Getting out of your quake recovery stalemate

MAI CHEN
Last updated 09:01 25/04/2013
Mai Chen
MAI CHEN: Public law specialist.

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Last week's column on how to fix the EQC claims management system seemed to resonate with readers.

OPINION: On Friday, a petition was launched on change.org requesting Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to bolt to the EQC Act a new fully streamlined claims management process that achieves quicker resolution of Cantabrians' claims with full transparency.

In the meantime, Minister Brownlee announced that a new Residential Advisory Service will be up and running in May to help residential property owners resolve problems with quake rebuilds and repairs, including insurance problems.

The new advisory service is like a local Citizens Advice Bureau dedicated to dealing with quake recovery and rebuild problems. It is a service where anyone can get help to resolve their quake issues or get pointed in the right direction if the service cannot help on your issue.

The Residents Advisory Service is a positive initiative, and needs to be given a chance.

However, if the new service does not help clear the many thousands of opened claims EQC has not yet resolved, then serious consideration should be given to using the extraordinary powers given to the minister under the CER Act to put in place a new, custom-made claims management system that resolves Cantabrians' EQC claims quickly.

In addition to resolving their EQC claims, many residents need help unlocking stalemates with the council on building consent applications being held up because of differences in interpretation of the Building Act.

Port Hills residents also need a hand out of the Cera zoning bog that prohibits access to their properties.

Most people who have written to me simply don't know where to start to get out of the difficulties they now find themselves in at no fault of their own.

The following is some practical advice on how to engage with EQC, Cera, the council, MPs and other decision-makers.

Dispense with emails and other correspondence, and make an appointment to see the EQC case manager, Cera representative or council officer responsible for making a decision on the issue you need resolved.

Bring with you a one-page summary of your problem and the solution you want that focuses on the present and avoids going back through history if possible.

Government officials and council officers are all stretched right now, and they are more likely to give you time and engage positively with you if you outline what you want concisely and constructively. That's a big ask for those who have had nearly 2 1/2 years of frustration, but it has a much better chance of a quicker resolution to your problem, than more emails or letters.

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Get involved with the council, Cera and other agencies to find solutions to problems. Take, for example, the Port Hills situation. Property owners are finding it difficult to get section 124 Building Act and section 45 CER Act notices lifted on an individual basis because the official geological studies say the risk of rockfall is too great over a widespread area. The council has been working through rockfall protection measures and funding for that and Cera is reviewing the land zoning.

The Government has made offers to Port Hills red-zoners that are available for acceptance for 12 months from the offer date or August 31 this year, whichever comes first. The rockfall situation is complex and frustrating for hundreds of landowners. It is important to be engaged in the debate on the solutions and offers being made available in order to help influence the outcomes in terms of land zoning, practical protection measures, the costs of those and the lifting of the current access restrictions.

This may include getting a peer review of Cera or the council's assessments.

Don't be afraid to challenge a decision you think is wrong by triggering a dispute resolution process open to you. If your protests on the adverse decision you have received have fallen on deaf ears, then do not delay.

Take advantage of whatever dispute resolution process is available to you through the government agency you are dealing with (such as EQC's claims dispute resolution process). If you think that process will be too slow, then ask for the matter to be mediated privately.

If the relationship between you and the government agency or decision-maker has broken down, then take legal advice on other remedies that might be available to you (such as judicial review) to challenge the decision in court.

It is hard to get off this topic, but next week I am going to talk about opportunities throughout Canterbury after the earthquakes. A Canterbury Recovery Public Law Toolbox appears to be urgently needed to help Christchurch residents and those interfacing with Christchurch.

I will be seeking feedback from Cantabrians as to the commonly asked questions the book needs to answer.

Mai Chen is managing partner at public law specialist Chen Palmer. mai.chen@ChenPalmer.com

- The Press

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