Gerry Brownlee retains power in Greater Christchurch Regeneration Bill
Gerry Brownlee will retain most of the power under new legislation governing the next five years of Canterbury's earthquake recovery.
The Government has released its finalised Transition Recovery Plan and the new legislation behind it – the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Bill – passed its first reading in the House on Thursday.
The bill allows for changes to approved recovery plans, paving the way for central city anchor projects to be rethought or even scrapped.
Promoted as being a collaboration between central and local government, the Earthquake Recovery Minister - currently Brownlee - would still have the final say on most matters.
Labour's new Canterbury spokeswoman, Megan Woods, said she was not convinced the transition plan reflected the locally-led recovery people wanted.
A new joint Crown-council entity, called Regenerate Christchurch, would take over when the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) ceased to exist in April 2016.
Under the new legislation, the Crown would continue to have powers to compulsorily acquire, subdivide or amalgamate land, but with additional safeguards.
Regenerate Christchurch would have an independent board - with members appointed by both the council and Crown – and would become a council-controlled organisation after five years.
The minister would appoint the first chairperson to sit on the Regenerate Christchurch board until June 2019. The council would appoint a chairperson from 2019 until 2021.
The Crown would also have operational powers to undertake works on public or private land, erect temporary buildings, restrict access, close roads, and transfer Crown contracts to local authorities or Regenerate Christchurch.
Powers to suspend, amend or revoke relevant plans and bylaws would carry forward to the new legislation, but if the minister wanted to exercise those powers he would have to consult with local authorities and the public.
The power to develop Regeneration Plans – known as Recovery Plans in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act – would continue, and existing Recovery Plans would remain in effect.
The minister would no longer have the ability to make changes to a new or draft plan, but would retain the power to approve or reject them.
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel endorsed the Government's approach and said she was looking forward to working with the Crown.
"As expected this plan clearly signals that central Government will take a step back so local authorities can take control of the regeneration of Christchurch," she said.
The new law provided limited appeal rights against decisions made by Brownlee and the chief executive of the relevant Government department, such as Land Information New Zealand or the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Brownlee said public comments on the draft version of the Transition Recovery Plan demonstrated strong support for leadership in the regeneration phase to rest with local institutions.
"This transition plan confirms that central Government will progressively step back so local institutions are in the driving seat of Christchurch's regeneration," he said.
Woods said the new legislation retained "huge, sweeping ministerial powers".
"This is still a minister-led future for Christchurch through to 2021."
She intended to ask whether the number of Crown-appointed board members could decrease over the life of the legislation and the number of council-appointed members increase.
Woods was frustrated with the short timeframe for the select committee process. It was due to report back to Parliament in February, meaning submissions and hearings would need to happen before Christmas.
"Gerry Brownlee has known for five years that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act expires in April."
Woods would seek an amendment to push the select committee report back to March.
She said the new legislation appeared to transfer all of Cera's demolition powers, including the controversial section 38 which allowed Cera to order the demolition of a building without needing a resource consent.
Many heritage advocates in the region felt the power had been used to make it easier for property owners to get rid of heritage buildings.
Cera acting chief executive John Ombler would not comment in detail on the bill or Transition Recovery Plan.
"It's a big week for Cera . . . but I think I should leave the minister to talk about these things."
Brownlee declined an interview request.
A new Crown company would complete the delivery and management of the anchor projects and be responsible for the future divestment of Crown-owned land. It would work alongside Regenerate Christchurch and the council's Development Christchurch Ltd.
The transition plan included a leadership forum that would meet at least once a year to allow Christchurch's mayor and councillors to discuss issues with relevant Government ministers.
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet would take over the task of monitoring progress in Christchurch.