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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Christchurch earthquake bill passes first reading

Christchurch earthquake bill passes first reading

Last updated 19:06 12/04/2011
Legislation giving the Government and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority strong powers to repair the damage caused by the Christchurch earthquake passed its first reading in Parliament today but opposition parties have reservations about its wide provisions.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee introduced the bill under urgency, saying it was essential for the region to be repaired as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"Tens of thousands of people have gone the extra mile to make life a bit easier for their fellow Cantabrians," he said.

"It is capturing that intention and that deep intensity of desire to recover that this bill sets out to achieve."

He said community and local government participation was essential, and would be balanced against the need to cut through existing legislation to get the job done.

Under the bill there has to be a quarterly report to Parliament on how the powers in the bill have been used.

Brownlee said the authority would first gather information and investigate the damage so that informed decisions could be taken about the viability of some streets and suburbs.

There would be surveys so that boundaries could be replaced and decisions made on rebuilding and demolition.

Temporary housing would be commissioned, and the legislation gives the Government the power to purchase property under compulsory acquisition if necessary.

"Those powers will be used sparingly," Brownlee said.

Labour's earthquake recovery spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, said Mr Brownlee had wartime powers under the bill, granted by Parliament.

"He is the earthquake czar, he holds the pen over the chief executive (of the authority) and everything he or she does," he said.

"It is not good enough to have an appointed panel of 20 people and expect those people to be representative of the community and then say 'we have consulted this panel a few times'."

Cosgrove said Cantabrians wanted detailed, robust planning to be put in place but they also wanted a large say in what their city and their province looked like going forward.

"This authority will have enormous power to get things done, and it if can that is all for the good," he said.

"But there must be a balance so that people - good people who aren't vexatious - are not mowed over."

Cosgrove said Labour was supporting the bill on its first reading but would wait for the outcome of select committee hearings before decided its position on future stages.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the powers in the bill were too strong.

"It gives the minister powers not just to compulsorily acquire buildings but to decide whether or not buildings of all kinds, including residences, should be knocked down or not," she said.

"We can't allow government ministers to hold that kind of power without those people having a say in the process... this bill is being rushed through under urgency in one week, with no ability for people to engage."

The bill passed its first reading by 111 votes to 11, with the Greens and two independent MPs, Chris Carter and Hone Harawira, opposing it.

The local government select committee will hold hearings on it in Christchurch tomorrow and it will be passed into law on Thursday.

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