 billion development and enhancement of the Central City, residential red zone, New Brighton and other potential regeneration zones”. With a working mandate till 2021 – RC - headed by Andre Lovatt, will develop plans and strategies to assist with regeneration, monitor regeneration outcomes and interventions, as well as facilitate seamless investor experience. The Government later introduced the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Bill in the Parliament, which will replace the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 expiring on April 26 next year.


Two of Canterbury's greatest All Blacks bid adieu

The month saw two of Canterbury's finest rugby players – All Blacks greats Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, ending their New Zealand rugby international career with unprecedented back-to-back World Cup titles. McCaw went on to announce his retirement from all forms of professional rugby, while Carter has started a new stint with rugby club Racing Metro in Paris. To add to his laurels, Carter also won the World Rugby Player of the Year for the third time after the World Cup victory. The only question remains whether McCaw will accept the prospect of a knighthood from a ever-persisting John Key and would become “Sir Richie McCaw” soon?


Redcliffs School closure

The issue simmered all year long, and in November came the final blow. Education Minister Hekia Parata formally announced the decision to close Christchurch's Redcliffs School citing concerns about the unstable cliff behind the school building. As expected, Redcliffs School board of trustees indicated that it will fight the Crown's decision. Notably, earlier in the year, hundreds of parents and staff had organised a protest march demanding that the school should be reopened, which was closed after the Canterbury earthquakes aftershocks around four years ago.


A Great Place to Be

Every society needs hope; actually every society survives on hope. Especially a city still traumatised by the devastating February 2011 earthquake. Realising this, The Press, Christchurch's main newspaper, launched a campaign – A Great Place to Be – to carry forward “the optimistic spirit conjured up by Share an Idea, launched in May 2011 as a colourful, engaging way to get Christchurch residents to say what kind of future they wanted for their city, and which had seen more than 105,000 suggestions being shared within six weeks”.