OPINION: The decision this week by the Court of Appeal on the case involving owners of property in a residential red zone has at last opened the way for action, not just for them but also for property owners on the Port Hills. The challenge was brought by owners in the residential red zone in the eastern suburbs. An earlier finding by the High Court on the matter brought a halt to progress for owners of property on the Port Hills.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has several times remarked on how unjust it was that the Port Hills owners have had to wait. While the delay was an unfortunate side-effect of the court action, it would also have been unjust if the red-zoners had not had their day in the court.
Now that the matters have been settled by the Court of Appeal, the minister must do his part promptly to move the situation on, both for the red- zoners and for Port Hills owners.
For the Port Hills people, Brownlee has already said he intends to make an announcement on their land by the end of the week. That announcement was derailed by the startling finding by the High Court that the decision in June 2011 to create the residential red zone was unlawful because it had not been made under the provisions of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act. On that point, Brownlee has been vindicated by the finding by the Court of Appeal that the decision was in fact lawful.
The Appeal Court has found that the decision, and the accompanying offer to the owners of insured properties in the zone of 100 per cent of their 2007 registered valuation, were properly done in accordance with the purposes of the earthquake recovery act. As the Government has often said, and as the Court of Appeal has now found, both were made with the intention of allowing a practical exit for people who would otherwise be involved in lengthy negotiations with insurance companies and EQC.
Moving forward has been more difficult, however, for people in the red zone whose properties were uninsured. The Government has offered them only 50 per cent of the value of the properties. In another part of its judgment this week, the Court of Appeal has found that that offer was unlawful. That was because it was made without taking into account the need to consider whether it would help people recover from the earthquake in a timely way.
The court made no order about what should be done to remedy the situation. It is clear, however, the Government should consider the offer anew. The reasons people in the red zone were uninsured vary. Some had vacant land that could not be insured. Others were uninsured because they were between policies or had inadvertently failed to pay the premium. Some, probably a small minority, were deliberately uninsured.
It is hard to see why those who could not insure their land should not be offered a 100 per cent payout. What should be paid to the others may depend on their circumstances. But any payment should be made with the purpose of the recovery act in mind - that decisions made under it should enable people to move on.
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