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Friday, April 1, 2011

Democracy sidelined under Cera

Democracy sidelined under Cera

Last updated 05:00 02/04/2011
Four million tonnes of rubble lies waiting to be taken out of the wrecked remains of Christchurch city. By dint of a decision confirmed by the Christchurch City Council on Thursday, the piles of debris will head for the Burwood Resource Recovery Park over the next five years.

At their first meeting since the February 22 earthquake, city councillors gave authority to a senior official to take care of the details.

Cr Yani Johanson wanted a report back on the main points, but his idea was not attractive to council chief executive Tony Marryatt, who said that would just slow things down.

"We, as council, are giving a huge amount of power to our general manager to negotiate the leases, the conditions and the arrangements," Johanson told the meeting.

"I am concerned because I think council should be making that call with the full information.

"I accept that it's a state of emergency, obviously some short-term decisions have to be made, but the long-term decisions I think we need to be making as councillors."

Johanson was a lone voice, and anyway, thousands of tonnes of rubble had already been poured into the area under the authority of Civil Defence national controller John Hamilton.

It was like trying to shut the proverbial gate after the horse had bolted – the decision had been made and there was no sense in bothering officials to consult with elected representatives.

Johanson's failed effort to insert some speed bumps between an official and that person's decisions will be the first of many more examples of the tradeoff between speedy actions and deliberative consultation in post-quake Christchurch.

This week, Prime Minister John Key came to the city to announce the new governance structure that will lead Christchurch's earthquake recovery.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) might be best described as a nimble beast. It has enormous powers to act extremely quickly.

Cera will formulate orders-in-council to cut through the normal processes that would otherwise slow down recovery. Those processes are designed to smooth out mistakes. But for Christchurch's sake, according to the Government, those processes must be abandoned.

"We've tried over the last six months to be as deliberative as possible in decision-making," Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says, referring to the effort after the September quake.

"But it's not always easy and there is a point where you just want to get on with the job."

Cera itself is still very much a fledgling entity. As of yesterday, it had only two formally assigned employees. It's likely that a few dozen staff will join them in Christchurch as secondees from government departments. Those staff will then have a direct line in to larger, dedicated groups of staff working across the different government departments.

A draft of the legislation to mandate Cera will be considered by Cabinet on Monday. The legislation should be in place by the middle of April.

Cera will have tremendous power over the local authorities – the Selwyn and Waimakariri district councils; the ECan commissioners; and the Christchurch City Council. Its instructions are to "establish and maintain a close working relationship" with those authorities.

The same applies to working with Ngai Tahu, community and business interest groups and the private sector.

If things start going wrong, however, Brownlee is approved by Cabinet to: "Call up and exercise any functions, rights or responsibilities and associated powers, whether in whole or in part, when this is considered necessary – from any local authority and council organisation."

Marryatt welcomes the shadow of Cera over his council's work.

"The Government is not going to let us as a council stuff around. If we were suddenly going off on a tangent, I'm pretty sure we would be told." Christchurch City Council will have the lead role in developing two key recovery plans – infrastructure and the CBD – but both need to be approved by Cera.

Cera can also suspend, amend, cancel or delay any existing local plans or policies.

Financially, the council is on the back foot, too. There were 4108 ratepaying businesses in the CBD before the quake. Only a fraction of those can reasonably be expected to be returning revenue to the council again any time soon.

On top of the estimated 600 commercial buildings to come down, the council thinks about 8000 homes will need to be demolished or significantly repaired, which is a further loss to its ratings base.

The $6 million per annum from parking revenue will also be well down and council-owned businesses could hardly expect to be turning much of a profit.

Marryatt has big plans to get the people of Christchurch involved in the council's CBD recovery plan. People will be invited, he says, to a big event to toss their ideas into the mix.

"My aim is that the community is taken on the journey. And no idea is a dumb idea."

The other way into the power structure for Christchurch people is a community forum of about 20 local leaders selected by Brownlee.

The concept was immediately panned by Labour as an exercise in political patronage and Cabinet papers show it will meet only six times a year.

Who makes it on to the forum is undecided, but councillor Chrissie Williams says elected officials have been told they are out of the reckoning and the forum might miss its target.

"Often, community leaders for me are the people who are doing a lot of work on the ground and aren't the ones who make submissions or come and talk to council.

"But I think they will [choose] well-known people who are known as advocates already."

Another check on Cera's power is the independent legal review panel of four, which will be led by a retired High Court judge.

It will vet every proposed order-in-council within three days.

Brownlee is a member of Cabinet's appointments and honours committee, which will pick the panel members.

He admits his structure is not perfect, but he says it's "a fair compromise" which will allow Cera to get on with the job.

Residents can have a say on future of CBD

Christchurch residents will be invited to have their say on the future of the central business district, city council chief executive Tony Marryatt says.

The council has the lead role in developing an inner-city earthquake recovery plan, which is expected by Christmas.

Marryatt said the plan would be drawn up in three stages.

Over the next three months a draft plan would be proposed, and in the following three months it would be consulted on. In the final three months the rules would be drawn up and the plan adopted as part of the wider city plan.

In the first stage, the council was aiming to invite people to a weekend event at the CBS Canterbury Arena, where they could put their ideas for rebuilding the central city.

"There will be a section there for green space, a section for transport, a section on height. Come and tell us your ideas," Marryatt said.

"This is your opportunity to tell us, and then we'll sift all of those and work through them all.

"I don't think you're going to see the council sit themselves in a room for three months. They'll actually ask for all of the ideas and then we'll get a draft plan."

He was eager to get as much public input as possible on the CBD recovery plan.

"We've really got to try to get the majority of the community saying `yes, that's great' and tenants and landowners in the city saying `yes, I want to move back into the CBD'."

He said the plan would include "key decisions" on building height, strength and green spaces.

"But it will also be around the roading network, future-proofing public transport and parking," he said.


Cabinet has agreed the following powers for the chief executive of Cera:

Can require information from any source, including by commissioning reports.

Can authorise staff to go on to land; take "fixtures and fittings" on the land; and build things on or under the land which can stay there.

Can close roads and divert traffic.

Can restrict access to specified areas and buildings.

Can direct action by property owners for the benefit of adjacent property owners where there are interlinked interests.

Can require any action from a local authority or council organisation for the purpose of the recovery.

Can stop any action by a local authority or council organisation for the purpose of the recovery.

Can enforce the new property boundaries, including "titles limited as to parcels," which are not guaranteed.

Can direct work on the implications of new survey definitions.

Can collate and disseminate information about quake-affected infrastructure, property, and community service.

Can step in to approve any local authority contract over a certain threshold.

Can suspend, amend, cancel or delay any local plans or policies.

- The Press

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