Government to shift CERA into PM’s department, but infrastructure providers suggest alternative

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee announced a programme yesterday changing how the Government delivers its support.

The Council for Infrastructure Development promptly suggested an alternative which, chief executive Stephen Selwood said, would overcome inevitable longer-term conflicts.

Mr Brownlee said the Government programme’s 4 elements were:

  • CERA will become a departmental agency within the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet (similar to the move made recently by the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management), to maintain momentum in the rebuild and place natural disaster recovery work at the core of central government planning
  • A transition plan will be put in place to hand over responsibility & powers from CERA to local government, other government agencies or other delivery vehicles
  • A stocktake of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 (CER Act) will result in the removal or scaling back of some of the legislation’s powers which are no longer required, and an extension of any likely to be required for longer
  • An advisory group of local government & other stakeholders will be appointed to help guide the development of the transition plan and review of CER Act powers, and give Christchurch a strong voice in this work.

Mr Brownlee said: “This is most certainly not a winding down of the Government’s commitment to the recovery. It’s recognition that with large parts of the recovery programme well underway and with some, such as the EQC-managed repair programme, almost complete, we need to ensure we’re focusing our efforts appropriately and working on how & when some governance arrangements will transition to longer-term oversight.”

He said this new phase for CERA would take effect from 1 February 2015.  There would be no immediate changes for staff.

Council for Infrastructure Development chief executive Stephen Selwood suggested a different transition: “Given the strategic importance of the Canterbury rebuild, it is logical that the transition from emergency governance arrangements is overseen by the Prime Minister’s office, but to maintain momentum in the city centre an expert development agency is an option that should be investigated

“Ultimately, responsibility for communities affected by the earthquakes will need to be restored to local authorities. Migrating CERA into the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet will help ensure CERA remains focused on the recovery while options are considered.

“However, as the Government’s role in Canterbury gradually becomes less overt, and as local authorities, particularly the Christchurch City Council, assume wider responsibilities, there is a risk that politics begins to impede progress.

“In no place is there likely to be greater potential for cross-governance friction than in the central city. The scale of central government investment there is such that the Government can never fully extract itself from decision-making processes, something the city council will increasingly find impedes its efforts to deliver its objectives.

“The Government is either going to have to surrender some decision-making authority over national resources to a local authority or a third party acting on behalf of both institutions.

“Given the success of specialist urban redevelopment agencies overseas, including in Australia, it makes a lot of sense that such an organisation be considered to undertake delivery of the central city blueprint on behalf of the Government & Christchurch City Council.

“Aside from depoliticising such an important & sensitive issue, establishing an independent dedicated body will facilitate appointment of highly skilled specialists in urban redevelopment, procurement & delivery who understand market drivers and can deliver on identified outcomes.

“These have not traditionally been the kind of skills maintained by the Government, and after the central city rebuild is complete it is not likely that these skills will be required further.”

Attribution: Ministerial & NZCID releases.

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