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Friday, December 7, 2012

Gerry Brownlee and being stuck in the Red Zone

Yesterday’s Press carried an article Red-zoners call for more time by Charlie Gates (here). The basis of the article is that, for some people, circumstances totally beyond their control mean they cannot be out of their Red Zone properties by the 30th of April.

Part of the article refers to Minister Brownlee’s view of the situation:

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told Parliament yesterday that it was "unlikely" that red-zone residents would be able to stay in their homes after the deadline had lapsed.

"Given that to do that there would have to be maintenance of access and also infrastructure to those homes, it would need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis but I would have to say it is unlikely," he said.           [note: can’t find this in Hansard so taking the Press on trust]

The impression given, and erroneously recorded for posterity in Hansard,  is that because of the need to maintain access and infrastructure to the homes of those who need an extension, it would be unlikely they would receive an extension. The point missed by this statement is that not all those seeking an extension have problems with access or infrastructure. Unless the address and infrastructure details of those asking for the extension were known, and had been investigated, how could such a statement be made? Is it intended to make a case by case assessment? If so is there a list of those needing extensions? When, how and by whom is it being compiled? Not exactly a meaningful statement.

Or is there a quite different meaning? Is it just simply that it is unlikely that an effort will be made to do a case by case assessment? Why not? Too much like hard work? The people and their circumstances don’t warrant the effort? Or maybe there will be loss of face or the creation of some horrific precedent or squatter problem if a small concession is made, no matter how important it is to those who very much need it?

While Red Zone damage is, by definition, wide spread, there are locations where the infrastructure continues to function with little or no extra maintenance. Cowlishaw Street and Chaddesden Lane immediately spring to  mind (and of course the residents still pay full rates because the council is still providing full services).

Why would Minister Brownlee make such an sweeping, and not entirely accurate, statement to Parliament?  Assuming it wasn’t just an attempt to shut down criticism and moaning by creating the impression that nothing can reasonably be done, why say this?

It may well be that Minister Brownlee is not well informed of the situation, and can speak only on the basis of the briefings he has received.  No doubt Minister Brownlee would rather endure Vogon poetry than speak with Labour or New Zealand First MPs, but surely he has spoken with his caucus colleagues from Christchurch Central and Waimakariri? I would like to think they have passed on the messages given to them that there are people stuck and they need an extension of time. Or is he deaf to his Parliamentary colleagues?

Perhaps if the Minister’s more able advisers were to talk with those who are stuck in the Red Zones, and relay the information accurately and fully to the Minister, he would be better able to understand what the problems are, how people are suffering, what is needed to be done, and keep Parliament more accurately briefed on the situation. Not to mention make some effort to assess the case by case needs of those stuck in Red Zoned houses.

As an aside, I hope Ministers get better information than was supplied to the Press for this article.   At the foot of the article there are some pretty much meaningless statistics from CERA. Take the following:

The 97 properties red-zoned after appeal in August were given eight months to settle. Of those, 14 have already settled and moved out and 34 have signed a sale and purchase agreement, according to Cera.

What do the numbers mean? Nothing of relevance or use. They may create the impression that perhaps 48 properties out of 97 have found successful resolution but that is unlikely to be close to reality.  More significantly, of the 97 properties how many have certainty that they will be gone by the 30th of April? That is the important number, and it isn’t there.  Is this the level of information being passed to the Minister and/or his advisers?

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