Law change to allow speedy repairs under consideration

12:01 pm on 9 September 2010

The Government is looking at whether urgent law changes are needed to help speed up repair and rebuilding of Canterbury homes.

Prime Minister John Key says Parliament may need to pass legislation to allow people to work on their houses and then be retrospectively paid by their insurers.

Another possible law change would be to allow for retrospective resource consents.

Mr Key says any law changes would be made next week.

He spent Wednesday morning in Canterbury seeing quake-damaged farms and rural properties, and says residents are in good spirits but frustrated by nearly 300 aftershocks registering 3 or more on the Richter scale following Saturday's earthquake.

Mr Key was accompanied by Agriculture Minister David Carter and local MPs.

He says some people are tired and emotional because of the quakes and the loss of their possessions.

Rural relief package possible

Mr Key says the Government will consider a rural relief economic package if it is needed, but adds it is likely hardship grants will be all that are required.

He says it is difficult for farmers to assess what damage has been done because a lot of irrigation systems and pipes are below ground.

Latest estimates from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry suggest as many as 400 farms are affected, more than 100 of them severely.

Silo damage rises

Grain farmers in Canterbury are struggling as damage to storage silos becomes apparent.

Federated Farmers says more than 50 silos have been reported damaged, up from the 40 initially reported.

It says more than 8000 tonnes of milling wheat has been saved so far.

North Canterbury grain section chairman Murray Rowlands says farmers urgently need to know if the damage bills will be covered by insurance or government assistance.

Bank help

Meanwhile, the National Bank, the country's biggest rural lender, has announced a support package for its rural customers.

Rural managing director Charlie Graham says 26 rural managers are checking on farmers in the quake areas and offering support as clean-up and rebuilding work begins.

He says they are offering to speed through loans, emergency short-term lending, interest-free overdraft limits and ready access to credit to get rural operations back up and running.

Mr Graham believes the biggest impact of the quake will be on water bores and irrigation systems.

Income support scheme

Mr Key has not ruled out the inclusion of bigger companies in an income support scheme for employees in Canterbury if they need assistance later on.

Help is being offered to businesses with fewer than 20 employees, which are struggling to cope in the aftermath of Saturday's earthquake.

Employees will get a subsidy of $350 a week before tax, backdated to 4 September, the day of the earthquake.

The Government says about 100 applications have been received for the earthquake support package.

Initially, the subsidy will be paid up for four weeks and small businesses can apply again after that if they are still unable to operate.

Mr Key says larger businesses should get in contact with the Chamber of Commerce.

Eligible employers can apply to the scheme from Thursday and the Government says payments will be made within 24 hours.

The Council of Trade Unions says more will need to be done. Secretary Peter Conway says more support packages will inevitably need to be provided.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says farming operations are eligible for the Government's wage support package too.

However, Mr Brownlee says there seems to be some confusion between Selwyn district council and farmers as to how many of them have been affected and how badly.