Advocates to help speed recovery for hardest-hit

The Christchurch City Council is moving to ease community board frustration at the time it takes to respond to requests for help from earthquake-hit residents.

It plans to hire community advocates who can help the boards prioritise vital projects.

The advocates will be assigned fulltime to community boards hardest hit by the quakes, while less-affected boards will share advocates.

Funding for the new positions will come from the $300,000 pool the council set aside in June to help community boards in their quake-recovery efforts.

Hagley-Ferrymead Community Board chairman Bob Todd said the length of time it was taking to get repairs done on key community facilities was causing "considerable frustration" in the community and had at times left boards feeling powerless.

They wanted more say in the prioritisation of projects so they could respond to the needs in their communities.

"If each board had a specific person who could devote their time to engaging with the community and dealing with appropriate council staff, things might happen a bit quicker. They can help us to expedite things," Todd said.

"It is definitely a step in the right direction."

Spreydon-Heathcote Community Board chairman Phil Clearwater said the advocates could help boards cut through some of the red tape.

"We're hoping they will be able to go directly to senior managers, both at the council and at Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority], and get us the information and the responses we need to make progress."

Cr Yani Johanson, chairman of the council's community, recreation and culture committee, said he was relieved that councillors had listened to the community boards and were moving to address their concerns.

International best practice suggested that empowered decision-making at the local level was the key to an effective recovery after a natural disaster.

"They need to be able to advocate and get things done rather than just provide reasons why things can't happen," he said.

Committee member Cr Tim Carter said there was a clear need for more community involvement in the post-quake recovery process.

"Community boards have a very significant role to play in that and they need to be adequately resourced to fulfil that role," he said.

Another measure the council is considering to improve its engagement with the community is the establishment of ward-based web pages that would give residents easy access to detailed information on what quake-recovery work is being done in their area.

It is envisaged the new pages would pull together information on what the council, Cera and the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Recovery Team are doing in different parts of the city.

Councillors are keen to get the pages set up but managers have signalled they do not have sufficient resources to make it happen.

The Press