Staff gagged over plans for city centre

19:55, Jul 22 2012
Lianne Dalziel
Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel

The secrecy surrounding the redevelopment of central Christchurch is outrageous, Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel says.

She is appalled that city council staff seconded to the Central City Development Unit (CCDU) have been been banned from talking to their own bosses about what is being planned because of confidentiality agreements they had to sign.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said in April that he was setting up the unit and that some council staff would be seconded to the unit to "ensure a high level of collaboration and co-ordination".

However, The Press has learnt that senior council staff seconded to the unit have had to sign gagging agreements that mean they cannot discuss their work with anyone outside the CCDU. That has left most in the city council in the dark on what is being planned.

"We've had a couple of pretty general briefings, but you wouldn't say we're well- informed," one councillor said yesterday. "We're as anxious to see what's planned as everyone else."

Dalziel said the information blackout was outrageous and unacceptable.

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The CCDU claimed to be modelling its approach on successful redevelopment projects such as those run by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, she said.

She had met officials from both projects and they had stressed the importance of being open and transparent.

"There is no public engagement with the CCDU. They are doing everything behind closed doors," Dalziel said.

The unit had sidelined the council and was also keeping property owners in the dark over the fate of their land until its planned "big reveal" at the end of the month, she said.

"This is totally unacceptable and in total contradiction of international best practice," Dalziel said. "They say they are modelling themselves on those organisations, but those organisation would not dream of acting this way."

The CCDU initially indicated it would consult central- city property owners affected by the location of the city's planned new civic facilities, but Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) chief executive Roger Sutton told city councillors on Thursday that most would have no idea of what was intended until the plan was made public.

Dalziel said that was not good enough. It was unfair to dump potentially life- changing information on people without first engaging with them.

Yesterday, Cera declined to comment on why the CCDU had chosen not to engage with the community during the preparation of the central-city blueprint. However, it said the unit was formulating the blueprint from a starting point of a city council vision that thousands of Canterbury people had contributed to.

Mayor Bob Parker said he had received briefings on elements of the blueprint but was not privy to all the details. Part of the reason why the information was being so closely guarded was because it could affect land values.

"It's not been an open process in the normal sense of the word," he said. "We are in unusual times and we have to make the best of the situation we're presented with."

The Press