Recovery Authority needed in Christchurch

Christchurch needs a special purpose recovery authority with wide powers, plenty of money and the support of the existing local authorities and people of Christchurch.

The government is currently considering the next steps to the rebuilding of Christchurch and these necessarily involve decisions about both substance and process.

A special purpose authority is one option currently being considered, but there are many issues to be resolved before the government commits to that course.

All three elements mentioned above - wide powers, adequate resources and popular support  - are needed to make recovery work, because the problems are so huge, because there is so much to do, and because all the issues are interconnected.

The city is moving beyond the rescue and recovery phase ie it's got the bodies and identified the CBD buildings at risk.

Right now only a few people in Christchurch are in a position to rebuild, but as red stickered homes are demolished and insurance payouts are made, more people will want to get on with building a new home.

But what are the planning rules? Are they the same as the current rules? Is there to be a new district plan - which sets out what kinds of activity can take place in certain areas. And what about the safety of the land?  Will residential property owners need clearance to rebuild on their own land? What view will lenders and insurers take?

How about the really big question. Does the council want people to rebuild in some parts of the city at all. Prime Minister John Key has talked of whole suburbs, (later modified to whole streets) being demolished, and some streets out in the eastern suburbs may not be suitable for rebuilding at all.

When I lived in Christchurch thirty years ago, the area out to the north and east of the city was known  as Marshlands. It's now widely built on, and it's here where the most cases of liquefaction are found.

While the decisions themselves are big, who will make the decisions is another important question. Is it sensible to allow the Christchurch City Council, which allowed building in the low lying land, to make the decisions. It might repeat the very mistakes that have resulted in so much grief for home owners out east.

If not the council, should the government do it?  The chances that Wellington will get it right are really no better than the council getting it right.

Which leads logically to a special purpose authority which can develop a master plan (after appropriate consultation of course), bring down some new rules for development, and begin to build confidence among business owners and investors that the city will be a worthwhile place to business.

The authority might be made up government and local authority leaders headed by a prominent and trustworthy local citizen, with an executive of seconded staff from government agencies and local authorities with some community and business input.

Right now there is no clear way ahead for Christchurch. Bringing together a road map to the future should be a top priority.