The earthquake anniversary is hard: remembering the terror of the violent shaking, the collapsed buildings, the 185 individuals who died and others who were seriously injured, and our broken city. All of us in Christchurch and many throughout New Zealand have been affected by the earthquakes and are in different stages of recovery.
Last Thursday in Parliament, it was good to debate a bill that all MPs largely agree on and that will improve the law on strengthening earthquake prone buildings. The new law defines and establishes procedures and national timeframes for strengthening such buildings, depending on the likelihood of earthquakes in the area. It went through a thorough process with two rounds of public submissions to the select committee showing how citizens can influence law making for the better.
On 22 February 2011, the Sumner – City bus was crushed by falling bricks and masonry. Ann Brower was the only survivor. Her eloquent advocacy on the Bill helped persuade MPs to make changes to prioritise strengthening of unreinforced masonry buildings and features such as chimneys, verandahs and parapets to reduce the risk of loss of life and of serious injury from their collapse. These features are the cheapest to fix and the first and deadliest to fall.
On another bill, the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Bill, the National Government also needs to listen to citizens. It needs to use the Bill to return the management and control of the next stage of the recovery to local leadership, something that many in Christchurch have called for, and which the Green Party believes is central to its success.
Five years on, the emergency and immediate recovery phase is long past. The expiry in April of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act and the extraordinary powers it provides to the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), is the chance for a “step-change” in who makes, and how decisions are made about Christchurch’s future.
As Gapfiller and Greening the Rubble projects have repeatedly shown, it is community projects that have brought character, quirkiness, art and life to empty spaces in the city. Like the mosaic chair and its ottoman (left) that used to sit in Colombo Street, it is people’s creativity and imagination give a heart to the city and help its survive and grow.
Government seems unwilling to let the people make decisions for their own town. The Greater Christchurch Regeneration Bill as introduced gives central Government Ministers too much control over both the development and sign-off of regeneration plans to guide the city’s future. It gives Ministers extraordinary powers to override plans and policies under other law such as the RMA and the Local Government Act.
The Bill will be reported back from select committee on Thursday. It will be clear then whether or not the Government majority on the select committee has been prepared to trust the new joint Council-Government entity Regenerate Christchurch, and trust local democratic leadership, particularly the Christchurch City Council. In Christchurch we want our local democracy back. Citizens want a bigger say in the city’s recovery with more decisions made locally, rather than by government ministers in Wellington.