Red-zone aim 'was not land clearance'

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 10:38 31/07/2014

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Christchurch's red-zone offers were designed to "allow people to take control of their own lives", not force them off their land, a court has heard.

The Quake Outcasts group, made up of owners of vacant and uninsured red-zoned land, yesterday concluded the second day of its Supreme Court hearing in Wellington.

Among its legal arguments is that zoning decisions were made outside earthquake recovery legislation - authority the group says the Government did not have.

Crown lawyer David Goddard QC said the decision to create the red zone was not a land-clearance policy.

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said with the loss of essential services and the added threat of compulsory acquisition, "it's hard not to see the stick in that".

Goddard said the Government had a responsibility to advise people of the consequences of not accepting the offer.

"This was a genuine attempt to do that - not a stick," he said.

The offer was made to allow people to take control of their own lives and to "make that choice rather than have it done to them", Goddard said.

"All the ministers were attempting to do was to identify a desperate situation that tens of thousands of people were in and provide those people with good information about their position and a real choice to move out."

There was no land-clearance policy, Goddard said, because it did not require the removal of all buildings, but Justice Susan Glazebrook questioned that logic.

"Seriously, they're not going to leave derelict buildings there, are they? If nothing else, for the look of the city," she said. "The whole point of this was to clear the red zone, wasn't it?"

It was a "sensible purpose", Justice Glazebrook said.

Goddard agreed it was sensible but said it was not a "material goal". Earlier, Goddard said not using earthquake recovery legislation to create zones classifying land damage "reflected the perceived urgency" of decisions needing to be made.

Aftershocks were still taking place at that time, he said.

"The ground was still literally shaking under the feet of the people of Christchurch, and that's what ministers were attempting to respond to."

There was "very significant pressure" on decision-makers to provide residents with information after the June 2011 quake, Goddard said.

The announcement of the red, green and orange zones in June 2011 was an information release, not a policy decision, he said.

Chief Justice Elias suggested the argument about whether the zoning decision was information or policy was a "man of straw".

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"Nobody is criticising the steps that were taken; the issue is whether there was the authority to do so without consultation," she said.

- The Press

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