Editorial: Zoning review is the right decision

Last updated 09:11 18/06/2012

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OPINION: As late as the beginning of April the head of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, Roger Sutton, was ruling out any full-scale review of the authority's decisions on the zoning of land affected by the earthquakes.

Just under 190,000 residential properties have been zoned so far. Some 180,000 were zoned green and just over 7000 zoned red.

Cera received more than 500 formal requests for a review but Sutton said a huge amount of work had gone into deciding what properties were red-zoned, and there would be no changes.

The most Sutton would concede was that Cera would have some process to engage with those people who had complained about their zoning to explain how it reached its decision.

Many queried that stand, wondering how, with so many assessments to do, Cera could be so sure that no errors had occurred. While there is no need to doubt the expertise or integrity of those making the decisions, this criticism was valid and to their credit Cera and the Government have responded to it.

At the end of last week, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee announced the appointment of a panel to review zoning decisions affecting anyone who asked for it.

While the move is welcome, it could have been made earlier. The first zoning decisions were made almost exactly a year ago. Shortly afterwards, the Government made its first offers under its scheme to buy either whole properties or just the land at the most recent valuation.

Since then more than 5000 have signed agreements for the sale and purchase with the Government and will have moved on or made plans to move on with their lives.

Some of those people might have made different decisions if a review process had been available sooner.

Late though it may be, the review process is nonetheless a serious attempt to provide property owners with the satisfaction that their concerns have been properly considered.

The advisory panel conducting the reviews will consist of three Cera officials with expertise in public policy, law and geotechnical engineering. There will also be an independent member in the person of the chairman of Fisher & Paykel Appliances, Keith Turner.

Turner is not only a highly regarded businessman, but also a distinguished fellow of the Institute of Professional Engineers.

The panel's brief is to consider whether zoning changes are appropriate. In doing that, they will consider several matters including whether the original zoning is within Cabinet classifications or there are boundary anomalies.

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By far the largest number of the 550 or so who have sought a review are property owners with condemned properties all around them who are seeking to be reclassified from green to red so they can move out.

A small proportion want to be able to continue to live where they are and want to have their red classification lifted. Those numbers are sure to rise, however, now that property owners know a review is possible.

In all reality, it is not likely that many properties will be reclassified and homeowners should recognise that. Cera conducted the original assessments with considerable care and thoroughness.

Indeed, a continuing complaint is that it has taken too long for some of them. But an open and fair- minded review, as this appears to be, should remove any lingering doubts.

- The Press

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