Thursday, February 29, 2024

David Farrar: Dave Armstrong on Reading corporate welfare

Dave Armstrong writes:

Imagine you're a struggling wellington apartment owner. Your mortgage payments have skyrocketed and you're struggling to make the council deadline for earthquake strengthening your building. It's going to cost you half a million bucks which you don't have.

Then you get a call from the local council who want to take you out for dinner and buy you expensive bottles of wine so they can buy the land underneath your apartment. This will allow you to pay for earthquake strengthening yourself and if you want to buy back the land years down the track, no problem, it will only cost you what you sold it to the council for.

I know this seems absurd, and yet it is exactly what happened to Reading Cinemas just days after Tory Whanau was elected mayor.

Lots of Wellingtonians would love such generosity.

Wellingtonians should be asking hard questions about the Reading deal. The first is why can't Reading pay their own strengthening bills like everyone else? Didn't they get an insurance payout? Remember that they are a multinational company owned by millionaires who recently opened three cinemas in Australia.

If Reading are such a great company, concerned about revitalising Courtenay Place, why have they done absolutely nothing about renovating their building to the required level, apart from quaffing from free council-provided wine at Ortega and putting out their hands for over $30 million? Why are some councillors so worried about one of the ugliest buildings in the city? Old St Pauls the Reading Centre is not.

If a tornado were to flatten it tomorrow, Wellington's heritage value would increase. Not decrease.

I agree but as Wellington thinks rusty storage tanks are heritage buildings, I suspect the cinema complex will soon receive heritage status!

Councillor Iona Pannett, hardly a raging, pro-austerity Thatcherite, has filed a “notice of motion of revocation” to nix the Reading deal. This time around few councillors, apart from Green councillor NÄ«kau Ni Weera and Independent Tim Brown, have confirmed they still support the deal.

And our labour councillors with possibly the crucial votes? Unlike their colleagues at national level, I have noticed that Wellington's Labour councillors have often outflanked the Greens on the left when it comes to supporting low-income people and protecting council assets from privatisation.

Will they vote against the neo-liberal madness of bailing out a struggling overseas company to possibly strengthen its central city eyesore, when water is continuing to leak and library hours and swimming pools are being openly touted for the chop?

Voting for Pannett's motion would send a message that our Labour councillors did not just have the best interests of ordinary Wellingtonians at heart, but were also fiscally responsible.

This will be a test indeed for Labour Councillors.

David Farrar runs Curia Market Research, a specialist opinion polling and research agency, and the popular Kiwiblog where this article was sourced. He previously worked in the Parliament for eight years, serving two National Party Prime Ministers and three Opposition Leaders.

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