Two years on: anger over EQC

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 10:49 04/09/2012

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Former mayor Garry Moore has joined a chorus of criticism of authorities managing the Christchurch rebuild.

The Press today published a poll showing half of Christchurch's homeowners are unhappy with the Earthquake Commission's (EQC) performance and there is widespread dissatisfaction with insurance companies.

Moore told Radio New Zealand today that Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was too dominant, and unwanted and expensive plans, such as a roof for the new sports staduim, were being imposed on the city.

"Minister Brownlee has put in place a command-and-control management regime and has surrounded himself with people that keep orders, and I don't think that's healthy or democratic."

He said there was a "climate of fear" for ordinary citizens in Christchurch, particularly for vulnerable people such as the elderly and those with young children.

Moore said there was an "old boys' network" running the city, and he was worried they would "carve up the process".

"There's almost a total absence of women in key roles in Christchurch. Is 50 per cent of the population forgotten?'' he said 

''We need change. We need a new structure, with a wise board heading Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority].

"We need Christchurch to grow a spine."

Cera chief executive Roger Sutton said he understood people's frustration but it was hard to meet every person's expectations immediately.

"If EQC was to employ 1000 people in a hurry, the quality of the work might be less. But if there are less people doing the work ... to get every single person sorted is going to take a very long time," he said.

"While there is a lot that has been done, there is a lot to be done."

Although two years was a long time, he said, Cantabrians had to remember the "size and scale of the disaster".

"If that sounds like some sort of same-old, same-old answer, just take a step back and have another think about the big picture. And this is a very big picture."

Sutton hit back at Moore's comments.

"The minister is actually the minister so he has overall accountability, so he's always going to have a big say. But I have a strong management team and half of that team are actually women," he said.

"The city council has a bunch of women there as well.

"In terms of some of the decisions that have been made, you can't really have democracy.

''Some of the land-zoning stuff, if you had a vote whether you wanted to go red or green, well, I don't quite see how that whole process would have played out ... Sometimes you need decisive leadership."

Sutton said he was upset to hear Moore speak "in that way".

"I think he's obviously very frustrated with his current role in life," he said.

"If Garry is saying we haven't been true to that city plan which the city came up with, I think he's a man alone."

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Two years on

It is two years today since a magnitude-7.1 earthquake shook the ground beneath Christchurch more strongly than it had for thousands of years.

To mark the anniversary, The Press commissioned a poll of residents that found 50 per cent of those with an EQC property claim expressed some level of dissatisfaction with the commission's performance.

Within that, more than half were "very" or "extremely" dissatisfied.

Twenty-nine per cent said they were "very" or "extremely" satisfied.

Disorganisation, delays and a lack of communication were the most cited reasons for customers' frustration.

Thirty per cent of property claimants said they could not move on with their lives.

EQC Canterbury events manager Reid Stiven acknowledged the numbers were not good enough. "Obviously we'd like [satisfaction] to be much higher that that."

Poor communication was the commission's biggest problem, he said.

"We've acknowledged from day one that our ability to communicate and get information out to our customers was poor,'' he said.

"Absolutely we've made some mistakes, but we don't sit on our hands."

Changes included opening a claims processing office in Hamilton and bringing a call centre based in Brisbane back to New Zealand, he said.

"All of the Christchurch claims that were dealt with in Brisbane will be dealt with by Kiwis in Hamilton, which we think will be much more satisfactory."

The number of people who felt their property claim stopped them from moving on with their life was also a concern, Stiven said.

"If that's what it's saying, then we have to accept that. Maybe that comes back to our ability to communicate the bigger picture to people," he said.

Canterbury Community Earthquake Recovery Network (CanCERN) spokeswoman Leanne Curtis said the numbers were a "pretty fair reflection of what we're seeing".

"EQC have got an awful lot of systemic issues that have just made things very difficult and a huge cause of frustration,'' she said.

''I understand they had to ramp up really quickly and become a huge organisation, but the frustration has been put to them and there has been very little evidence of them responding."

Bad communication was the biggest issue, she said.

"It's been confusing, it's been contradictory, it's been vague and it hasn't been timely. EQC has been incredibly difficult for the individual to communicate with."

CanCERN last week put its concerns to EQC chief executive Ian Simpson in a "positive" meeting, Curtis said, but the problems were deep-seated.

"We've yet to see evidence of [improvement]. We hope to,'' she said.

"EQC's fallback has always been there's been thousands of claims and it's huge and it's unprecedented, but trying to justify why things are crap-based on that fact that it's a big job doesn't really cut it because everybody's got a big job."

The commission fared better on contents claims.

The EQC last week prioritised this business, where it pays up to $20,000 per customer, with the goal of settling all claims by Christmas.

Some customers did not provide timely information to make this happen, but most did.

The higher claims settlement was reflected in satisfaction levels - three-quarters of those who had lodged a claim were happy with the EQC's performance and the portion who were "very" or "extremely" dissatisfied dropped to just 9 per cent.

- The Press

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