Speaker by Various Artists


The plan against the rebuild

by Eric Crampton

There is a great deal of ruin in a city, to paraphrase Adam Smith’s calm reply to those heralding the doom of Britain after the battle of Saratoga. In other words, it takes a lot to really wreck either a city or a nation. An earthquake alone cannot do it, or at least not one the size of ours. But, an earthquake, combined with paralysing land-use regulatory structures, a confused intersection of building codes and insurance rules, and an army of bureaucrats each equipped with an all-powerful ‘No’, can come much closer than we’d really like.

After February’s earthquake, we had some hope that the city’s planners were starting to recognise the importance of the bottom-up, decentralised response that lets each of us see how best to adapt to the new realities. Coffee shops that were relocating to garages and sheds in Lyttelton were being allowed to operate regardless of zoning regulations – eminently sensible. People were finding ways to help themselves, and each other.

The first sign that this light-handed approach was not to last was the bureaucracy’s attempt to block the University of Canterbury’s student volunteer army. Sam Johnson’s team of volunteers, coordinated by Facebook and responding to a grassroots-level need for help, were hindered by bureaucrats who wanted to micromanage. This, writ large, explains rather well why, in June 2014, so much of downtown remains a shambles. Christchurch’s glacial post-quake recovery really can be traced to these three main factors.

The first, highly restrictive land-use regulations, existed well prior to the either the February 2011 or the September 2010 earthquakes, and are mirrored by similarly stultifying strictures in every major city in New Zealand. This part of the post-quake disaster is a chronicle of a failure long foretold, and easily avoided.

The paralysis generated by the sequence of earthquakes and New Zealand’s particular public/private insurance market, and the problems caused when CCC changed the building code subsequent to the insured event, were only partially foretold. The Earthquake Commission (EQC) warned the incoming National Party coalition in November 2008, that EQC had no capacity to carry out home inspections after a disaster, that the cap on EQC’s coverage per home was too low, and that EQC needed better capitalisation. Governments have a difficult time dealing with things that are important but not urgent; setting EQC on sounder footing never seems important until it’s really very important and too late. But, many of the larger problems were not well anticipated and constitute hard-taught lessons; we would do well to learn from these and fix regulation accordingly before any substantial Wellington event.

Finally, the confusopoly of Christchurch City Council, the Earthquake Commission, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) was entirely unanticipated, or at least I had never expected that this could happen in New Zealand.

I had always held New Zealand governance in the highest of esteem, reckoning it to be the world’s best. And perhaps New Zealand’s overall governance really is as good as it gets and other countries are only able to deal with these kinds of events by virtue of greater size and wealth. But no level, branch or agency of government covered itself in glory in the months and years following the initial disaster phase. If this be the best of all possible governments, as international surveys of such things often tell us, what hells be all the others?

While CERA and the CCDU were surely established with the best of intentions, the result was the creation of far too many people who could veto new developments or changes in land use. Economists are well familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons that results when nobody can exercise veto rights over the use of property: the Commons are then over-grazed. But fewer are familiar with the Tragedy of the AntiCommons that results when too many people are allowed to say no. Traditionally applied in analysis of intellectual property, the Tragedy of the AntiCommons applied with vehemence in post-quake Christchurch. When any one of many bureaucrats can delay or ban you from rebuilding, either by explicitly saying ‘no’ or by failing to get around to providing a needed ‘yes’, it’s hard to get anything done. Christchurch has too many veto players.

While the failures are separate, they share a common root: an utter failure of the government, both CCC and central government, simply to allow property owners to get on with the job at hand and to make those changes necessary to allow them to do it.

My colleague, economist Seamus Hogan, reminds us of the analogy in M*A*S*H that, sometimes, meatball surgery is needed. In the Korean War’s mobile army surgical hospitals near the front lines, an extra hour spent providing perfect treatment to one patient doomed others consequently left untreated. In Christchurch, the three-year-long quest for the perfect central city plan stopped anyone downtown from proceeding with any work at all for far too long, bleeding downtown’s prospective recovery as businesses fled for the suburbs, or left town entirely.

In my view, too many city planners spent far too much of their youths playing SimCity, a city planning videogame popular in the mid-1990s, in which you can always press the pause button while you think about your next move and where nobody much objects if you bulldoze their houses or businesses to put up a new park or stadium. Real cities are not like that.

The city would have fared far better had neither CCC nor central government embarked on adventures in planning and instead concentrated on core city functions: ensuring that land-use planning did not stand in the way of expanding the supply of housing after the earthquakes, focusing on core infrastructure rather than masterplanned precincts and buildings, avoiding regulatory and planning uncertainty so that property owners knew where they stood, and quickly sorting out the legal and regulatory morasses that were too late to avoid entirely after the earthquakes.

The failure long foretold: Rigid land-use planning before and after the Christchurch earthquakes

Restrictive zoning practices are hardly unique to Christchurch, or to New Zealand. The effects everywhere are similar: housing has become extraordinarily expensive. While more sensible parts of the Right and Left recognise that we simply have not been building enough new dwellings for some time, they disagree on solutions: the Right lauds new subdivisions while blocking others’ plans to increase density; the Left cheers intensification while blocking others’ moves to increase land supply on the city’s fringes. Meanwhile, councils recognise that home-owning voters reward them for the ever-increasing housing prices that come from restricted supply. Consequently, as Matthew Yglesias put it in his recent Kindle Single, ‘The Rent Is Too Damned High’.

Christchurch was certainly no worse than many places in New Zealand prior to the earthquakes, and was certainly in better shape than Auckland. But the regulatory constraints that served only to mildly increase the cost of housing in Christchurch before the earthquakes became very important after the earthquakes.

Prior to the earthquakes, expansion outwards from Christchurch was fairly constrained, as was any substantial densification outside of specific zoned areas. Solutions found in cities like Vancouver, in which many homeowners built self-contained flats within their existing homes, were prohibited in Christchurch by rules preventing a permitted dwelling from having more than one kitchen.

Surprisingly, neither the September 2010 nor the February 2011 earthquakes resulted in any expedient substantive relaxation of either zoned density regulations or the number of permissible sections on Christchurch’s fringes. Over 12,000 homes were destroyed in the earthquakes, about 7 per cent of the housing stock, with 8000 of those homes located within the residential red zone where rebuilding was prohibited. New subdivisions, increased density, or both were necessary to accommodate the homeless, the families whose homes were being repaired and the influx of construction workers.

CCC did little to ease the resulting pressure on housing. In the short term, new construction would have been very difficult even without council impediment as the ongoing aftershocks made insurance on any new building project unobtainable. But even on those margins where CCC could have helped, they seemed instead more concerned with upholding the existing pre-earthquake rules and protecting amenities for homeowners in the wealthier suburbs.

The worst exemplar here was Council’s steadfast refusal to allow homeowners to build secondary rental flats within their existing homes or on their properties. While insurance on a new building was unobtainable, owners of existing homes with ongoing insurance policies could maintain their existing insurance while undertaking either earthquake repairs or home renovations. This would have provided an opportunity for owners to build self-contained flats. While it is unlikely that thousands of such units would have been built, even a few hundred would have been helpful where people otherwise lived in uninsulated garages, sheds, caravans and broken homes over a couple of winters. These aren’t just apocryphal or inventions of Campbell Live: people were living in our neighbour’s garden shed for rather some time after the earthquakes.

The usual objections to densification manifestly failed to apply in the case of secondary suites. Unlike an apartment block, they provide no concentrated burden that must be accommodated by trunk infrastructure like water, sewerage or roading. They impose no shading or other real, substantive, demonstrable impediment on neighbours. But, the only cases in which they were allowed were for family units where the owner could guarantee that a family member would live in the flat. Under later CERA regulations, secondary flats were permitted where the owner could guarantee, prior to construction, that the dwelling would be used by someone displaced by the earthquakes rather than by an incoming construction worker; the flat also needed to be removed by no later than 2016.

The only sense I can make of Council’s intransigence on secondary flats is a combination of bureaucratic inertia and fear that homeowners near the University of Canterbury would object if their neighbours used the regulatory provision to accommodate students. It seems a pretty thin basis on which to block what could have been a helpful and expeditious way of getting new affordable accommodation onto the market after the earthquakes.

The regulations that were, pre-quake, relatively innocuous, became highly constraining after the earthquakes. These were rules that had nothing to do with building safety or standards but rather aesthetic considerations around minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking minimums, maximum allowed density, and the pace at which new greenfield properties could be developed. While these may have arguable benefits in normal times, surely after a destructive earthquake the balance should have been tipped in favour of increasing housing supply. Council utterly failed to relax the pre-quake zoning rules or to quickly release land to enable new construction.

And this was a chronicle of a housing failure long foretold. Shortly after the September earthquakes, developer Hugh Pavletich argued for the release of more land on the more stable western city fringes. Nothing happened. And, amazingly, neither did anything happen after the February earthquakes.

The failure partially foretold: The consequences of planning rigidities, new building codes and insurance

Council failed to move with sufficient alacrity to allow new housing to come to market. Sorting out the regulatory mess blocking the construction of new dwellings was not going to be easy. Council’s consenting office was overwhelmed, though they could potentially have coped under a streamlined and simplified set of rules. Heritage preservation regulations worked at cross-purposes to earthquake-strengthening regulations after the September 2010 earthquakes. Density regulations and restrictions on ‘granny flats’ prevented densification on brownfield sites where the land was sound on the west side of town. Council changed the building regulations after the February insured event, but before insurance-funded rebuilding, thus guaranteeing legal uncertainty as to the extent of insurers’ liability where meeting the new code would constitute betterment but where building to less than the new standard was forbidden. Finally, the slow trickle of land released for new development had important and easily foreseeable implications, though ones that apparently were not foreseen by the planners.

It is worth briefly walking through how the slow release of land at the edges of town can have pervasive negative effects regardless of whether the released land would be sufficient for some number of years’ supply. When only a small amount of land can be released for development every year on a known path, it is relatively easy for developers to buy up the newly zoned land and to release it even more slowly, keeping land prices very high. When land prices are very high, and where those prices are high due to zoning rather than due to the inherent nature of the land, developers face particular incentives to provide larger and more expensive homes on zoned sections: why put a $100,000 house on a $300,000 section? The top-end of the market, with higher margins for developers, gets served first. That part of the market puts fairly high value on restrictive building covenants preventing their neighbours from putting up houses that might reduce their own property values.

Consequently, much of the new development on the edges of Christchurch provided higher priced homes bound up by covenants. Homeowners in the residential red zone, then, were largely precluded from moving their homes onto new land in new developments. While it’s easy to blame developers for those covenants’ restrictions, they’re fundamentally a consequence of a severely limited supply of zoned land. In the absence of those restrictions, a farmer on one of the thousands of hectares adjoining Christchurch could have turned a paddock into a subdivision for houses from the red zone. Instead, Christchurch was exporting red zone houses in 2012 to places as far away as Gore.[i] In the midst of a terrible housing shortage, we were sending houses away because our regulations made it too hard to let people live in them.

It consequently has been extraordinarily frustrating to hear the Christchurch rebuild described as exemplar of the failures of leaving things to the market. Really, we have been in the worst of all possible worlds here. A well-run government rebuild would have been better than what we’ve had. An unhampered market approach led by developers and property owners would have been far better than what we’ve had. Instead, we’ve had developers and property owners trying to provide new housing as and where they could under the somewhat important government constraint that building wasn’t really allowed.

Blame cannot lie solely with CCC though. Shortly after the September 2010 earthquakes, the national government, in an all-party consensus, passed the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill enabling central government to do, effectively, anything it wanted in Christchurch. CERA was established a month after the February earthquakes to coordinate the recovery. Such an agency could have been helpful in finding the problems in regulation, or in insurance markets, that were stymying the rebuild. It manifestly failed to do so.

When CERA was established, I was hopeful. In June 2011, CERA CEO Roger Sutton said, ‘I have quite extraordinary powers to actually bypass these planning laws, but my preference would be for the normal legal process to work.’[ii] He noted the lack of lower priced sections on Christchurch’s fringes and the potential for cutting the costs involved with planning and resource consents.

But nothing happened. Where CERA was supposed to cut through the regulatory morass so that the rebuild could happen, they seemed oblivious to the severity of the regulatory problem. Roger Sutton’s appearance on TVNZ’s CloseUp in May 2012 provided ample demonstration of CERA’s problems. The Christchurch Press, and the #eqnz Twitter hashtag, had been filled with stories of the problems involved in trying to get red zone houses relocated to new developments. The Haywoods in particular were very active in documenting and publicising through social media the exact regulatory difficulties they had been encountering in trying to move their house from the residential red zone. But when Sutton appeared on CloseUp and was presented with the story, he said ‘The first I heard of this and the difficulties was today’. The agency that was supposed to have sorted a way through the regulations to allow the rebuild simply didn’t know what was going on. How could we hope that they might fix the regulatory mess if they were seemingly clueless as to its effects?

I attended one meeting of CERA’s Canterbury Economic Indicators External Review Panel in 2013 at which many of us asked very pointed questions about what was being planned to allow for the accommodation of an expected inflow of 15,000 construction workers in 2014, with nobody in CERA, and none of the representatives of the other agencies, knowing where they might possibly live given the constraints against housing construction. I was left with the impression of an agency that wanted to do good but that really didn’t know what it could do for fear of judicial review, despite its broad enabling legislation. What a waste.

Instead of moving nimbly to shed the most restrictive regulations and consequently to allow rapid densification on good land and expansion out into the suburbs, CCC’s planners instead hunkered down and stuck with what they knew best: an overly zealous approach to regulatory compliance, an obsession with masterplanning that makes the best the enemy of the good, and a refusal to consider that maybe, just maybe, getting people out of garages and sheds in the east might be worth regulatory changes that might upset people in Gerry Brownlee’s constituency. The fix in housing would have been relatively simple. In any future earthquake event, we should have a regulatory switch that simply flips automatically enacting the following:

  • A four-year window in which all density restrictions are removed. So long as a building meets building code, it can go up. We do not need extensive planning and handwringing over the essential characteristics of particular neighbourhoods and whether they’re consistent with intensification: people stuck living in uninsulated garages count for more than that. Let developers and insurers decide which bits of land can stand taller buildings and let them go up. If Council moves to return to the ex ante land use restrictions after that window closes, any buildings already consented during that window are grandfathered in.
  • A similar window in which all green belt or Metropolitan Urban Limit restrictions are removed, barring those that exist to avoid substantial and demonstrable environmental harm. The window here can be shorter because greenfield development is faster than brownfield.
  • All restrictions against building secondary units within a dwelling or on-site at existing properties are removed.

Had Christchurch taken this approach, a lot of houses would quickly have gone into construction to the south-west of Christchurch while other subdivisions would have opened up where red zoned houses could have been placed. During the early period, homeowners would have added flats within existing homes or granny flats on existing properties to let out to accommodate the spike in demand caused by the combination of incoming construction workers, displaced families, and ongoing student accommodation demand. We would not have had families living in uninsulated sheds for two or three winters. All government needed to do was to get out of the way.

Downtown confusopoly: The unexpected failure

Commercial redevelopment in Christchurch has been no less shambolic. In the immediate post-quake period, business owners, even those with their own privately hired search and rescue technicians, were not allowed to access their companies’ files and records within the downtown cordon. But if you were a young bride needing to get her wedding gown out of a cordoned dressmaker’s shop, you could get through. While this was only one example, it demonstrates the arbitrariness of the cordon’s restrictions.

After the initial crisis phase, we found the commercial confusopoly. Because CCC changed the building code after the insured event, restoring a building to ‘as new’ status (the terms of at least some insurance contracts) was insufficient; upgrading it to the new code would constitute a betterment. The government should have sought a declaratory judgement over a few standard insurance contracts to resolve uncertainty and allow construction to proceed, and similar declaratory judgments over insurance cases where the insurer wished to rebuild on-site but where the government deemed the land unfit; uncertainty instead prevailed for years.

The bigger problem, though, was the regime uncertainty brought about by the government’s refusal to commit to a central city plan. Economists use the term ‘regime uncertainty’ to describe a state of affairs in which nobody really knows what the rules are or what they will be over the next few years. In the first six months after the February earthquake, downtown property owners really could not do much while they waited for Council to decide on its central city plan. By April 2012, the Government had thrown out the proposed CCC plan and established the Christchurch Central Development Unit to come up with a new city plan. The eventual plan that was released was long on visions of precincts, but a bit short on respect for the property rights of existing owners.

Outside of the central city and away from Brownlee’s thumb, business owners were simply getting on with things. Cassels and Sons opened a new brewpub in Woolston only one week after the July 2011 earthquake, then expanded to a full new retail development. But, downtown, nobody could tell you whether your proposed development was consistent with the grand plan. You’d have to wait to find out. Would there be a new convention centre? If there would be, and you’d owned a hotel, you’d want to rebuild your hotel near it. If there weren’t, then you needed to make other plans.

And, if your hotel happened to be in the newly designated Performing Arts Precinct, whether you’d be allowed to rebuild on your current site would depend on some yet-to-be-made decision as to whether hotels were consistent land use within an arts precinct.[iii] At Day 757 after the February earthquakes, the owners of the Copthorne Hotel simply did not know whether they were allowed to rebuild, despite an urgent shortage of hotel spaces in the city. Their insurer had settled and the hotel was keen to rebuild. But they risked expropriation if they did, because nobody yet knew whether it would be decided that hotels weren’t meant for arts precincts. As CCDU official Greg Wilson said in the Press, ‘The test is whether the proposed use would prevent or hinder the public work – in this case the development of the performing arts precinct’.[iv] The Copthorne couldn’t do anything until Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee provided consent, and his office was not known for expeditious decisions about anything. In SimCity, you can pause while you figure out precincts. Christchurch’s pause button was rather more costly.

I had never expected that a purportedly market-oriented National Party government would preside over a dirigiste take-over of city planning. Rather than forcing CCC to get on with things, they instead put their own planners in place for the downtown, with exactly the same predilection for making the best the enemy of the good-enough. As I write this, in June 2014, we still do not know whether the National Party government will force an expensive stadium on Christchurch, who will run a new convention centre, or what will be happening with rather too many of the Government’s anchor projects. On some of these, simply getting any decision two years ago would have been better than the dithering. Businesses can at least get on with the rebuild within a less-than-ideal plan. It’s harder to do that under continued regime uncertainty.

Some of the goals of the CCDU seemed laudable. They wanted a vibrant, sustainable downtown of more compact form than that which we had prior to the earthquakes. But they made an utter hash of the job. They established a Green Frame within downtown to reduce the area of land potentially available for downtown development, claiming it a virtue that land prices would thereby stay high. But in a functioning market, land prices are imputed from potential rent. Tenants willing to pay prices consistent with those valuations were few. Consequently, many moved quickly to the suburbs. If, instead of pursuing the grand precinct visions, the CCDU had simply let existing property owners make what best use of their land that they could, we would have had less flight to the suburbs.

Again, government would have done better by simply getting out of the way. But there were important and constructive things that the government could have facilitated for downtown redevelopment. Insurance test cases would have been extraordinarily helpful.

Much of downtown was under pretty fragmented ownership in small lots, and it is entirely plausible that redevelopment would have been better pursued with more concentrated ownership. But rather than look either to compulsory purchase or to mandatory joint-ventures in the downtown retail area, they could simply have maintained a database of ready contact details for existing owners and encouraged the use of dominant assurance contracts for land assembly. Or, they could have moved quickly to set up the anchor projects, committed to the locations and to the funding, and simply then let precincts emerge from the distributed decisions of Christchurch’s downtown property owners given certainty around the public projects.

If we learn anything from the intersection of the work of Jane Jacobs and of Ed Glaeser, it’s that cities are organic. The best parts of cities emerge from the distributed decisions of thousands of property owners, building near each other to take advantage of complementarities in location that they could foresee and that the planners couldn’t envision. SimCity takes no account of the wishes and dreams of the Sims. All of the small actions of distributed individuals can add up to something wonderful, if only Council and the bureaucrats would get out of the way and let it happen. Instead, we had the worst of all possible worlds: the insistence that a perfect central plan supercede these decentralised decisions, but absolutely no bureaucratic capacity to set or follow through with a plan.

It has taken me far longer than this book’s editors would have liked to write this chapter. I’m an economist who works best when considering issues dispassionately. I cannot maintain any reasonable mental state when reflecting on what the planners, both from CCC and those imposed on us from elsewhere, have done to Christchurch. I have had to keep looking away from this Dementor’s gaze. But if we keep looking away, worse will happen to Wellington when its earthquake comes. There are substantial regulatory problems that need addressing ahead of any future earthquakes. Let’s not have another tragedy well-foreseen. We should know better by now.

From 2003 until July 2014, Dr Eric Crampton served as Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Canterbury, where he lectured on economic policy, including the economics of the city, and the economics of political decision-making. In July 2014, he left the University to serve as Head of Research with the New Zealand Initiative in Wellington. He blogs at OffsettingBehaviour.blogspot.com.

This is an extract from the new book Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch. There are two launch events in Auckland for the book today:

Auckland lunchtime panel discussion

Time: 12pm 17 September

Location: The Exhibition Studio, Level 3 , School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland

Media commentator Russell Brown will lead a discussion with the book’s editors Dr. Ryan Reynolds and Barnaby Bennett.

Auckland launch

Time: 6pm 17 September

Location: Q Theatre on Queens Street.

Join NZ Herald Business editor Liam Dann and the various contributors and editors to launch the book over a glass of wine.

Wellington lunchtime panel discussion

Time: 12.30pm 18th September

Location: LT1, School of Architecture and Design, 139 Vivian Street.

Join economist Eric Crampton, writer Giovanni Tiso, architect Chris Moller and public health housing specialist Graciela Rivera-Munoz in discussion with co-editor Barnaby Bennett as they consider the issues and lessons learned from the Christchurch recovery process, and reflect on why these need to be heeded in the case of any Wellington seismic events.

[i] I discussed the export of Christchurch houses, and the link to our zoning regulations, in posts at “Offsetting Behaviour” in April and June of 2012. See http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.co.nz/2012/04/connect-dots.html and http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.co.nz/2012/06/oh-christchurch.html.

[ii] Marc Greenhill, “Land Price Issue of ‘Real Concern’,” stuff.co.nz, last modified June 28, 2011, http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/christchurch-earthquake/5199320/Land-price-issue-of-real-concern.

[iii] I discussed this case at “Offsetting Behaviour,” March 20, 2013, http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.co.nz/2013/03/day-757-continued-regime-uncertainty.html.

[iv] Alan Wood, “Precinct Plan Puts Hotel Hopes in Limbo,” The Press, last modified May 20, 2013, http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/rebuilding-christchurch/8449598/Precinct-plan-puts-hotel-hopes-in-limbo.


In Tribute: Peter Gutteridge and the Hypnotic Groove

by Grant McDougall

Peter Gutteridge changed my life. In December 1988 I came to Dunedin on holiday for a week from my hometown of Gisborne. I was eager to see some of the fabled Dunedin bands live and I couldn’t have timed it better – Snapper were playing that Friday and Saturday at the now long-gone Burgundy Bar.

It’d been an exciting week; I’d been writing for Alley Oop fanzine and it was exciting to finally meet in person the people that ran it, Jeff Ruston, Bruce Russell, Paul McKessar and friends of their like Lesley Paris.

That Friday afternoon I’d gone into Roy Colbert’s Records Records and even though we had yet to be introduced, he casually asked “Are you going to Snapper tonight?” I sure am, I said.

The Burgundy Bar was chocka both nights – and both nights Snapper played some of the most compelling, ferocious, down-right blow-yer-brains-out rock I’ve ever seen and heard. Peter sang and played guitar or keyboards, Christine Voice was on guitar and keys too, Dominic Stones also played guitar and Alan Haig laid down his metronomic drumbeats.

They were formidable – but to me they were also one of those bands where it had to be that line-up or not at all. Subsequent line-ups had their moments, but that original line-up really were phenomenal. It was drone-rock at its most uncompromising and thrilling – huge, pulsating riffs and waves of screeching, distorted guitars. Great, great, great stuff.

I took several photos during Friday’s gig and in the process had lost my lens-cap. Peter came up to me and politely, quietly said “I think this is yours” and handed the cap back to me.

I’d just turned 20 and after the gigs I found myself thinking “I need to come and live here.” A few months later I was and basically I’ve been part of the furniture here ever since.

The music, bands and songs will be Peter’s legacy – just a list of the bands he was in commands respect: The Clean, The Chills, The Great Unwashed, Snapper and solo.

Peter was only 17 when he played his first gig, in 1978, as a member of The Clean. In Garage fanzine #3 David Kilgour recalled that technically “Pete was at about the same level as me. We were so terrible we were an instant success and never looked back. I think we were probably different from yer average punk band in that we were trying to write music as good as the music we loved.”

That same year he came up with the riff for a song that is still one of that band’s finest songs, still a monster live – ‘Point That Thing (Somewhere Else)’.

Peter drifted away from The Clean then formed The Chills with Martin Phillipps in late 1980, but left them after only two gigs. He was then in short-lived bands like Craven A’s, before re-uniting with the Kilgour brothers in 1984 in The Great Unwashed. By now Peter was really starting to truly flourish creatively, contributing three of the five songs to the Great Unwashed’s Singles ep (originally two 7” singles, infamously packaged in far-too-tight paint-splattered plastic).

In Garage #6 (earlyish ’86) Peter says that he had piano lessons as a child “but that finally fucked out because I never used to practice.” By Singles Peter had amassed enough songs to record an album himself, some of which would be recorded by Snapper, some on his Pure solo album.

Contrary to some perceptions, the classic ‘Born In The Wrong Time’ was not about himself but “about a neighbour, a neighbour who was a bit drunk all the time and kept turning on up at our flat at two o’clock in the morning and we’d have to ask him out the door cos we already had other people sleeping in the lounge.”

His final comment is incredibly revealing: “I’d like to make hypnotic music.” At which point, he did exactly that, excelling himself and making much of the best music he has left us.

“When I formed Snapper it was a deliberate reaction against the Dunedin Sound, I couldn’t fuckin’ stand it” he asserted to D Scene in late 2009.

By early 1987, things were looking ominous. In Alley Oop #1 Richard Langston reviewed a Snapper gig using phrases like “a relentless throb … the enormous keyboard sound must be like getting a crew-cut with a Masport … cathedrals of electricity … great swinging mass of harmonics … Gutteridge, who’s finally got a band to play his songs en masse clearly has a wider vision for this band.”

That wider vision would be perfected on 1988’s four song Snapper ep, one of the great – and there are many, many to choose from – Flying Nun EPs.

In Alley Oop #5 Peter described Snapper thus: “there’s not many bands doing anything as full-on or as rhythmic as us…I mean we aren’t disco and we aren’t a meaningful guitar-based rock band either, we’re a combination of all sorts of elements.”

Reviewing the EP in the same issue, his friend Chris Heazlewood was spot-on: “It’s a bit like a bath – drenching your entire body. Guitars and organ sharp, warm, fuzzy, drums celebrating the power of repetition … the recording captures the excitement of live performance…a well-defined noise wall … Alan Vega and Suicide might have taken you to the bridge but Snapper will push you off.”

The EP was Single Of The Week in the NME and played by John Peel. In early ’89 they supported Dinosaur Jr at the Powerstation in Auckland. Later that year, Dunedin cassette label Xpressway released what would be, so far, Peter’s only solo album, Pure.

As per usual, Richard Langston was on the money when he wrote in Alley Oop #7  in 1989: “… it shows the full range of Gutteridge’s talents, so besides raw over-loaded guitar-and-keyboard-fed- electro-boogie we get some stuff that treads with the melodic delicacy of your favourite moments from The Chills, yep that damn good…just bloody wonderful …”

Snapper’s debut album, Shotgun Blossom, came along in 1990. Amazingly, it was released by Edinburgh indie label Avalanche, thanks to their enthusiasm for Xpressway’s releases.

It might be over-shadowed by the EP, but Shotgun Blossom is a superb album, ten songs of that massive hypnotic Snapper groove. At the time, a lot of us here in Dunedin were just pleased that it existed at all. I distinctly remember a pleased-as-punch Peter coming into Radio One to show us the white label pre-release; I distinctly remember thinking “yes, there is a Snapper album” and being stoked that such a thing was going to exist.

Even the Brits liked it. Melody Maker called it “a solid-gone, stone-cold, down-under classic.”

But unfortunately a bit of rain was starting to fall in Peter’s life. The original Snapper line-up was slowly falling apart. In the 2009 D Scene article, he also asserts, rightly or wrongly, that Flying Nun ignored Snapper and chose to concentrate on Straitjacket Fits, thus failing to build their reputation as well.

More significantly, Peter had started to use opiates. This was an open secret in the Dunedin music scene.

Either way, his health also took a dive, to the point where he had to use a walking stick.

Snapper would continue in name until 1995, when the patchy at best second and final album, ADM, was released, on Flying Nun. His solo gigs were few and far between by now, even fewer into the 2000s. He still mucked around with instruments at home, but rarely ventured out to do gigs. Notably, however, he was now mainly playing electric piano, not guitar, if he did do a gig.

After living in central Dunedin for some years, Peter moved up to the North-East Valley in the late 2000s. He was closer to friends, but his health was still rough.

Things eventually started to improve a few years’ ago. His songs had started to have an impact not just locally, but in the USA, too, where the likes of Wooden Shjips and Real Estate were recording covers of Snapper songs.

In early 2012, Peter at last got into better shape. One day I was biking along George St and couldn’t believe how sprightly and healthy he looked. He’d kicked the methadone, his skin looked good, he just seemed to have bounced back. The gigs started happening again, too. Since then, Peter probably played more gigs than he had in the previous 15-plus years combined.

I saw Snapper last year a couple of times; Peter, Dominic and a young drummer and keyboardist. It was, it must be said, a hell of a lot better than what I thought it might’ve been. While it didn’t blow me away, that’s only because I knew what to expect. But the songs still rumbled and belted along powerfully and Peter himself played and sung with depth, passion and fire. I was pleasantly surprised; it was great to see that “The Gutman” – as he’d ubiquitously became known – still had it.

Then another miracle happened – Pure was re-issued at last. For years it had been pretty much the only Xpressway item never re-issued on CD and / or LP. For decades it had languished in obscurity, a legendary cassette destined to exist merely as a memory, an object, in a useless, by-gone format.

But then a weird rumour started going around town – some US label was going to re-issue it. To which the standard response was “I’ll believe it when I see it.” But then the Snapper EP was re-issued to acclaim, so we started to think that maybe, just maybe…

So it came to pass that New York indie 540 put it out as a two LP set last year. They still don’t know how thankful we are to them. I’m just glad that Peter had a hand in it, with considerable pushing along by David Kilgour.

It sounds great, of course. I’d also forgotten that the liner notes say “…there’s at least as much again currently recorded, and more going down all the time – so look out for vol.2!”

Peter’s legacy is his music, so if more of it can be released, even all these years’ later, so many people would appreciate it.

The last time I spoke to Peter was in late June, one Friday evening at St Paul’s cathederal in the Octagon at an improv music gig (very progressive church, is St Paul’s). He sat next to me and was in good form. We talked shop about music. He also told me that he was pleased that our mutual friend Beris’s daughter, Sersha, was such a kind, good-natured girl. He just seemed pleased that there was hope for the future, if good people like her were going to grow up in it.

The last time I saw him, appropriately enough, was at gig by fellow Flying Nun veterans the Terminals, at Chick’s Hotel a month or so ago. I didn’t get the chance to talk, but it was great to see him still out and about.

A week or so later, he was in New York City. He saw some sights, caught up with some friends, even did a gig. He must’ve loved it.

I got a shock when I read on Facebook yesterday morning that he’d passed away. In Auckland Hospital, thankfully with one of his friends present.

A lot of people here in Dunedin are going to miss Peter. So will many around the country and some overseas. Peter was not perfect; god knows he could be bloody exasperating. Sometimes he was just plain baffling. But I’m very, very pleased I knew him. There are dozens of anecdotes about Peter, we’ll all enjoy sharing them over the next few weeks.

There are some quite stunning songs he has left behind. Pick out one or several of your faves and blast it really, really loud.

Photograph by Jackson Perry


1600 beneficiaries moving into work each week? When a lot is not a lot

by Michael Fletcher

In recent weeks the Prime Minister and other Government Ministers have been fond of claiming that 1,600 beneficiaries are leaving the benefit and going into jobs every week (see for example National’s election policy statement). It’s an impressive sounding claim. So impressive that it has led some to question its veracity. Even the usually reliable Radio New Zealand reporter Brent Edwards chalked it up as a porky on his ‘Fact or Fiction’ page covering election campaign claims.

The truth is the Prime Minister’s number probably is correct but, far from being an impressive statistic, it suggests that after all the turmoil of his welfare reforms, Work and Income New Zealand has got worse rather than better at helping people find jobs.

First, let’s clarify what the 1,600 figure is. The claim Government is making is that 1,600 people are moving off benefit each week with an ‘exit destination’ recorded as going into employment. Multiply by 52 and that is 83,200 people. But as Brent Edwards points out:

“The number of people on benefits did not fall by that amount. In June 2013, 309,782 people received main benefits. By June this year that had dropped to 293,586, a decline of 16,196. On a weekly basis that is 311 people moving off benefits, not 1600.”

The mistake Edwards - and others - have made is to confuse what economists call ‘stocks’ and ‘flows’. Over the year the total number of people on benefit (the stock) has fallen by 16,196. But labour markets are highly dynamic things and there’s a great deal of churning on and off benefit. The total number of people who left a benefit to take up work (the flow into employment) could well be 83,200. Indeed I have no reason to doubt the Government’s claim to this effect.

So should we be impressed by the Prime Minister’s 1,600 per week statistic? Not at all. It’s actually slightly worse than the equivalent figure his Welfare Working Group gave in its 2010 Issues report where it set out what it saw as the problems that needed fixing in our welfare system.

That report showed that between June 1999 and June 2005 the average number of people leaving one of the four main benefits to go into employment was 1,690 per week. The figures come from Table 3.2 on page 11 (the Issues report is available here). Comparisons at different points in time can be tricky, but this one is a reasonable approximation – both relate to periods of strong labour demand, and the total number of people on benefits is roughly the same then and now.

The ‘1,600 per week’ figure has two worrying implications. First, it is evidence that the welfare reforms have done little or nothing to improve Work and Income’s performance at helping people into work.  So far we have had scant evidence of the impact of the reforms. This figure is the first suggestive information that they may in fact be failing at one of their fundamental objectives – that is, to significantly increase the number of beneficiaries moving off benefit and into a job.

Second, it raises the concern that the reduction in the ‘future liability’ of the welfare system, which Minister Bennett announced so proudly a while back, is the result of preventing access to benefits and encouraging non-work exits, not promoting access to work.

Roughly speaking, the ‘future liability’ is an estimate of likely life-long future benefit costs of those currently on welfare. Government wants it to be the key performance indicator for Work and Income, even though the measure provides no information about people’s lives or employment circumstances once off the benefit.

Work and Income can get the future liability figure down in two ways – getting people off benefit, or reducing enrolments. The 1,600 per week figure can’t prove the point but it is another piece of evidence suggesting the Government’s focus is more on preventing access to welfare and on discouraging benefit receipt than it is on finding jobs for beneficiaries.


The End of Trust

by Paul Brislen

If there’s one thing I’ve learned reading the Dirty Politics book and associated stories, emails, blog posts, tweets and rants, it’s that I’ve got a thing or two to learn about PR.

This worries me somewhat, because while I’ve only been a practicing PR consultant for three months now, I spent five years working in corporate PR and thought I knew enough to get by.

I’ve also spent a decade as a journalist, fending off PR trolls, and four years as a lobbyist (well, more properly an advocate) and so have a pretty good grasp of the world of communications.

I can honestly say I’ve not seen anything like this before.

When I was a journalist I used to delight in not doing what PR people wanted. Attend an event on the basis that I’d write it up favourably? Well that depends on the content. Feel warmly about a client because they are friendly and hold a Christmas party? We’ll see when your annual result comes out, shall we?

At Computerworld we held it as a point of pride not to bother with press releases.  So much so that when a new sub editor started and felt her job was to put press releases on my keyboard for my reading pleasure, I upset her greatly by actually laughing out loud and chucking the lot in the bin. We don’t do that, I imperiously informed her.

But of course we did. We took the lunches, the free software, the dinners, the trips abroad. I went to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Singapore, Orlando, Stockholm, Hannover and Amsterdam on someone else’s ticket as a journalist. Every time I took great pains to not be swayed, but of course I was to some degree. Famously, one colleague attended a conference in Beijing (I think) where an analyst rubbished the organiser’s products and so she got a lovely “Company Sucks, says analyst” headline, followed by the “Computerworld travelled to Beijing courtesy of the Company” disclaimer at the end of the story.

Our motto was “you buy our time, not our copy” and at Computerworld we stuck religiously to that. Yes, we’d attend your conference and meet your speakers and interview your CEO but on our terms. I felt pretty good about that, but I do remember receiving anti-virus software every year for half a decade and not once writing “man, this stuff just doesn’t work very well” because they were so lovely.

But what I didn’t realise is that  PR isn’t about journalists, it’s about influence. The reporters and the editors are just a means to an end – we want to influence someone somewhere to do something and so we push stories at media folk in the hopes they’ll write a piece that supports our mission. If they do, we take all the credit for “placing” a story. If they don’t, well we move on and try someone else.

It’s a funny business to be in. It’s based on trust, in no small part, and in relationship building and if Dirty Politics has done anything, it’s completely shatter that trust.

Journalists shouldn’t trust PR people, but they have to, to some degree. We have things they want, just as they have things we want. We want stories, column inches, interviews and photographs for our clients. They want access to clients, interesting stories that will appeal to their readers (or viewers or listeners) and a scoop on the competition.

Normally this works well. When I ring a former journalist colleague and pitch a story idea I hope they’ll listen because they know I understand something of their job. I don’t ring when they’re on deadline, I don’t pitch a business story to a consumer reporter, I don’t pitch stuff they’ve seen before.

Similarly, I trust that if they like it they’ll treat it fairly and ask questions where they don’t understand, aim to be balanced in their writing and not waste my time and energy.

What Whale Oil and co have done is destroy that trust.

David Fisher and Matt Nippert have both written excellent pieces about how they were suckered in, how they’ll think twice before blindly following a promise of a scoop in future and how they’re sorry their readers were not treated better.

They’re not the only ones.

Various other journalists are guilty of not “following the money” and asking why this person is leaking this information, who benefits and who suffers as a result.

On top of that there seem to be a number of companies that are complicit to one degree or another with the attack blogging that’s gone on.

Attack blogging. I can believe it’s a thing but I can’t believe we’ve got it in New Zealand. Surely that’s something the Americans would do, or perhaps on a bad day former tabloid journos in the UK. But here?

I’ve been on the receiving end of a mild dose of it myself and it’s not pretty, but having read Dirty Politics we’ve all seen how low these things can go.

This is the dark, dark side of PR. The unprincipled, the unpleasant and ultimately unrewarding side. Companies that are considering employing some of these tactics will now have to think twice because it is coming back to bite those that have been involved.  It’s cost a government minister her job and apparently any future in cabinet, triggered a couple of inquiries and more to come including, I suspect, some kind of criminal action to go with the civil.

Most organisations I know, certainly all the ones I work with, wouldn’t have a bar of running a negative campaign like the ones we’ve seen recently. I sincerely hope the adverse publicity puts any future black ops work on hold indefinitely.

Paul Brislen is executive director of the Anthem public relations company


Vote for Water

by Hilary Stace

It is not aspirational to swim in our rivers or go whitebaiting in spring. As New Zealanders we take it for granted. We need water to survive and thrive but it has become highly political. Dr Mike Joy is a scientist who publicly advocates for the protection of the (rapidly diminishing) quality of the water in our waterways. He is effective.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, dismissed his expertise on a May 2011 BBC Hardtalk interview, ‘He’s one academic, and like lawyers, I can provide you with another one that will give you a counterview’. Dr Joy was later accused of sabotaging New Zealand’s tourist industry for daring to suggest as fantasy the ‘100% pure’ New Zealand label, following a November 2012 article in the New York Times.

Dr Joy’s academic achievements are impressive. Following his 2003 PhD in Ecology at Massey on The development of predictive models to enhance biological assessment of riverine systems in New Zealand, he helped develop software for an index to biotic integrity (a tool for analysing ecoystem health). His CV cites numerous articles and book chapters (sometimes with his colleague Russell Death: joy and death ‒ an apt aquatic metaphorical pairing).

This on top of a full load of teaching and student supervising as a senior lecturer in Ecology and Environmental Science at Palmerston North’s Massey University. Honours include the 2014 Royal Society’s Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement and North and South magazine’s 2009 Environmentalist of the Year.

I talked to Dr Joy to find out more about his motivation for promoting water quality. He told me that in the years following his PhD ‘all I was doing was cataloguing the decline of waterways in New Zealand and as a Kiwi I couldn’t do that because of my belief that I grew up in this clean green country’ and ‘I got angrier and angrier at how politicised the process was’. ‘Science was being negated by policy at a higher level and we have just seen that with the NPS’ (the Ministry for the Environment's recent National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management).

His answer is democratic engagement: ‘Democracy only works if the public knows what is going on and the public seemed to be so unaware about freshwater– I had to get that reality out to people so they could make that decision at election time’. He is angry that swimming and fishing in our rivers is now considered aspirational by a Government which has set standards merely for ‘secondary contact’ such as wading.

He was stunned by the Prime Minister’s assertion in the BBC Hardtalk interview that his evidence based on scientific fact and measurement was just ‘opinion’, with the implication that another scientist could provide a picture more favourable to the tourism image. But ‘you can’t change the facts’.

He explains that degradation is a consequence of human actions and economists and politicians may believe in unlimited growth but the ecosystem doesn’t work like that. The reaction to the New York Times article was nastier and more personal ‒ ‘classic blame the messenger’. ‘I felt horrible that I put so much of my life into this [work] because I do care, the opposite of what I had been accused of… but at the same time when something like that happens I get a huge amount of support’. It also encouraged him to keep speaking out.

The Prime Minister’s lack of understanding of science highlights a political standpoint that another opinion, in Dr Joy’s words, ‘would make it all go away’. It also seems that some water scientists are limited in their ability to speak out by their contractual obligations. Dr Joy is in a position to embody the ‘critic and conscience’ role of the university and he is using it. He’s also a skilled communicator, necessary when talking about the complexities of pollution, nitrogen, phosphorous, cyanobacteria and the impact on the land and water of 90 million people equivalents (a cow equals about 17 times each human’s environment impact) from intensive dairying.

It is scary that a small child might die from cyanobacteria – the black sludge that grows on the rocks, which has already killed dogs in the Hutt River. Some waterways already have notices warning against human contact.

I asked Dr Joy about some recent media comments others have made. Firstly, that our water quality is much better than other countries. Dr Joy explains that in many countries the headwaters, including in New Zealand, start cleaner and become more polluted the further down you go. New Zealand is particularly laden with nitrogen and phosphorous mainly from dairying, as well as other pollutants from industry.

On ecosystem respiration the Manawatu River has the worst measurement in the world. ‘But the new standards are extremely weak and will allow our waterways to become much more toxic before regulation is required. Under the National Policy Statement the worst rivers in the world would only score a B or a C. But the facts are that we have the highest proportion of threatened species in the world, and the highest proportion of threatened native species in the world’. Four out of five whitebait species are now on the way to extinction.

Another comment I’ve heard suggested that we only monitor the worst sites so the figures veer towards the negative end. Dr Joy says the opposite is true as the monitoring is mainly happening in areas of higher public use such as swimming sites which have better quality than the unmonitored (‘otherwise why would the public use them?’), but still 60% failed safety tests. On a robust Ministry of Health measure which the Government no longer uses ‘62% of all rivers would fail a [human] contact reaction’. Regional councils choose to monitor, on average, only 70 sites. The Land Air Water Aotearoa website reports water quality results.

A common political response is that we can’t afford to clean up the rivers as dairying and industry is too important for our GDP. But as Dr Joy says GPD and other economic measures are flawed models for the environment as the Christchurch earthquake and oil spills are also good for GDP. The current economic assumption is that if not used for dairying the land is not doing anything of value. For example a local wetland is valued at $43,000 per hectare per year for its use in flood mitigation, nutrient stripping, and other ecosystem services, but only about $3000 per hectare per year as a dairy farm – but only its potential value for dairying is considered for GDP.

The suggestion I heard recently that water running to the sea is just wasted draws an indignant response. ‘What about the cultural value, the swimming, the eels?’ The Ministry for the Environment’s latest NPS booklet suggesting 85% of water is ‘unused’ indicates a ‘total lack of understanding’.

Dr Joy speaks regularly with politicians and policy people including those at Fonterra and Federated Farmers and finds there are concerned people everywhere. However, effective regulation remains elusive.

Is he optimistic or pessimistic about the future? A natural optimist, he also despairs of the lack of awareness of the urgency of the problem and the strength of lobbying for vested interests and against regulation, as indicated by the NPS. But he has faith in New Zealanders to use democracy to take back our birthright of healthy waterways. He has contributed to a new book: Beyond the Free Market: Rebuilding a just society in New Zealand.Philanthropist Gareth Morgan now has a river monitoring website. So far Labour, the Greens, and the Māori Party have committed to swimmable rivers.

My take away message from my discussion with Mike Joy is that we will not get effective regulation until we the people demand it. Otherwise swimming, whitebaiting, eeling, fishing and other recreational uses of our waterways will become mere historic nostalgia. So please, vote for clean water.