Quake Outcasts battle over zoning

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 05:00 30/07/2014

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The rights of vacant and uninsured red-zoned land owners are "well past infringed", a court has heard.

The Quake Outcasts group yesterday had its case heard at a two-day Supreme Court hearing in Wellington.

The group won a judicial review of the Government's offer to buy uninsured properties and empty sections at 50 per cent of their 2007 rateable value.

Their views have gained the support of the Human Rights Commission.

Victoria Casey, legal counsel for the commission, told the hearing that housing rights extended to access to services and infrastructure.

The commission believed that, three years after the red zone announcement, the Quake Outcasts' right to adequate housing "looks to be well past infringed", Casey said.

Housing conditions had deteriorated. This included looting, squatting and increasing rodent infestations, she said.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) chief executive Roger Sutton's description of the condition of red-zoned areas made for "chilling reading", she said.

The right to adequate housing was normally taken for granted in New Zealand. A "reality check" was needed, Casey said. The Government had to follow statutory processes, including community engagement and consultation.

Any shortening of that process needed to be transparent, and justified by urgency, she said.

Outcasts lawyer Francis Cooke QC said red-zoning was "one of the most profound" earthquake recovery measures the Government had implemented.

Landowners offered 50 per cent were left "in limbo" while "the suburbs around them were vacated". The offer made clear infrastructure and essential services would not be repaired or maintained, and that compulsory acquisition at a value less than the offer could not be ruled out, Cooke said.

Landowners were left with a "Hobson's Choice" - essentially no choice at all - and in a "truly desperate" position.

Cooke argued it contravened the purposes of the CER Act, which was to allow affected residents to recover.

"If the purpose of this payment is to allow resettlement, then those uninsured for whatever reason - either by accident or design - need to resettle as well."

A "one size fits all" approach had to be taken irrespective of the insurance proceeds the Government could recover, he said.

Justice William Young suggested the areas red zoned may have been vacated, even without the Government's intervention.

"It may be that building consents wouldn't have been able to be obtained for land. How do we know it was the Government's decision as opposed to the consequences of the earthquake?" Young asked.

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Cooke said the effect of not red zoning would never be known.

"Could it be possible that some of these people in individual circumstances would have moved on?

"Yes, that's possible but in the end that's slightly speculative because the Government made the call to move people on."

The Crown will present its submissions today.

- The Press

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