SO, Mr Civil Defense – LET US IN TO REBUILD !!!!



Thursday March 30 2011


Time to give Christchurch back to locals

The creation of a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority comes not a moment too soon.

The frustration of business owners still excluded from the most damaged sector of central Christchurch last week was a sign that it is time to remove the grip of Civil Defence and return the city to those who will rebuild it.

The new authority, Cera as it will be known, may not much empower the citizens but it will be obliged to set up a “forum” of 20 local representatives and keep in touch with Ngai Tahu, business organisations and the wider community.

More influence than that, Christchurch can not expect. The Government is providing the money for the rebuilding of infrastructure and it is answerable for how the money is spent.

Cera will use the emergency powers bestowed on its minister, Gerry Brownlee, after the first big quake in September, giving it exemptions from statutory rules and procedures when it wants them, but an independent panel under a retired High Court judge will be established to assess its requests.

Confidence in the authority would be higher if Mr Brownlee had been able to launch it with somebody to take charge of it for its full five-year mission rather than the temporary appointment of a deputy State Services Commissioner for the time being.

The commission hopes to finalise a permanent appointment within five weeks but in the meantime John Ombler will set up the organisation and appoint key staff.

It sounds more like a government department than the sort of agency that will get things done quickly. The roads and services of central Christchurch need to be restored quickly if it is to be restored to commercial life.

The authority may need to keep its focus clearly on the essentials and ignore any pressure to try to remodel the city on concepts of architectural or environmental opportunism.

The best hope for Christchurch’s recovery starts with the kind of people who were trying to break the cordon last week. Many of them may have been seeking to recover records and stock to relocate their business somewhere out of the central city but many of them sound keen to remain in the centre if they can.

They may see many more possibilities than a government agency is likely to notice and find faster ways to make the best of buildings that remain.

More of them seem to be getting access to the “red zone” this week. If Civil Defence has drawn a lesson from the unfortunate scenes at the cordon, it is a lesson that ought to be written into its manual.

One of the predictable needs in the aftermath of a major earthquake is arrangements for business owners to have some sort of access to hastily abandoned shops, offices and showrooms once the urgent work is done.

A month has proved to be too long to ask them to wait. They knew the rescue and recovery phase was over but did not know any more.

Rumours flew that demolition crews were inside the cordon and drastic decisions were being made by zealots for public safety. Rumour had it that work crews were helping themselves to booty in condemned buildings.

A state of emergency necessarily puts all property in the zone under the authority of Civil Defence, and authority can be hard to relinquish. That is a lesson Cera could take from the cordon tension too.

The legislation governing it has yet to be seen, but for five years it is likely to have a free hand to do what it thinks necessary. Mr Brownlee has indicated it will have an annual review, which suggests it could be wound up as soon as infrastructure is restored.

In the end, Christchurch must be allowed to build the city it wants. Cera should start with that end clear.