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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Power to the people plea on city rebuild

Power to the people plea on city rebuild

Last updated 05:00 14/04/2011
Christchurch residents – not just officials – should decide how a powerful new Government department handles the rebuilding of the city, a select committee repeatedly heard yesterday.

Submissions from groups including Ngai Tahu, the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB), the CanCERN organisation and the New Zealand Law Society, and several members of the Government's local government and environment select committee, said community engagement was critical or the city could pay the price for decades.

The select committee held a four-hour hearing on the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Bill at Addington Raceway, giving submitters less than 24 hours notice.

Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button said councillors were "united in our desire" to work with the country towards an effective recovery, but the proposed Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) legislation did not clearly state the council's role for the next five years, apart from driving a recovery operation in the central business district.

"We're looking for an assurance of the role of local government over the next five years," she told the hearing.

The council was best placed to handle key issues.

"There are many, many things that we know about the city that a central government agency won't necessarily understand."

Other councillors slammed the lack of time and consultation to respond to the draft bill.

Select committee member and Waimakariri MP Clayton Cosgrove asked each submitter how much notice they had been given.

Cosgrove and other Labour MPs constantly questioned the need to rush the new powers through without proper consultation.

However, the head of the South Island's largest iwi, Ngai Tahu's Mark Solomon, said the extraordinary powers were warranted "by these extraordinary circumstances".

Solomon said there were enough safeguards and checks in place to ensure the department's new powers would not be abused.

However, he said public participation was key to the recovery.

"The identity, strength and vitality of Christchurch is in the hearts of our people. There must be a collaborative working relationship."

Ngai Tahu backed the legislation, with Solomon saying it would "place trust in the Crown" by backing its bid for extra powers.

Other submissions were mostly positive.

However, some submitters raised concerns.

The district health board said it was fundamental that it be included in Cera's overall plan for the city.

Chief executive David Meates said its "number one concern" was the purpose of the legislation.

"The health and wellbeing of the people in Canterbury is the most important thing to consider here.

"We have an unique opportunity to fast-track a whole number of things that would make a huge difference to this city's health and wellbeing."

The New Zealand Law Society was worried about the possibility of unauthorised demolitions, saying the legislation must protect against the issue.

Austin Forbes, from the New Zealand Law Society, said the bill may not be scrutinised enough if it was passed too quickly.

Environment Canterbury said it supported the need for "timely decision-making".

Commissioner Dame Margaret Bazley said it already had statutory responsibilities throughout the greater Christchurch area "and it's important we are allowed to continue with those". Selwyn District Council Mayor Kelvin Coe hoped Cera would discuss issues with local government before using its widespread powers. Leanne Curtis, of CanCERN, said it wanted community "engagement" rather than simple consultation. Group patron Dean Peter Beck said people would "revolt" if they were not included.

- The Press

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