Recovery plan in nine months

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN, GEORGINA STYLIANOU & NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 10:05 29/03/2011

Recovery department announced

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Christchurch mayor Bob Parker hopes to have a formal recovery plan for the CBD ready in nine months.

LATEST: Parker today welcomed the Government's announcement of a new single authority, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), to lead the earthquake recovery effort in the region.

The Government also announced the Christchurch City Council (CCC) will lead the development of the one mandatory recovery plan - the Recovery Plan for the Christchurch Central Business District (CBD).

"The announcement gives us certainty around the role of the Government, the Council, other territorial authorities, interest groups and residents,'' Parker said.

 "The Council and the Government are expecting a finalised plan for the Central Business District within nine months. Therefore I hope to be able to announce more details of what we're planning for the first stage of our community engagement in the next week.

"We need to be upfront and say it is unlikely that the significant rebuild of the central city could start before the end of the year. The timeframe of course depends on the Earthquake Commission and the insurance companies completing their work with the property owners.

"Our ultimate goal is to build the most earthquake safe city in the world,' he says.

Christchurch residents will have plenty of opportunity to have their say on the plan, he says.

"We will work with our community on a draft concept plan, and once the draft plan is developed we will again consult extensively with our residents and make further adjustments to it based on the feedback received."

He is pleased the Government also demonstrated its commitment to retaining local democracy and community engagement as much as possible through the recovery process.

The Council will work in partnership with the authority on the development of the Recovery Strategy and on all the recovery plans, including the plan for infrastructure, he says. "In addition to our role in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery process, we also have our role as community advocates, consent makers and service deliverers."

Parker says the city is still in the response phase with a state of emergency in place. He expects that the Council will resume its democratic role in the city in about three weeks. "However that depends on when the state of emergency is lifted," he said..

"Recognising that once the Government announced its structure for earthquake recovery in the city we would need to work quickly, a lot of work has already been going on behind the scenes," he says.

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LOCAL CHIEFS WANT INFLUENCE

Community leaders are concerned that the government's new stand-alone department in charge of Christchurch's recovery will not represent the Christchurch community.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said about 20 people would be appointed  to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Community Forum.  

However, Labour's Canterbury Earthquake Recovery spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove said the forum would not engage the community at the right level.

''We don't need a load of bureaucrats coming into town with their clipboards and telling Cantabs what to do when they already know what to do and then ending up tripping over their own red tape.

 ''The problem we're going to have is that we will have twenty ministry-appointed puppets to represent the views of everyone.''

Cosgrove said the forum should incorporate community boards but also needed to include residents' associations and other community leaders. He said Catabrians would remember promises made by John Key and would hold him accountable if the CERA structure proved inefficient.   

Community Board chairpersons said they agreed with the appointment of the new department, but feared community interests would not play a big enough role.

Riccarton-Wigram Community Board chairman Mike Mora said quake authorities needed to remember Christchurch belonged to its residents, so input into the rebuild needed to come from them.

He believed community board members would be ''ideally placed'' to consult with their communities and give feedback, but they had been ''pushed aside''.

''It's very very frustrating. In fact we feel like cheats because we can't do the job we've been elected to do.''

Mora said boards were in "a vacuum" at the moment, unable to use their service centres or contact council staff, but chairs were the obvious people to appoint to the new forum.

''Community board chairs should be part of that body because we know our communities. I've been on the [Riccarton-Wigram] community board for 20 years. There's nothing in this ward I don't know about.

''We really need to take the opportunity as a city, as the ratepayers and residents of this city, to lead this process. Then the experts can come in and do what we need to be done.''

Burwood-Pegasus Community Board Chairperson Linda Stewart said CERA would not fully understand communities' immediate needs.

''We don't know who will be on this community forum but I'm happily optimistic that they will include community boards - they would be off this planet not to. We're the ones who know what our communities need.''

Stewart said she hoped CanCERN, the Canterbury Communities' Earthquake Recovery Network, would also be included in the forum.

Paula Smith, chairperson of the Lyttelton-Mt Herbert Community Board, said CERA needed to ensure local interests were attended to.

''It really depends on how responsive CERA is to communities but I hope it will act as a conduit between central government and the community.''

Some community board chairs supported the new forum, however.

Hagley-Ferrymead Community Board chairman Bob Todd said the CERA proposal seemed like a ''good start'' for rebuilding Christchurch.

''I've said all along that certainly the community had got to be involved in the process ... I think that's a promising start that they are going to engage with community groups.''

Todd said he guessed some elected councillors and community board members would end up being appointed to the new forum.

''As long as it's representative of the community I don't see any problem with that regardless of whether community board members are appointed to that particular forum.''

But he said community boards needed to be involved with the rebuilding of Christchurch at some stage.

Shirley-Papanui Community Board chairman Chris Mene also supported CERA ''in principal''.

''I think it's a good idea and I'll look forward to supporting that group and the rest of the process from a community board perspective.''

However, he said he was not sure how well the forum would link to existing community groups and networks.

Green Party spokesperson Dr Kennedy Graham said the Canterbury rebuild should focus on sustainability.

''Christchurch can be a model of a green city that delivers prosperity and protects the environment. We also need to future-proof our city and build resilience to earthquakes, rising oil prices and environmental hazards.''

Graham said CERA should have a cross-party parliamentary oversight given the extensive powers it has under the Earthquake Response and Recovery Act.

Action for Christchurch East organiser Angela Wasley said quake victims had already been impacted by too much red tape and bureaucracy following the two earthquakes.

``Three weeks for them to be announced, another month to find their feet ... it's a positive step but I do have doubts.''

``We already know what people need and the fact it's not happening, people are getting frustrated. There's some really desperate people calling me daily and there's no avenues for them to follow.''

Wasley suggested Dean Peter Beck, of the Christ Church Cathedral, would be an ideal candidate for the new forum, with no conflicts of interest and the ability to organise well.

The forum should also include experts from the health, building, legal and insurance industries, as those appointed needed the necessary skills to ``hit the ground running'', she said.

``We can't have time wastage and heading into winter we've got some real urgency to get people sorted. We need experts and we need it to happen fast. It's important people know what they're doing and have passion.''

Tom McBrearty, chairman for earthquake support group CanCern, said it was hard to comment on the new forum until names and roles were announced, but he believed CanCern would like to be included.

``I suspect CanCern will be recognised and asked to perform a specific role. I know nobody from our organisation has been approached personally, [but] it's more a case of `watch this space'.'' Even if CanCern was not directly involved, it would still be part of the public feedback process, he said.

THE NEW PACKAGE

A new stand alone government department with widespread powers has been created to manage the rebuilding of Canterbury following the devastating February 22 earthquake.

Prime Minister John Key said the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) would operate for five years, with its operations reviewed annually.

The interim chief executive would be deputy State Services Commissioner John Ombler.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the authority would coordinate the recovery effort and have the power to relax, suspend or extend laws and regulations to allow faster decision making on key aspects of the rebuild.

''These are essentially reserve powers and there will be checks and balances on the use of these powers so the public can have confidence they are being used wisely and with restraint,'' Brownlee said.

Enabling legislation setting up the authority would be before Parliament in the next few weeks.

Brownlee said the authority was modelled on lessons learned from international experience and the response to Canterbury's September 4 earthquake.

It would work with local councils and communities, the residents of greater Christchurch, Ngai Tahu and the non-government sector and business interests.

''As Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery I look forward to working with all these parties to make the rebuilding of Christchurch, and the wider region, something we can all be very proud of.''

The authority would itself be overseen by an independent four person review panel which would be chaired by a retired High Court judge and assess all legislative and regulatory changes CERA sought to make.

A cross-party forum of Canterbury MPs would be set up to provide advice and a forum of Canterbury community leaders would provide input on issues important to locals.

There would be appeal rights against decisions made by the authority, with hearings heard swiftly by the High Court.

The authority would also be subject to the Official Information Act.

Brownlee said many of powers in the proposed legislation were based on those put in place in Queensland to deal with the Australian state's devastating floods in January.

These included the power to acquire, hold, deal with and dispose of property and Brownlee's ability to call-in the powers and functions of a local authority or council organisation.

Brownlee said it was important that the public have confidence that the powers would be used judiciously.

''The review panel will provide the valuable function of independent scrutiny so the public can have confidence that CERA is carrying out its role appropriately.''

''A key early step will be the appointment of around 20 individuals to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Community Forum.  This cross section of the many interest groups across the region will be an important conduit for the community to express what's important to them in developing the plan for rebuilding Canterbury.''

Brownlee hoped to announce the community forum's membership within three weeks.

The authority would be based in Christchurch and partly staffed by secondees from government ministries directly involved in the recovery process.

It was hoped to appoint a permanent chief executive within five weeks.

SPECIAL MEASURES EASED

Yesterday John Key revealed plans to scale back and then terminate special financial support to workers and businesses during the next two months.

"Essentially the message is that we're wanting businesses and employees to use this time now to assess their likely future," Key said.

"This is a period of time that is an interim step as people regroup after the earthquake but also acknowledging that they do need to make plans for their future now."

The earthquake support subsidies for employers and workers would be extended until April 18, but would fall away in fortnightly increments after that.

For employers, the current payment of $500 per week for each fulltime employee would drop back to $375 a week, then down to $250 a week two weeks later. For employees, the job loss cover payment, which has been taken up by 6700 people, would be scrapped and replaced with a top-up payment for those still out of work.

It would be paid out at $50 per week for a single person, $80 for a couple without children and an additional $10 per week for each child, up to a maximum of $110 a week.

Key said that so far, $153 million had been spent on the earthquake support package. The cost under the extended scheme was expected to increase by a further $91m.

He had previously come under pressure over the appointment of the interim chief executive to lead the new recovery agency.

Customs boss Martyn Dunne had been expected to take the job for about two months.

Labour's earthquake recovery spokesman Clayton Cosgrove earlier called the appointment process "a fiasco".

Cosgrove said that he and other MPs had been told by Civil Defence controller Steve Brazier that Dunne would be appointed. Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee had "changed his story at least twice" over the matter,  Cosgrove said.

Labour MPs were worried ministers were "set on imposing their own solutions on Canterbury people". But Key said the new structure had been explained to Christchurch City Council and other local groups, who were supportive.

The powers of the new agency will be based on legislation drafted for the flood recovery effort in Queensland.

- The Press

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