I would like to thank John Paterson for allowing me to deliver this address here. I have attended a number of meetings at the Parklands Baptist Church since the time I first ran as a candidate in Christchurch East in 1999. My experience of representing this electorate over the past three years has prepared me well for the role I now hold. I first met John when I was Minister for Senior Citizens - he taught me everything I needed to know for that role. So it is fitting that I make my address here. So why have I decided to make a State of the City address?
I want all political parties to come to Christchurch and talk to us about what we want to achieve as a city before they tell us what they are going to do. I don't want them to focus on each other either, because that would mean that the interests of the city would be sidelined. We need each party to demonstrate that they understand the challenges we face and the nature of the decisions we need them to make. Advancing the interests of this city is not something we can do on our own, but nor is it something that a government can do for us. A collaborative partnership is how I see it. That will require give and take.
Our council was elected with a mandate for transparency and accountability and we want the same commitment from our central government leaders. It was the lack of transparency and accountability that meant the council was not trusted by communities and strategic partners alike. Restoring that trust is a top priority. But to what end? What do we want to achieve? Here are the priorities that we have set for what will be a challenging year.
• A timeline to give residents certainty – people need to know the time frames for repairs and insurance/EQC claims settlements. We are identifying where the barriers are and helping to resolve them. People are our top priority. The same is true for business. The incredible resilience of many of our businesses will be tested if they don't get certainty. They, the developers and the investors need to know what is happening when;
• Clarifying and stabilising the city's financial situation and insurance settlement – we are determined to keep the rates increase within the 6.5% that was set by the previous council. I hate to make it look like we are focussing in on ourselves as a priority, but we have no choice if we are to deliver on our pledge to the city to get us back on track;
• Developing a city-wide recovery plan which connects the Central City and the Residential Red Zone to the rest of the city, giving us a helicopter-view of what is planned. This has to involve joined up communication and collaborative decisionmaking. We want a no wrong door policy that means that no matter who you ring – EQC, Council CERA, Insurer – no-one will tell you have called the wrong agency; whoever answers your call will make sure you get the answer you need;
• Housing: the first step on the path to recovery is admitting there is a problem - at last everyone agrees that we have a problem. Our council knows we need to urgently address the city's critical social housing needs but we also need to play a lead role (whether as a supplier, catalyst, and/ or partner) in the ensuring the city's most urgent need, affordable rental housing, is met;
• Dealing with stress: We know in a post-trauma environment, we need to work in close collaboration with a range of agencies. I will come back to this in a minute;
• Ensuring the council's planning and work programmes relating to the recovery are directly informed by the principles underpinning the Resilient Cities Network, particularly with respect to effective community engagement and ownership of the recovery process. This also means we need to reflect on the response and the recovery so we can learn the true lessons of what has occurred. We owe that to the people who died or were severely injured and those who have lost their homes; and
• Finally we need to lay down foundations for transitional arrangements, given that in April there are only 2 more years before the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act expires.
That's a strong agenda and will require determination to make it happen. The challenge is that we still don't have a complete picture of the financial situation we face as a city. Like many of you we are still some time away from settling our EQC and insurance issues. This creates a gap in our budget. Unfortunately we don't know how big that gap is; nor did the previous council when they entered into a binding cost-sharing agreement with the government. That is irresponsible.
They committed to projects that we cannot afford. They created expectations of levels of service that we cannot deliver. We have inherited this situation but we are taking responsibility. We have a company going through the books with a fine-tooth comb. We have another company about to get to work on getting the best returns out of our city holdings. We have established a steering group to drive our insurance settlement from a governance perspective. We are establishing a stand-alone risk and audit committee rather than as a sub-committee of the finance committee. We are going through the big ticket items agreed by the previous council and double-checking the decisions. We are trying to influence what's happening in the central city. The cost-sharing agreement may allocate lead responsibility to CERA for most of the projects, but it is the people of Christchurch who will inherit the ongoing cost associated with the debt to pay for them and the as yet unbudgeted operational expenditure. I doubt that the government ever intended such an outcome. But it shows why now more than ever, we need a government that wants to be our partner.
When I accepted the offer to co-host a community forum with the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, I did so because I knew that the sight of the two of us standing side-byside would be the powerful statement of unity that people were desperately wanting from their leaders. The strength of the applause that has accompanied this statement proves that I was right. People don't want disunity but at the same time they don't want spin. They want to hear it how it is and they want to know that we are devoting our energy on what matters. Four months into the role, I don't yet feel that we have forged the partnership with central government that we need to achieve to make real progress. This is no-one's fault. It is the tragic legacy of the past three and a half years. But time's up. We constantly hear the expression about the need to move on – well it's time for us, your political leaders, to move on too. We need that partnership and we need it now. We are making progress.
We have an agreement that we will join up our communications so instead of communications from CERA, EQC and the council, we all work to together to present a single trusted communication. It is early days, but we are making progress. Originally CERA was established as a nimble coordinating body but they are undertaking roles the statute didn't contemplate – 50 staff have ballooned to over 300. Here is a reminder about what the purposes of the legislation are:
• The purposes of this Act are--
• (a) to provide appropriate measures to ensure that greater Christchurch and the councils and their communities respond to, and recover from, the impacts of the Canterbury earthquakes:
• (b) to enable community participation in the planning of the recovery of affected communities without impeding a focused, timely, and expedited recovery:
• (c) to provide for the Minister and CERA to ensure that recovery:
• (d) to enable a focused, timely, and expedited recovery: • (e) to enable information to be gathered about any land, structure, or infrastructure affected by the Canterbury earthquakes:
• (f) to facilitate, co-ordinate, and direct the planning, rebuilding, and recovery of affected communities, including the repair and rebuilding of land, infrastructure, and other property:
• (g) to restore the social, economic, cultural, and environmental wellbeing of greater Christchurch communities:
It is time that we review how this is working in practice. I would be interested in how you feel you have been enabled to participate in the planning of the recovery of your community. What is your perspective of a focused, timely and expedited recovery? Many people are surprised that CERA has been directed to undertake roles that belong to the city. This potentially weakens the strength of our council and creates confusion for the public. And it would appear that someone has forgotten that the way to restore the well-being of the affected communities is by engaging them fully in the recovery. I attended a flooding meeting in October year and the last question of the night framed a sense of despair into a simple question.
The question related to all the different players involved in determining the myriad of issues that affect those in flood zones, who are told they have to repair their house even though they cannot mitigate an increased flood risk with higher finished floor levels. She ended her list of the players – EQC, insurers, the council, MBIE, CERA – with this simple question: Who is on my side? More than three years from the first earthquake, this single question represents a failure that is hidden in the completion statistics and, to our new Council it is a collective call to action. As I said people don't want spin. They don't want to be told that this is unprecedented or that the issues are complex. They know that. And they don't want to know what has been done for others. They want to be told where, when, how and why it will be done for them. And that's what our council wants too – a timeline with clear milestones for everyone, so we can celebrate progress along the way.
We want a city-wide plan to give us a holistic view that doesn't exclude the central city and the residential red-zone. We can't have our city divided with artificial boundaries and we can't continue to work in silos. If we are to deliver on our housing and public transport goals then we need to break down all the barriers – like we did after the earthquakes. I have been thinking about what I am going to say on Saturday, our third anniversary of that tragic day. I am aware that there are people who cannot 'move on' for a variety of reasons – for some it is unanswered questions, for others it is the lack of resolution of their claim, for others it is the disruption to their lives and the loss of a sense of power or control over their lives.
As a council we need to commit to finding the answers to those questions, resolving the outstanding issues and committing to learning the lessons of what has occurred. As a city it is my view we must unite as we did after the earthquakes. East and west, north and south, young and old – together we can do this. Everything I have read about recovery tells me we need legacies for communities affected by disaster to leave future generations so that it isn't just the tragedy of these earthquakes that defines this moment in our history. I found a report prepared in the wake of the Queensland floods, which encapsulated this in its title – it's called A Silver Lining: Community Development, Crisis and Belonging.
It talks about the need for strategies to build on the community spirit that was demonstrated during their flood crisis; strategies to help restore and strengthen the social fabric and create an even stronger foundation for future challenges and crises; community building ideas to help people with residual trauma, fears for the future and grief for what has been lost; and strategies to strengthen the community's ongoing capacity to show leadership, plan and engage with government, business and other stakeholders about solutions to problems created by the floods.
We too in Christchurch can find our silver lining. I see it around me every day in my new role. I see imagination, creativity and innovation at work. I see the wisdom of age combining with the energy of youth everywhere I look. There is life in vacant spaces as we now know. That is why I am so optimistic for what we will achieve now and what tomorrow will bring.