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Saturday, August 18, 2012

A new approach to Official Information Act requests

Website fyi.org.nz is dedicated to assisting New Zealanders make Official Information Act (OIA) requests of public bodies.

Ever wanted to ask Minister Brownlee, Mayor Bob Parker or CERA chief executive Roger Sutton a question about what is going on? And have some expectation of getting an answer? Try the FYI website.

I have just had a go, asking the Christchurch City Council whether they have been approached by CERA about cutting off of services in the Residential Red Zones after the 30th of April 2013.

The process is a bit cumbersome, especially as it is not clear you have to sign up to the service before the process can be finalised. Having signed up and verifying my e-mail address the request was added and sent off. My request was:

Dear Christchurch City Council,

Has the Christchurch City Council, either elected members or staff, received formal or informal enquiries from CERA about what services can be cut off in the Residential Red Zones after 30 April 2013?

If yes, please advise what requests have been made and how copies of them can be obtained.

Yours faithfully,

Lawrence Roberts

You can see the request online here.

The website might be a bit clumsy to start with however the idea is brilliant. Anyone who is interested can follow a particular question and see the outcome. Imagine if members of a community group used this as a means of getting access to information.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Earthquake Royal Commission–Building Management after earthquakes

The Royal Commission published a discussion paper on Building Management after Earthquakes and called for submissions. The summary of the discussion paper read:

This discussion paper focuses on how buildings were managed in Christchurch after the September 2010 earthquake. It looks at matters that may have led to problems in how the building safety operation was carried out that would be likely to happen again (i.e. problems with the system, rather than whether it was done well or not). The paper does not address every issue people have identified in submission or reports to the Royal Commission to date. These will be addressed in our final report. The paper focuses on how we can improve things using a range of tools - not just legislation.

The Commission has started publishing the submissions received. A link to the earlier discussion paper is here. Submissions can be found by going to the document library (here) and selecting “Building assessments after earthquakes” in the subject filter. The most recent documents are toward the bottom.

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Earthquake Royal Commission–Engineering training and education and the organisation of the profession.

The Royal Commission has published a number of submissions received on engineering training and education, and the organisation of the engineering profession.

A link to the earlier discussion paper is here. Submissions can be found by going to the document library (here) and selecting Training and Education in the subject filter. The most recent documents are toward the bottom.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

EQC change TC3 drilling FAQ again

EQC have modified another of their FAQs without indicating a change has taken place. The FAQ section (here) now reads (with changes highlighted in yellow):

TC3 drilling plan

27 Jul 2012

The EQC drilling plan for suburbs in Technical Category 3 (TC3) is below. Please note that this only covers under cap properties in TC3 as part of the Canterbury Home Repair Programme. EQC is in negotiations with insurers over a full collaborative programme and this is subject to change. The expected end date for the full programme (including all over cap claims) is March 2014.

Drilling started in March 2012. At this stage we are expecting the drilling in the eastern suburbs to be finished in the next six to nine months.

Until a day or two ago it read:

TC3 drilling plan

27 Jul 2012

Drilling started in March 2012. At this stage we are expecting the drilling in the eastern suburbs to be finished in the next six to nine months.

Testing will not necessarily need to take place on every affected property in order to get adequate information for foundation design, and EQC has been working closely with both the Department of Building and Housing and local councils to ensure the onsite testing will meet building consent requirements.

As per usual the page has not been marked to indicate there has been a change.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Red Zone zoning review and signing the Government offer.

CERA have announced a change in deadline for residential red zone property owners:

  1. who have requested a zoning review; AND
  2. whose offer is due to expire before the end of October 2012

Red zone property owners who have requested a review of their zoning and whose Crown offers are due to expire before the end of October 2012, have been granted an extension to the time limit to accept the Crown offer to purchase their red property.

We recognise that the Crown is directly responsible for the timing of the review process and that property owners are unable to make an informed decision about the Crown offer to purchase their property until they are advised of the review outcome. To address this, should the review find that their property remains red zoned, the Government has agreed that their offer period will not expire until 31 October 2012. That means property owners who have requested a review will have until 31 October 2012 to accept the Crown offer by submitting a signed Agreement for Sale and Purchase to the Crown via their lawyer.

You can find the information on the CERA website here, towards the bottom of the page. It also states there that results of the zoning reviews are expected to be available by the end of August.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Christchurch Diocesan Earthquake Recovery Fund

Bishop Barry Jones, Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, established a recovery fund to manage the distribution of money received after the 4 September earthquake and subsequently. The goals of the Fund are to:
  • To alleviate human suffering.
  • To assist community development and cultural activities especially those that seek to help rebuild community spirit and resilience in parishes and the wider community.
  • To help parishes continue to meet the pastoral needs of their parishioners post-earthquake.
  • To help parishes prepare for future events / improved disaster preparedness.
Funding is still available and applications are sought from parishes, organisations and interested individuals wishing to make a difference in the lives of those affected by the earthquakes. Organisations do not have to be Catholic to apply.
Information on the goals of the fund, eligibility, how to apply, and who has received money so far can be found here.
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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Land zoning reviews–Part 4

Parts 1-3 appeared on the blog at the end of June (links to them are at the end). The general theme of those items was that the review process was flawed and, no matter what the calibre of those doing the reviews, the process had significant potential to prejudice the outcome. Now that the review process is over, how were the reviews carried out?

Cabinet’s decision on this remain a secret. A request for a copy of the relevant Cabinet papers and minutes was refused by CERA on the grounds they would soon be made public. Well, they haven’t yet, and chances are the review result letters will be out before the public know what Cabinet decided about the review process.

So, how will anyone opening their envelope know that they have received a fair deal? Chances are they won’t, unless in the first instance the letters explain how the review was carried out and what resources were used to review the original zoning decision.

At the moment the recently released EQC/Tonkin & Taylor land reports (here) is the only up to date information on land damage. At a suburb and area level the reports provide an overview of how land damage was recorded. Failure to release this information prior to announcing the review certainly put those unhappy with their land status at a significant disadvantage, and denied them an opportunity to make an informed and considered decision. Deliberate? Probably – otherwise why would CERA have been in such a hurry to announce, conduct, and conclude the reviews?

Perhaps there are other maps that haven’t been made public? A closed review tribunal with secret instructions using secret evidence? Has New Zealand become more like China than we thought? It is interesting the agencies and voices that see themselves as public watchdogs haven’t seen fit to speak out.

Anyway, your request for a review has been considered amidst all this non-disclosure of material information. Then what? Well, we do know that the criteria to be applied is as set out in various Cabinet papers and minutes. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect that you would be told how your area and situation rated against the criteria. Specifically the letter you receive should, at a minimum, address each  of the following criteria in unambiguous “Yes/No” and “because” terms:

Does the area meet the criteria for:

  • thickness of the surface crust
  • lateral spread
  • timeliness
  • uncertainty
  • disruption arising from repairs to infrastructure and property
  • health and welfare.
  • sensible boundaries.

A important point to note: The review panel would not have made an assessment in the absence of quantifiable information. Therefore you could choose to ask for details on each of those points and expect an answer.  Both the Official Information Act and the Privacy Act are statutory safeguards that give you the right to ask for, and receive, information used to make decisions affecting you.

Taking timeliness as an example, it seems appropriate to assume that the panel would have had a schedule of what is to happen in each area around the city. Where is it and what does it say? What assessments have been made on health and welfare? Where are they and what do they say?

Links to previous blogs on the reviews: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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