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The Press- News column. July 8

Political Spotlight Set to Head East.

As the pulse rate of the central city rebuild starts to beat with purpose and  vigour, expect the political spotlight to head East in the coming weeks, with higher wattage bulbs to boot.  A welcome appetiser emerged on Friday, with a city council-appointed advisory group selecting a hot salt water pool complex as the recommended legacy project for New Brighton. The enduring success of Dunedin’s equivalent complex, gracing St. Clair beach, demonstrates their magnetic allure. Meanwhile, it’s been two years since the city council first committed $30 million to constructing  a new aquatic and recreation facility out East, to replace QEII. A classic Christchurch bitch fight fast derailed hopes of finalising a site. Powered by parochial extremism, this turf war has been a risible exhibition of reverse Nimbyism. A second council-appointed advisory group, tasked with busting through the imbroglio, is scheduled to settle the score this month. Also on the horizon, the government is poised to formally unveil its community engagement action plan on the future of the residential red zone. The size of the Eastern red zone alone equates to five Hagley Parks.  How assertively will the government front-foot the engagement process with some pre-packaged  future-use proposals?  What will they champion? Ever since February 2011, Gerry Brownlee has been a true, albeit quiet, believer in seizing the post-quake opportunity to create a world-class flat water sports facility on the Avon. Surely, it’s a no-brainer. How extensive is National’s war-chest, to flash the cash for such projects?  Recently I paid a visit to Zealandia, the Karori wildlife sanctuary. What a triumph to have kaka, kiwi, takahe, tuatara and ever-expanding flocks of saddlebacks, kereu, bellbirds and tui, thriving in the heart of Wellington. Zealandia’s financial track-record has certainly been pock-marked, but visitor numbers have soared since they slashed admission prices. Many local ecologists are eager to see Travis Wetland super-sized with red zone land to create a similar predator-proof-fenced sanctuary in Christchurch.  As a signature new drawcard for the East, it’s an eminently likeable vision. But, who pays? Of course, the Avon-Otakaro Network, an industrious  grass-roots group with an impressive alliance of multi-agency support partners, has already done a lot of the early running, championing a variety of exciting river park options. Political parties would be foolish to ignore them. Meanwhile, during November’s by-election, Labour’s David Cunliffe rashly pledged to revitalise New Brighton. A detailed policy package, in addition to affordable housing, is apparently set for launch. Pork-barrelling Christchurch for the party vote seems a sure bet.  The East can’t lose this election.

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column, as published in The Press, July 8.  www,press.co.nz

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