2 Feb 2015

Change in the wind for quake officials

5:49 am on 2 February 2015

Changes are almost certain at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, which from today becomes part of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

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The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act has allowed the Government to fast track many aspects of the rebuild. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The move coincides with the setting up of an advisory board that will recommend where the Government should retain a foothold in the region and where it should hand back power to the locals.

The jury's still out on whether this represents a winding back of the Government's involvement in the rebuild of Christchurch or simply a shift in its focus.

The advisory board includes the region's mayors and the head of the regional council.

Chair Dame Jenny Shipley said while Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee had plenty of advice from his officials to go on, he felt it was important to hear from the groups who would be most affected by any changes to the Earthquake Recovery Authority's make-up and focus.

She said it would be wrong to characterise what was happening as the Government pulling out of Christchurch.

"It would be wrong to say winding back. It would be important to say of the things that have been completed, not keeping doing work that's not required, and of the things that require our absolute attention, bringing them into sharper focus and moving them forward."

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act, which has allowed the Government to fast track many aspects of the rebuild, expires in April 2016 and part of the advisory board's job will be recommending what needs to be included in the legislation that will almost certainly replace it.

Dame Jenny said the board would also look at whether the authority still required 323 staff.

"We need to find the people who still need help, and the law that's needed to support them and which organisation, whether it's CERA, or the city council or a joint body yet to be described that can be put in place that takes us through this next phase."

Hard work still ahead

With the rebuild of the central city only just getting underway and questions still to be answered over what happens to the 7000 red zoned properties the Government now owns, the Government still has a lot of work to do in the city.

Christchurch mayor and advisory board member Lianne Dalziel said it was pleasing the Government was now looking to include local government in the decision making process.

"I've been talking about the language of partnership for a very long time and some of the language that I'm hearing now is around co-management. A co-management environment might get us through this transition."

However, Ms Dalziel's former parliamentary colleague, Labour's earthquake recovery spokesperson Ruth Dyson, said making the Earthquake Authority part of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet introduced an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

She said the transition away from government control needed to happen now.

"I think we could have had a transitional board appointed and then the devolution of the functions of CERA to other agencies. That would have been smoother and smarter."

Mr Brownlee was not available to be interviewed.

The advisory board he has set up will provide him with its recommendations on what should happen next in the city by either April or May.

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