Prime Minister sorry for threat that angered Outcasts
MARC GREENHILL AND MICHAEL FOX
Christchurch Earthquake 2011
Prime Minister John Key has apologised for saying the Government would "walk away" from Christchurch red-zoners challenging the Crown's buyout offer after his threat was labelled offensive and lacking compassion.
The 68-strong Quake Outcasts group this week won a judicial review of the offer to buy uninsured properties and empty sections at 50 per cent of the land valuation.
Justice Panckhurst ruled on Monday that the offer was unlawful and should be revised.
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee immediately announced plans to appeal, but would not comment before seeking further legal advice.
Key yesterday warned that the Crown could simply walk away.
"One option is the Government says: 'Thanks very much, it's been a lot of fun. If you don't want to take the offer, that's where it's at'."
Revising the offer could set a precedent for other disasters, he said.
"What do we do when there is an uninsured landslip later in the year because of a flood somewhere? Those land owners will say, 'But you paid out in Christchurch'," Key said.
"It's not easy for the Government."
Outcasts members spoken to were appalled by Key's comments saying they showed a lack of compassion and that he did not understand how hard the situation was for affected residents.
Key apologised today, saying he was sorry if any offence was caused, but his comments needed to be taken in context.
"Look, that's the expression people use when there's a breakdown in things, so it's got to be seen in the context of that sort of situation,'' he said.
''But yeah, if people are offended by that, look, of course I’m sorry.
''I’m working my way through that issue, but actually I think they’re more offended by the fact we’re offering them 50 per cent."
Burwood landowner Rachel Sugrue said it appeared Key did not comprehend the seriousness of their situation and the effect it had on their lives.
"There's been no fun in this for any of us for the last 18 months, that's for sure. It's been the most incredibly stressful time in our lives," she said.
Port Hills Labour MP Ruth Dyson said Key should apologise.
"How on earth can he possibly call a drawn-out legal battle for people who are losing tens of thousands of dollars due to a massive earthquake ‘fun'? "That is out of touch. That is arrogant," she said.
Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network spokesman Mike Coleman said the decision to appeal was a "slap in the face" for affected landowners.
Brownlee could show "a real sense of justice and a sincere focus on the recovery" by accepting the court's decision, he said.
Quake Outcasts lawyer Grant Cameron dismissed Key's threat as "complete nonsense", saying the judgment did not allow for the offers to be revoked.
"That is not an option open to the Government at all because the court had ordered them to make a further offer," he said.
"By directing them to make a fresh purchase offer, they are required to act in an even-handed manner.
"How do you act in an even-handed manner by not making any offer at all?"
The appeal was "always on the cards" but gave no consideration to the landowners involved, Cameron said.
"We will see it through to the end, whether that's the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court."
Cameron confirmed that it was unlikely landowners who were not part of the court action would have their offers reviewed.
They would have "very strong grounds" to mount their own challenge, but would need to move quickly because judicial review proceedings needed be lodged without delay.
$180,000 rides on court case
Karen Jeffrey has $180,000 riding on the Court of Appeal.
The New Brighton landowner was part of the Quake Outcasts group that successfully challenged the Government's offer to buy uninsured red-zoned properties and empty sections at 50 per cent of the land valuation.
News that the Government will appeal against a High Court ruling that it acted unlawfully has soured the victory.
Jeffrey and husband Wayne's vacant section had a market valuation of $180,000 weeks before the February 2011 quake.
They spent more than $50,000 building up the section to council regulations and running services.
The rateable value of the land was $120,000, meaning the Crown offer for it was $60,000.
The couple decided against accepting the 50 per cent offer, despite it not prejudicing their legal challenge. Should the High Court decision be overturned, they will not receive a cent.
"That was absolutely one of the most emotional decisions I've had to make ... it all came down to the rights of people," Karen Jeffrey said.
"With the [High Court] announcement, I felt elated, but not about the money. It's now about standing up for what I know is right."
She is matter-of-fact about the consequences of the court decision being overturned.
"We're ruined. That just ruins everything we've worked for. I can't even entertain that thought. The judge has ruled it's an unlawful decision, and [the Government] wants to appeal it? I don't get that," she said.
The past two years have been an emotional rollercoaster for the Jeffreys.
They were in limbo after the land was red-zoned in 2011 and were forced to wait until September last year to learn they would be offered 50 per cent of rateable value.
"We were floored when they offered us 50 [per cent]. We've done nothing wrong or different to anyone else," Karen Jeffrey said.
"We'd done everything required. We'd always paid insurance our whole lives.
"For [the Government] not to pay us the full GV just felt like the worst thing that could possibly happen. It was just another kick in the guts, really."
The couple do not visit the section, although they still pay full rates for it. It has become "derelict" with no houses in the vicinity, no services and with fences covered with graffiti.
Karen Jeffrey's hope was that the way Earthquake Commission contributions were levied would change to save other owners of vacant land from the same fate in any future quake or disasters.
She said the levies should be attached to council rates, not insurance.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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