Government's 'third power' move on Christchurch red-zoning impinged human rights, report says

Ralph Bungard had to wait years for certainty about his red-zoned home and his stress levels to fall.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Ralph Bungard had to wait years for certainty about his red-zoned home and his stress levels to fall.

The Government's use of a "third source of power" in the earthquake red-zoning process eroded property rights and affected the mental wellbeing of those who chose to stay, a report says.

The Human Rights Commission has surveyed more than 100 people who still live or own land in the residential red zone to gauge the effect the process had on them.

In its report released on Thursday, it concluded the Government's decision to "do anything not prohibited by law" affected stayers' human rights. It called for a change to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to better protect the right to property.

The Government should have taken a more "people-focused" approach to making policy on quake-damaged land in ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

The Government should have taken a more "people-focused" approach to making policy on quake-damaged land in Christchurch, the Human Rights Commission says.

It also found the mental wellbeing of red-zone stayers had fallen sharply since the earthquakes, while stress levels continued to rise. Many respondents said their overall quality of life was much worse.

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Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Gerry Brownlee rejected the "third source" claim. Cabinet was entitled to approve the zoning policy, he said, when the Government was under "huge pressure" to make a decision.

Human Rights commissioner David Rutherford says the Government's "third source of power" impinged red-zoners' rights.
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Human Rights commissioner David Rutherford says the Government's "third source of power" impinged red-zoners' rights.

Human rights commissioner David Rutherford said the Government should have used powers granted to it under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act to deal with property and property owners. It could have written a recovery plan, which would be publicly notified, giving red-zoners a chance to "participate in decisions about [themselves]".

"That was really the key opportunity that was lost by the way they chose to do the red zone using the third source of power. The act actually required them to consult with the community.

"At the time that the red zoning happened a lot of people were wondering, how did that happen? Was it some planning act? Because they didn't use the Act of Parliament given to them. That's when it really dawned on us that they'd decided to use this so-called third source."

Gerry Brownlee says the Government was under "huge pressure" to make a decision on quake-damaged land.
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Gerry Brownlee says the Government was under "huge pressure" to make a decision on quake-damaged land.

That move affected red-zone stayers grappling with insurance issues, loss of equity, delayed compensation offers and the possibility of losing services like power and water supply, the report said.

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The Government had helped many people move on by making red zone offers and bailing out AMI Insurance, he said, but would have done better with a "people-centred" approach.

The survey found just a third of respondents felt their quality of life since the earthquakes was good or better. Before, the rate was 97 per cent. Stress levels were high and had risen in the last year. Fifty-six per cent of respondents scored in the bottom half of a World Health Organisation wellbeing measure, indicating risk of poor mental health. In wider surveys of red-zoners and Christchurch residents, that figure was no higher than 38 per cent.

Brownlee dismissed the "third source" claim.

"Had we gone down the recovery plan path [a zoning decision] could have been some later time [in 2011] and then it would have been subject to all sorts of legal review and perhaps blocking."

The psycho-social effects of the earthquakes had largely mirrored what the Government was advised to expect, he said, allowing it to "try and stay just a bit ahead of the curve in providing services and facilities for people".

Avoca Valley resident and survey respondent Ralph Bungard had his property red-zoned because of rockfall risk. Delays in zoning and insurance negotiations meant repairs had only just started.

His family's stress levels peaked two to three years ago while awaiting zoning confirmation and working to lift a notice barring entry to the property over the rockfall risk.

They flouted the prohibition notice and lived at home out of necessity, he said. Relief came only when protective fences got the notice lifted and the family resolved to stay.

"We lied about it, and I have no regrets about that at all. That's what we were forced into, because the alternative was incredible financial hardship."

 - Stuff

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