No red-zone deadline secrets, Brownlee says

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says deadline extensions for some red-zone landowners have not been kept secret.

In a U-turn, Brownlee has approved deadline extensions for red-zone landowners that have a small time gap between the July 31 clearance deadline and moving into a new home.

Brownlee rejected case-by-case extensions in December but approved them this month.

He said he changed the policy after finding it would be only a small number of people eligible for case-by-case consideration.

''Once we knew a little bit more and ... had a clearer picture of just how many people might need a further extension, then the further delegation was granted,'' he said.

''The July 31 is already an extension, and the numbers we are talking about are very, very low and the people in those cases have a very small gap between the availability of a new home and the deadline date.

''I'm entitled to know exactly how big the problem is before we start solving it. We dealt with that in two tranches.

''We gave a general extension of some months and now we have gone to an individual [basis] where there are such low numbers. They will have to meet strict criteria. It is not a blanket extension.

''If you have 20 people, and the number would be potentially in that zone, that have individual circumstances that mean they need a week or two past the July 31 deadline, then we want to be able to deal with those people on that individual basis."

The policy change was mentioned at a community meeting in Christchurch and a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) press release this week.

A Cera document from April stated ''we do not propose to undertake any large-scale promotion of the case-by-case extension''.

Brownlee said the policy change was not widely publicised because Cera wanted discretion to deal with individual landowners without strict public criteria.

''I'm deeply offended that people think we are trying to hide something here or that we are being in any way secretive. The information was given to a public meeting where 400 people attended and I released it yesterday. There is not much secret about that,'' he said.

''Racing into print and waving a flag and crowing about that is not particularly productive. These people have had to make difficult decisions, and where they have made those decisions and the timing doesn't work, it is not unreasonable that we meet those needs.

''The numbers are so incredibly low. The Cera team makes contact coming up to the deadline. From about eight weeks out, we start making more intense contact to find out what their circumstances are and where they are at.

''Rushing into print takes away from some of your flexibility.''

Brownlee said the red-zone deadline was important.

''This is a voluntary offer, and the longer people stay there the more it will cost ratepayers to maintain those areas. There does have to be a cut-off point,'' he said.

''The general taxpayer has been pretty generous in this case, but there does need to be a point where you can rule a line under some of the costs. The net cost we expect to be close to a billion dollars.''

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said the new policy should have been made more public.

''I am really pleased with this decision. It is probably better to have a far more openly flexible arrangement,'' she said.

''Why aren't they singing it from the rooftops. This is good news. They are taking some of the pressure off people that are in a really stressful situation. I don't understand why they are trying to keep it quiet.''

WeCan spokesman Mike Coleman said Brownlee had done a ''major U-turn''.

''[Brownlee] has done this right from the beginning. He holds out; he stresses people out to such an extent,'' he said.

''He has no idea how much he has traumatised people throughout the red zone. It's been unbelievable.''

Cera staff had been ''fantastic''.

''They've realised that level of stress and recommended to [Brownlee] to work case by case, which we'd been saying to Cera,'' he said.

''Go case by case and work out the needs of each individual so they can move forward in a reasonable way, rather than trying to force mass evacuations across the red zone for no apparent reason.

''They have no idea what they're going to do with the land, they say, so why are they forcing people off their land when they're still battling with their insurance company or waiting for a home to be rebuilt?

''Gerry Brownlee has finally seen some common sense and using a little bit of compassion that we haven't seen before.''

The Press