'Complex' red-zoner High Court case opens

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2013

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About half of the 68-strong Quake Outcasts Group have packed into Christchurch's High Court today.
 
A three-day trial, which will test the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act (The Act) and the way the Government handled the residential red-zoning, kicked off this morning.

The trial will tackle "complex issues", the group's lawyer, Grant Cameron, said.

Counsel for the Quake Outcasts, Francis Cooke, said the Government has acted "outside of the Act" with its red zone clearance programme".
 
"They said this is what is happening because we say it is so," he said.
 
Government offers were "coercive and unfair" because the declaration of the red zone meant properties were worth nothing overnight.
 
The Quake Outcasts group is made up of 68 people and 45 properties.

Cooke said the group was seeking 100 per cent buyout offers because it was "necessary to justice". They want the declaration of the zoning and the 50 per cent buy-out offer from the Government deemed illegal and for the Christchurch City Council to be ordered to maintain facilities for those who wish to remain where they are.

He said the re-zoning of land was unlawful and violates certain sections of the Act as well as the Magna Carta (1215) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
 
"This is not in the New Zealand Bill of Rights but it is an international obligation and there is an interpretative influence on the application of domestic law," he said.

Red-zoned residential land is subject to a Crown offer to buy it at the 2007 rating valuation (RV) but uninsured or bare land owners are only being offered half that amount.

Court documents labelled the Crown offer an "abuse of power" that was "oppressive, disproportionate [and] contrary to human rights".

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Cera chief executive Roger Sutton are named as the respondents.

Cameron said this was an "important case about New Zealanders' property rights".

"It's about the Government's responsibilities and obligations when it wants to take away New Zealanders' property," he said.

Quake Outcasts spokesman Ernest Tsao said the group was "feeling confident" about the judicial review.

"I believe we have the law on our side and I think this [case] will uncover systemic wrongdoings by the Government since the very early stages [of the recovery]."

The group just wanted to "be left alone", Tsao said.

"We want the court to reaffirm our right to stay where we are and one of those rights is the provision of essential services that cannot be removed without violating the law."

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Last year, when the Government announced that owners of vacant, commercial or uninsured land would be offered half their RV, Brownlee said the value was taken out of the land "the moment the earthquake series struck".

"We had to look at a way of making sure people got enough to see it as being fair but not so much that it disadvantaged people who had paid insurance for many years," he said.

- The Press

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