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Government keeps yoke firmly around Christchurch neck

The government will hold the whip hand over the city council until 2021.

Chris Hutching
Fri, 23 Oct 2015

Post-earthquakes, Christchurch residents will have been under the yoke of central government for 10 years by the time it finally relinquishes its grip.

New legislation, titled the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Bill was introduced into Parliament on October 19, 2015 after completion of initial submissions.

The government will hold the whip hand over the city council until 2021 via a new entity called Regeneration Christchurch, which will include a chairman appointed by the government (Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee), a special board membership for Ngai Tahu, and some council appointees

The new bill follows the first reading last week of the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill limiting democratic representation at the regional council, Environment Canterbury until a review in 2018 – commissioners were installed in 2010.

The detail of the Regeneration Bill effectively changes little, except some limits to Mr Brownlee’s powers under the CER Act to suspend bylaws and other minor matters without public consultation.

The move once again puts Christchurch’s mayor Lianne Dalziel on the back foot though she welcomed the new controlling entity in an official statement.

The government retains powers to carry out works on private and public land and transfer contracts to the city council or other entities.

“The bill carries forward existing appeal rights, protections from liability and saving provisions from the CER Act,” according to the preamble of the Bill.

The existing appeal rights under the CER Act mean no right to High Court appeal of district or other statutory plans except on legal points.

Underpinning the government determination to retain power over the city is its $100 million-odd acquisition of property post-earthquakes.

This includes the huge swathes of red zoned land in eastern Christchurch and large areas of the central city – these are the precincts still looking like rubble wastelands due to unexplained delays in various Crown-controlled projects.

A new company is being set up to deliver previously announced projects like a convention centre and metro sports facility, plus manage and sell parcels of land owned by the Crown “to achieve optimal returns.”

“To be successful, the company will require strong commercial skills, effective project delivery and programme management capabilities,” explanatory notes to the legislation reveal.

It is unclear if the new company will include Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority staff from its Christchurch Central Development Unit, or the city’s council own development unit.

Cabinet briefing papers reveal there were 2809 initial public submissions on the bill – but fail to say how many were generally in favour or opposed.

The cabinet report claims the majority view “generally agreed that powers and provisions are needed in new legislation to support the recovery going forward. However, these should be limited.”

“Alternatively, some submitters consider that the extraordinary powers in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 are no longer valid or necessary and that new legislation is not required. These include strong concerns regarding existing powers, for example the minister’s powers under section 27 to suspend, amend or revoke any part of a document and the powers to allow recovery works, and it was requested these provisions should not be carried through into new legislation.

“Overall, the majority of submitters do not consider the new arrangements for the central city would create the ‘step change’ needed to drive community and business confidence and investment.

“It is suggested that greater local ownership and buy-in of the central city recovery would better encourage investment.”

Most submitters support in principle the creation of a new ‘Regenerate Christchurch’-type entity and consider it would be most successful if locally-led and operated.

“There is widespread support for the proposals for new recovery arrangements including leadership and coordination of the recovery to be the responsibility of local institutions and for support for community-led recovery activity activities to be the responsibility of local authorities.

“A consistent theme in submissions is the preference for a return to a locally-led recovery with the withdrawal of central government,” the cabinet papers say.

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Chris Hutching
Fri, 23 Oct 2015
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Government keeps yoke firmly around Christchurch neck
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