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Political events banned from red zone

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 17:46 07/03/2013
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IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

WARNING: Cera chief executive Roger Sutton.

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Political events are banned in the Christchurch red zone, says earthquake recovery chief Roger Sutton.

The red-zone cordon became the stage for a piece of political street theatre today, as Labour and Green Party politicians tried to access Cathedral Square for a protest.

Green Party MPs Eugenie Sage and Mojo Mathers, along with Labour MP Ruth Dyson were originally granted access to lay a wreath at a stone cairn in Cathedral Square to mark the "loss of democracy" in Christchurch.

But they were turned away by Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) officials at the cordon checkpoint.

Sage claimed the refusal "highlighted the culture of secrecy" in government.

But their original request for red-zone access did not refer to political action and said only they wanted to inspect the stone cairn.

Cera chief executive Roger Sutton said access was granted to inspect the stone cairn.

"Information subsequently came to Cera's attention that this visit ... was in fact part of a political event ... and media had been invited to be present.

"In light of this information, Cera reconsidered allowing access, and came to the view that access should not be granted for this group.

"Cera is of the view that its staff, being public servants, should not be dedicating time to escorting a group whose purpose is holding a political event. Cera routinely grants access to the rebuild zone for parties who have a reasonable purpose for visiting this area, and provides escorts as required."

The cairn was erected in 2010 to protest the sacking of Environment Canterbury (ECan) councillors. The wreath laying had been intended to protest a new law extending government control over ECan.

Only the engineer who designed the cairn, Edward Snowdon, was allowed to lay the wreath while his Green Party colleagues watched from the cordon fence.

Sage emailed Cera officials on Tuesday requesting access to Cathedral Square to check on the state of the cairn. Her email did not mention the political nature of the visit.

"We have had recent conversations with the Christchurch City Council about the possible moving of it, our group would like to visit the cairn in part to check on how it has fared post EQ," she wrote.

Access was granted and Sage emailed the list of names to be included in the group visit, which included Dyson, Mathers and Sage.

Less than an hour after she emailed the names, Sutton rang to revoke permission, Sage said.

"I got a call from Roger Sutton saying he was no longer prepared to grant access and I had to make the request to the minister," she said.

"They said because it was a political event permission had to be made by the minister."

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's spokesperson, Nick Bryant, said they would make no comment.

Brownlee does not choose who enters the red zone, he said.

The Government has renamed the central city red zone the rebuild zone.

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