Brownlee fires salvo

LOIS CAIRNS AND GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 05:00 01/03/2014

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Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has fired a fresh salvo at the Christchurch City Council, suggesting it is in no state to lead the region's rebuild. 

He has also categorically ruled out reducing the role of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) in the rebuild, saying it is actually looking to ''bolster its governance capability''.

''Talk of Cera's demise is extremely premature,'' the Minister said in an opinion piece which appears on press.co.nz.

Brownlee said the council was going through a ''massive and much-needed change process'' which he suggested left it in no state to begin leading the region's rebuild and recovery efforts.

''It doesn't have a permanent chief executive and is recruiting for a number of its key senior executive roles. Its consenting functions are being overseen by a Crown manager. I understand it is about to announce other significant organisational changes too, so it's hard to see what ability the organisation would have to take over big chunks of recovery work programmes at this time or in the near future,'' Brownlee said.

In the opinion piece, Brownlee also hit out at councillors who have suggested elements of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan need overhauling and slammed comments made by Mayor Lianne Dalziel that the council should not be picking up the cost for maintaining services in the residential red zone.

He said claims of the council being left with an unfair financial burden were untrue.

''I know this is a new relationship with a group eager to deliver change, so some early posturing is understandable.

But the reality is that the Crown is contributing over $15 billion to the rebuild, and there is still much to be done.

In my view, the council should be more focused on how to maintain the momentum beyond April 2016, when Cera's statutory powers expire, rather than worrying about taking over from Cera, and giving people the impression this needs to happen sooner rather than later,'' Brownlee said.

Speaking to The Press yesterday Brownlee said he had put significant effort into establishing a good relationship with the new council, but in recent weeks all it appeared to have done was harp on about what was wrong with Cera. 

''The mantra for the last wee while has been that it's time for Cera to go because the new council is here, we're ready to take over. That would be the worst thing that could happen to the city,'' Brownlee said.

The council needed to open its eyes and have a good look at itself.

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''What has irked me is the call for 'we want a partner who is willing to work with us'.  For goodness sake, we have done nothing but work with the city council from the very beginning,'' Brownlee said.

The Press wanted to put Brownlee's comments to Dalziel yesterday, but she declined an interview.

She said she did not wish to engage with the Minister in public but would meet with him in due course.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said he was concerned Brownlee was even hinting Cera's powers could be increased.

The Government had given him wartime powers for a fixed time, and a handover of all responsibilities should still happen by April 2016.

''Any expansion of governance and Cera's mandate takes us in the opposite direction.''

Cunliffe said he was concerned the Government was not taking ''full opportunity'' of Dalziel's ''absolute commitment'' to work in the city's best interests.

''Lianne Dalziel left her red (Labour) jacket at the door the day she took up the Christchurch mayoralty. 

''She is the mayor for all Christchurch, and has been at great pains to establish a good relationship with the Government. 

''It is very regrettable the Minister is flying in the face by expanding Cera's mandate.'

- The Press

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