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Government targets council inactivity

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has fired a fresh salvo at the Christchurch City Council over its slowness to fix quake-damaged social housing units.

He also suggested that Cr Yani Johanson, who heads the council committee that oversees social housing, should be relieved of his responsibilities.

Johanson has been an outspoken critic of the Government and its top-down approach to the city’s recovery.

But yesterday the guns were turned on him when Brownlee issued a statement slamming the council’s ‘‘woeful response’’ to repairing its social housing stock and questioned whether Johanson was the right person to oversee the work.

‘‘Perhaps it’s time someone with a bit of can-do attitude relieved Cr Johanson of this burden,’’ Brownlee said.

He said the Government had stepped up by properly resourcing Housing New Zealand and riding it hard to repair and re-let its most damaged stock, and he had advanced the council a $21 million payout from the Earthquake Commission so it could get on with repairing its housing stock.

But to date it had made little progress, he said.

‘‘By November 2012, Christchurch City had managed to repair four properties, by January it was five, and by mid-February it was six.

‘‘The council’s latest report says it’s closed 327 social housing units, has still only repaired and re-let six, and plans to have a grand total of 70 repaired by Christmas 2013,’’ Brownlee said.

‘‘That will be a mere 21 per cent of damaged properties repaired and re-let almost three years after the event that caused the damage – and the council calls this a ‘ramped-up’ repair process.’’

With winter looming, it was time for the council to rapidly fix more of its social housing units.

Johanson, whose committee will hold a special meeting this afternoon to discuss plans to build between 16 and 22 housing units and to speed up repairs on hundreds of damaged units, said Brownlee’s attack was extraordinary.

He made no excuses for the council’s lack of action on repairing council housing and concurred with Brownlee’s sentiment that more needed to be done.

But he disputed Brownlee’s claims that only six units had been repaired.

Six units had been fixed along with another 109 units that had suffered damage but were still habitable.

Johanson said restoring the capacity in the council’s social housing stock was a priority for the council and his committee. Christchurch City councillors are furious council staff appear to have ignored a unanimous resolution that called on them to urgently investigate options for setting up an independent insurance advocacy service in the city.

That resolution was passed in July, but staff admitted yesterday that they had yet to do any work on it.

The admission came as councillors debated a notice of motion from Cr Yani Johanson and Cr Glenn Livingstone that sought to impose a March 28 deadline on staff.

They were told by community services general manager Michael Aitken that the deadline was unrealistic as staff had yet to begin working on the requested report as they had been waiting to see what action the Government took.

The deadline motion was passed unanimously.

Cr Tim Carter said it was appalling a resolution passed unanimously by councillors had been ignored by staff.

‘‘It is time for action, not excuses,’’ he said.

‘‘We can sit and blame staff for not acting on our resolution, we can blame Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] for its inaction or we can be proactive and show leadership. It is time for us to take control and fund the advocacy service.’’

Johanson, who has proposed using $200,000 from the Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund to set up the service, said councillors had been patient but it was time for action. Livingstone said two years had passed since the quakes and no mediation service was operating.

‘‘Many in our communities are being pushed around from pillar to post by these insurance companies and they need us to act for them, otherwise who will? They are our constituents.

‘‘We have a duty to act for them,’’ he said.

Acting Mayor Ngaire Button said it was not the council or its staff who should feel shamed; it was the insurance companies.

Wider Earthquake Communities’ Action Network spokesman Mike Coleman told councillors it was scandalous that eight months after the council had passed a resolution calling for an urgent investigation into setting up an insurance advocacy service, nothing had happened.

Maria Thackwell, who lost her home in the February 2011 quake and battled for 18 months to reach a settlement with her insurance company, said that for her the mental anguish was over, but for many others it was not.

She had sat down with men recently who had cried with frustration at the lack of progress on their insurance claims and at the prospect of facing another winter in broken homes.

David Stringer, from Insurance Watch, said the council’s lack of action on the insurance front was lamentable.

Source:

  • The Press
  • Lois Cairns lois.cairns@press.co.nz

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