Public consultation 'a farce', say MPs

PRO DEMOCRACY: About 1000 people gathered in Latimer Square, Christchurch, to protest against the government.
PRO DEMOCRACY: About 1000 people gathered in Latimer Square, Christchurch, to protest against the government.

Christchurch MPs hand-delivered a letter to Prime Minister John Key today, voicing concerns about the lack of democracy in Canterbury.

Green MP Eugenie Sage, Labour's Lianne Dalziel, and NZ First MP Denis O'Rourke wrote the letter on behalf of signatories including Save Our Schools, Historic Places Canterbury, Christchurch Civic Trust and the Wizard of New Zealand.

The letter requested the reinstatement of democratic elections for the regional council, Environment Canterbury, in 2013.

It also protested the demolition of heritage buildings, school closures, Government acquisition of land in the CBD, and asked for a reassessment of the April 30 deadline for red-zoned homeowners to move out of the red zone.

According to Eugenie Sage, Cantabrians are concerned they are being disempowered by the Government.

"There is frustration that the decision making is top-down by the minister and Cera," she said.

"So this is an open letter to the prime minister calling for much more democracy, in decisions about the schools, and about TC3 residents in the red zone being able to have a bit more time."

The letter said consultation between Cera and the public has "become a farce", and on top of that people in Christchurch will "now suffer the indignity of no elections for at least three more years".

"This is totally unacceptable in a country that values its people and their right to a voice and involvement in decisions on their future," the letter reads.

Sage said Christchurch has a proud history of suffrage that is being trampled on by not allowing elections for the regional council.

Today's demonstration follows a march on Saturday in Christchurch for the same issues, where traffic was halted by around 1000 protesters as they marched from the city's Latimer Square to Cranmer Square.


Dear Prime Minister Rt Hon. John Key

Please receive this letter from the Committee organising the Rally for Democracy taking place on 1 December 2012 in Christchurch. This committee represents the following groups: Save our Schools, IConIC, Historic Places Canterbury, WeCan, Christchurch Civic Trust, Save Hagley Park, TC3 Residents, Water Interests, Wizard of NZ Ltd.

We believe there is a significant lack of democracy operating in Canterbury, resulting from the Government's 'top down' approach in handling many of the issues of great concern for us in post-earthquake Christchurch.

Since early 2010 a wave of discontent has been building over this loss of democracy. This erosion of our rights as New Zealanders has increased dramatically during the earthquake recovery. Your National-led Government, through the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), is making decisions about our recovery without any input and consultation with the citizens of Christchurch and its elected members in a highly dictatorial and disempowering manner.

It is clear from the CER Act that Cera has been instructed to consult with affected communities in enabling recovery to take place. We do not see this taking place. The community forum put in place to allow such consultation has become a farce with Mr Brownlee or Roger Sutton having attended only a handful of times.

Only last week our own Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford, stated the need for Cantabrians to be a major player in a collaborative recovery:

International guidelines, such as the IASC Guidelines offer guidance to ensure compliance with international human rights law and for governments and humanitarian organisations to take a 'bottom-up' and 'joined-up' approach in responding to disasters. Such guidelines are not an obstructive hoop-jumping exercise in political correctness, but rather they offer a people-centred, collaborative basis for a truly integrated recovery response that is nimble, aligned and efficient. At their heart is the participation of the people affected by natural disasters in their own recovery; as we say in New Zealand, it is "he tangata, he tangata, he tangata" who are most important.

When our democratically elected Environment Canterbury (ECan) was sacked and commissioners appointed early in 2010 we were promised an election in 2013 but we now suffer the indignity of no elections for at least three more years. This is totally unacceptable in a country that values its people and their right to a voice and involvement in decisions on their future.

Since May 2011, Cera has used Section 38s to demolish heritage buildings throughout Christchurch; we are still losing the heritage and character of our city at an alarming rate. A graphic example of this is the recent quick resumption of the demolition of Cranmer Courts and the refusal to agree to the city council's request for Cera to call a halt for 30 days. A number of important, viable heritage buildings are slated for demolition as part of the blueprint implementation. To our great shame, Christchurch is surely the post-disaster heritage demolition capital of the world

The recent schools proposals continue to confirm the top down approach from your Government toward Christchurch. Schools are going to be savaged with these proposals. It began with pretend consultation, falsely based claims and wildly inappropriate solutions to problems. The minister and Ministry of Education appear to be totally out of touch with what is happening in this city, with no consideration for communities and the real people they will affect in announcing these destructive proposals.  Only recently has Hekia Parata spent an hour at each school. Shortly after this it was announced the Government is to spend $1 billion to close and merge schools, but schools have yet to respond to the ministry with their own proposals. People do not trust the ministry to act in their best interests, the schools' best interests and most importantly, the pupil's best interest. Disrupting already upset traumatised children with these announcements shows a total lack of reasonable care for our young people.

In 2011 a huge number of Cantabrians contributed 106,000 ideas to the Christchurch City Council's 'Share an Idea' campaign for the redevelopment of the inner city. This vast effort by council and citizens was paid mere lip service to by your government and was arrogantly replaced by the CCDU's own blueprint plan. Democratic rights of property owners in the CBD are to be obliterated on a "like it or lump it" basis. It appears you expect Christchurch ratepayers to fund your government's think big ideas for our inner city. We will be forced into debt for generations if our rates are to pay for enormous projects like the covered stadium, which is to be inappropriately sited and which has limited support from people here in Canterbury.

There has also been a singular lack of consultation in the land designation decisions; there were no consultations on land zonings until many had already left Christchurch. There were no consultations on how to handle the major issues of the east. The battles many have had and continue to have with Cera and EQC have been disempowering and exhausting.

Mr Key, we ask you as prime minister to seriously consider the Government's position here in Canterbury. We ask you to work with us in developing fair and reasonable solutions as we move forward. We need your Earthquake Minister, Gerry Brownlee, to begin real dialogue with our elected members in council and begin genuine consultation with the citizens of this city.

- We ask you to reinstate democratic ECan elections in 2013.

- We ask you to direct Cera to halt the demolition of buildings that are part of our heritage and not allow the blueprint plan to dictate inner city development

- We ask you to direct Hekia Parata to cancel the school proposals until genuine consultation has taken place which is in the best interest of schools and their communities.

- We ask you to consider those who are struggling to move from their land and look at removing the red zone properties April 30 deadline so families are able to find acceptable ways forward and be able to live in their homes until their new homes have been built.

All of our concerns and possible ways forward we put to you in good faith and we ask you to honour us and Canterbury by finding creative and engaging solutions to address the issues in this letter.

The Press