Govt's quake rebuild unit called anti-democratic

12:30 pm on 19 April 2012

Christchurch city councillor Yani Johanson says the Government's takeover of the central-city rebuild is anti-democratic.

On Wednesday the Government announced the establishment of the Christchurch Central Development Unit. Answerable to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, it will be headed by the authority's former demolition manager, Warwick Isaacs.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says the unit has the special powers needed to bring in changes quickly.

But Mr Johanson told Morning Report the Government has removed another layer of local democracy by negotiating a secret deal with Christchurch mayor Bob Parker.

"The Government is simply telling us what's happening as an elected council," he says, "not involving us in any serious discussion about what we think should happen - and I think that's wrong."

Mr Johanson says the Government should work with the council, instead of taking over.

No secret deal, says Brownlee

Mr Brownlee says however that the Government has acted transparently in taking over the rebuild.

He told Morning Report any suggestion the Government is being anti-democratic is absurd and there is no secret deal.

"There's been a collaborative process and a discussion process going on for quite a while," Mr Brownlee says. "We needed to work out: could the city council with its resources deliver this plan in a timely fashion or did it need to have...a few more powers in order to make things happen."

Prime Minister John Key says the unit is not a sign of government dissatisfaction with the Christchurch City Council, nor was it created to override the council.

The move has the support of local business leaders. The chairman of the Canterbury Business Leaders Group, Don Elder, says that out of the range of options available to lead the rebuild, the new unit looks like the fastest way to get the job done.

The head of the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce, Peter Townsend, also backs the move: "I think the people of Christchurch have decided it's time to move on... We can't keep spinning our wheels."

Mr Townsend told Morning Report that the Government's move does not mean democracy has gone out the window.

'Open the gates and let people through'

The chair of the Central City Business Association, Anthony Gough, says he's very pleased that the Government has taken the leadership role in devising the new CBD.

"I want to see the city reopened as soon as possible," Mr Gough says. "The sort of nanny state where we keep everyone out has got to move forward.

"There aren't any real dangerous buildings left in the city. We should open the gates and let people through - open the city and and get on with the job."

The blueprint for the rebuild, which will be based on a draft plan from the city council that includes input from residents, will be given to Mr Brownlee in 100 days' time.