Chch needs to learn from Marysville

Last updated 08:37 14/06/2013
Claudia Reid
COUNCILLOR: Claudia Reid.

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OPINION: A "genuine recovery partnership" is needed between local and central government, Christchurch City councillor Claudia Reid says.

Two years ago I visited the Victorian town of Marysville to learn how that community was recovering from disaster.

Two-and-a-half years had passed since Black Saturday's bushfire swept through the town, taking 34 lives, destroying community buildings and homes.

Marysville had reached the end of the Victorian State Government's intervention process involving a bushfire recovery authority, to manage the town's recovery.

Meanwhile the people of Christchurch were at the very beginning of a recovery process. It was June 2011, two-and-a-half days since the third devastating earthquake.

Two-and-a-half months earlier the Minister of Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, had announced a new earthquake recovery authority for Canterbury (Cera), asserting government responsibility because of the size of the problem and the cost "to fix it and make it better". Recovery plans would be developed to facilitate quick wins and useful time frames for business recovery, infrastructure, the eastern suburbs and temporary housing.

Interestingly, recovery planning for the central city had been retained by the city council, but after a hard fought battle. Marysville's ending was a story of raw bitterness and resentment, a tale of hurting not healing, of people feeling worse, not better, compromised by the anguish of knowing that they were getting a lot, but couldn't take control or own what was happening.

"The recovery is very materialistic," they said, "our spirit needs tending too."

Councillors felt disempowered by the arrangement. "Fire us, or resource us!" they said, "don't let us become the scapegoat," as local people looked to them to find solutions for problems for which they once had a mandate, but no longer the authority or resources to deal with, be it the short-term fix or the enduring legacy once the recovery authority was gone.

When I left Marysville I'd learned there were new unknown plant species regenerating in the ash of the wildfires. I'd also learned that when it came to the town and its people, recovering would take a very long time indeed, despite their new Greg Norman golf course and integrated medical centre.

I hoped things would be different for Christchurch. Two years later, the similarities are striking.

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Relentless criticism of an apparently incompetent city council makes front page news again and again, reducing two former mayors to "weep into their coffees" and mull a comeback, as they watch [their] past good work being undone, not so much by a bunch of devastating earthquakes, but a bunch of dull city councillors.

Former mayor Buck went on to say: "People genuinely feel like they want to matter."

I know. I feel that too. It seems the last time the citizens of Christchurch had a genuine opportunity to have a say about the future of their city was more than two years ago during the council's brilliant Share an Idea campaign.

Since then, the council has been all but emasculated. The Government's rejection of its Central City Plan is but one example. Layers upon layers of thoughtful, contemporary urban planning, founded on community wisdom and entrenched in community values, was replaced by a 100-day blueprint.

Recovery is extremely difficult. It is long and it is stressful. Sadly, every day can be like fighting a battle. As Cera's tenure reaches its midway point, as its thoughts turn to transitioning out and relinquishing its control of the city, what we need is a genuine recovery partnership between local and central government.

What we require is the ability for the people of our city to be able to influence the design and development of the enduring community assets (anchor projects) in the Christchurch central blueprint. What the council and community needs is to be trusted to do the job.

Perhaps then, unlike Marysville, we can really feel that we're moving forward towards a full and vital recovery.

Claudia Reid is a Christchurch city councillor. She travelled to Marysville, Australia, in June 2011 at her own expense.

- The Press

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