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Q+A: Transcript of Gerry Brownlee interview

Published: 4:39PM Sunday April 22, 2012 Source: Q+A

GREG                          
First of all, has this been a disappointment?

GERRY BROWNLEE - Earthquake Recovery Minister
First of all - if you don't mind, Greg, first of all, where do you get this "the recovery has stalled" stuff from? I'm sick to death of hearing it from the media. If you go down to Christchurch at the moment, there is a massive amount of activity, and frankly comments like that show huge disrespect to the thousands of people who have put themselves out...

GREG                          
So you're happy with the pace of the recovery?

BROWNLEE        
No one's happy with the pace. Everyone wanted it done with a click of the fingers and fixed, but it's a very big disaster, and it is taking time. And I want to make the point that comments like that do a huge disservice to the thousands of people in Canterbury who are going out of their way every day to make things happen.

GREG                          
If you're saying that the recovery hasn't stalled...

BROWNLEE        
And if you came down and saw it, you'd see it.

GREG                          
Why has a new development unit been given 100 days to make something happen if there hasn't been a stalling?

BROWNLEE        
Well, let me tell you, you wouldn't find a single economic indicator to indicate that word "stalling". We asked the Christchurch City Council...

GREG                          
So then why has this unit been created? Why haven't you just carried on with yourself, with CERA, with the City Council? Why has another unit been given 100 days after 14 months to do something if there's no stalling?

BROWNLEE        
Well, look, all of your hysteria there won't change the fact that we asked the Christchurch City Council to come up with a draft plan for the CBD, which is round about 39-40 hectares in the centre of the city, and they did that in an appropriate period of time - inside nine months. They gave me that document late December - December 21st - and since that time, we've been looking at the document first to see is it a good plan, which was our responsibility, and secondly to work out how we put life into it and make sure that we get things underway really quickly. Now, you know, when you look at Christchurch, the City Council has got a massive job on there, so what we've simply said - and, you know, I've worked with the Mayor and senior management inside the City Council - is let's get a group of people from both CERA and the City Council under the CERA banner, combine the authorities and powers that the City Council has, along with the powers that Parliament have granted to CERA to get this thing moving much more quickly. And that's a good thing.

GREG                          
Minister, you've got to say, though, from an outside point of view, it's starting to look a bit confusing. You've got Mayor Bob Parker, who you've called a clown. You've got you. You've got Roger Sutton. Now you've got Warwick Isaacs in charge.  Who is running the show?

MR BROWNLEE        
Well, why don't you come down and have a look and...

GREG                          
No, you tell me. You're the minister. You tell me.

BROWNLEE        
...do a bit of decent investigation? Because you have a very cohesive model that's working down there. On the comment about Bob - I work very closely with Bob and that comment I've regretted. It's more in the nature of two people who know each other well expressing disappointment about a comment that frankly in the end was reported out of context.

GREG                          
So who is in charge? Who has the final say? You?

BROWNLEE        
Well, CERA does.

GREG                          
Not you?

BROWNLEE        
That's always been clear. No, I take recommendations from the department, which I'm obviously part of, to Cabinet.

GREG                          
Why is the CBD so much the focus of this 100-day time frame? We have people saying they're still paying 60%, 70% rates on houses that are completely unliveable. We're hearing time and time again about Portaloos still being used 14 months after the earthquake. Why is the CBD the focus?

BROWNLEE        
Well, it always was in the legislation, and the CBD becomes very very important for ensuring that the entire South Island economy has a centre base. Christchurch city provides that, and I think the business community have done a splendid job, and every indicator tells you that when you look at what they're doing. Can I just make the point, though, about the rates issue? There are two very important points there. Firstly, if you're in the red zone, you have a value on your property and you have two options for sale. We've extended those because there's some insurance issues that need to be considered more by some people. If you're in a white zone, where you've got the 100% rates release, it's because you simply can't access your property. It may have a 124 notice on it or some other such. Greg, there are huge complexities in all this thing. It is a much bigger disaster than most people recognise, and I think because Canterbury is doing so well, because Christchurch is doing so well in difficult circumstances, sometimes that's lost and a little bit forgotten.

GREG                          
Minister, no one's arguing it is a complex issue, but to that end, we're now looking at the 100-day time frame, which you have just explained. Also the 14-day...

BROWNLEE        
No, I haven't fully explained...

GREG                          
...the 14-day consent deadline - the 14 days for building consent. Use the ChristChurch Cathedral as an example of that. There are still major ructions about it as it's being pulled down that it could be saved. If you applied 14 days to that, you'd have a riot on your hands, wouldn't you? Isn't that just rushing even more then 100 days?

BROWNLEE        
No, once again you're missing the point here. The draft city plan called for a 14-day consenting process, and how we achieve that is part of the work to be done over the next 100 days or so. And in relation to the Cathedral, the issue there is for the owners - what do they do with it going forward? They are not putting forward a building consent at the present time, because they still want to assess what they might be able to do with that building.

GREG                          
Do you rate this council...?

BROWNLEE        
So you're confusing a whole lot of things.

GREG                          
Do you rate this council in charge of the recovery?

BROWNLEE        
Oh, look, there's been no council, I think, in anywhere in the world that's had to take what they have. And they're going through their annual plan process at the moment. The CBD, as I said, is about 39 hectares out of the greater Christchurch area, which is one of the biggest metropolitan areas anywhere in New Zealand, outside Auckland. Well, in fact it is second only to Auckland.

GREG                          
We've spoken to most of the councillors this week. A number of... Most of them said they'd never been contacted. You're on the record as saying it was a collaborative process and that you were working, quote, "in cooperation with the City Council". Is what you're saying just lip service?

BROWNLEE        
No, I'm very surprised by those comments. I assume that the council have their own processes to inform their councillor members. That's not my responsibility.

GREG                          
So between you and the council, they're clearly not being told. Should they be told? If they're going to be at the forefront of rebuilding this city, shouldn't they be informed of all that's happening in Wellington, all that's happening with you?

BROWNLEE        
Look, you're trying to make a case that I don't think exists. The reality is that the Christchurch City Council has not had any of its particular powers stripped off. The CBD plan was always, in the legislation, the responsibility, ultimately, for CERA. The consenting arrangements remain with the Christchurch City Council. It'll be Christchurch City Council planners in collaboration with CERA who work on giving life to the city's plan, which thousands of Cantabrians, thousands of Christchurch residents had an input into, and is a good plan, over the next 100 days.

GREG                          
So it's not your role to keep the council up to date with what's going to happen?

BROWNLEE        
Well, we do, and we work through appropriate channels.

GREG                          
You just said you didn't. You just said that's not your role.

BROWNLEE        
No, no, see, you're winding yourself up into some sort of conspiracy thing here, which is not simply there. My relationship is with the Mayor and the chief executive of the council, as it appropriately should be. What they do with the information is beyond me, is beyond my concern, but what I will say is this - that you do have, inside that council, a pretty significant lobby who have different political objectives to many of the rest of us, and I think you're seeing a little bit of that at play as well. But, look, the council aren't the issue here. The issue is how do we ensure that the CBD plan that the residents of Christchurch, the residents of Canterbury committed so much time to and have really embraced does have life breathed into it and we see some movement very quickly? We've still got hundreds of buildings that need to be demolished.

GREG                          
100 days - that's the magic figure that's been put on this. It's now less than 100 days, obviously. What are we going to see in 100 days?

BROWNLEE        
We used the 100 days because I think it's somewhat symbolic in Canterbury. We were able to build a temporary...

GREG                           So is it 100 days or not?

BROWNLEE        
Well, you know, I could have answered by now if you hadn't have interrupted, but they point is that we in Canterbury - you know, various groups there - built a temporary stadium - it's a splendid thing - in that 100 days, and so 100 days is somewhat symbolic, but, yes, yes, in 100 days, we'll have a blueprint for how the development is to move forward. I think the issue really is not the vision that's in the plan; it's a very good vision. The issue is how are the rules going to be constructed to give life to the vision, and that's where I think there's a little more work to be done. A lot of that work is already underway.

GREG                          
So 100 days, we'll have a blueprint?

MR BROWNLEE        
That's right.

GREG                          
And then what? How many more days?

BROWNLEE        
Well, for goodness sake, you've got 1800 buildings in the city that are either badly damaged and need demolition or have been demolished. Takes a long time to build 1800 buildings. Work it out. If you open one day, how many years is it?

GREG                          
When does the 100-day or 30-day or whatever rule you're going to apply to it go beyond the CBD? When are you going to put this 100-day or whatever days you decide to put on to, say, the eastern suburbs, on the Portaloos - things like that? Are they ever going to get that sort of treatment?


BROWNLEE        
Well, look, I'm a little uncertain about the Portaloo issues, because while there is some areas where the sewer is compromised, I'm told that there should not be anybody relying on a Portaloo who does not have to for some other reason. There will be people who are staying in the properties by choice who might be in that position. I can't comment too much about that. But when you come to the eastern suburbs, we've got 6000 households in the eastern suburbs who have been given either option one or two to exit those areas, and that's a process that's on-going. 4000-plus families so far have accepted the government offer. Many of those have already settled and moved on. So people are getting on with their business in that regard, and, you know, I'm not keen to start saying the area that people are currently living is soon to be this or that. I think we've got to give them a little time, and it's April next year when people do have to move on there. Can I say, the horizontal infrastructure - roads the length of New Zealand have to be repaired, along with sewer, water, waste water. That's working very very well.

GREG                          
We will have to leave it there. Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, thank you for your time.

BROWNLEE     
No worries. Thank you.

 

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