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Eastern residents want strong advocates on council

Earthquake-affected residents want councillors who will go into bat for them over housing and insurance woes. Will candidates step up to the task? Sarah-Jane O’Connor reports.

Just a few weeks ago, Andrea Cummings met a resident a who had no working toilet. “This is three years on,” said Cummings, who is running for the Burwood/Pegasus Community Board.

These ongoing housing and insurance issues are “all-consuming for a lot of people,” she said. “It’s completely destroying their lives, they are running out of options.”

Cummings said the biggest failure in the earthquake response was a lack of empathy and awareness. “A lot of people that are leading the response seem to be quite shocked when they hear these stories.”

“They seem to be running the response from their big ivory towers and really not coming out and meeting the people,” she said. “So the people are really feeling as if their recovery is being done to them, rather than with them.”

With a new council, Cummings hopes for an “entire culture change”. “They need to start working a lot closer with the residents.” Right now, the council “holds all the aces,” she said. “The residents of the city need a compassionate council. A fair and just council.”

Kiri Hider was displaced from her earthquake-damaged home for the September 2010 local government election, and said she did not know she was allowed to vote in her original ward.

“I was from the east, I would have voted for people in the east. I was expected to vote for people who I knew nothing about.”

Hider started the TC3 Residents Group to support struggling home-owners, and said few councillors had pushed to advocate for earthquake-affected residents.

Another name in earthquake advocacy is Ali Jones, who has helped residents deal with insurance issues and is running for the Christchurch City Council in Shirley/Papanui. She hopes to see the new council taking a more pro-active approach to advocating for residents.

“I still believe that city councillors should be and should have been far more engaged with their communities with these ongoing problems with EQC and insurance,” Jones said.

If successful in her council bid, Jones hopes to bring knowledge about TC3 land and insurance issues to the council.

Pauline Cotter is a current community board member for Shirley/Papanui, and is seeking election for council and community board for the ward.

With the current council in “disarray” Cotter is looking for a new council to bring a focus back to earthquake-affected residents. “We need to prioritise people. They are feeling forgotten, and they are living in homes with daily reminders,” she said. “We need to give people faith there is something happening.”

“We are nowhere near out of the woods yet.”

Mayoral hopeful Paul Lonsdale thought the best way for the council to aid residents dealing with earthquake issues was to repair the relationship with the central government, especially the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

“If they were working together, they could at least sit around the table and start pushing the issues,” he said of the council, which he said had not been working effectively. “I wouldn’t be standing it if wasn’t in such a mess.”

Lonsdale said it was clear from Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee’s comments about the current council that the relationship between council and government needed repair.

But he maintained that the role of the council was not to “rebuild houses”.

“It’s not the council’s job to actually fix those houses, but the council could certainly put some pressure on,” he said.

Meanwhile, for Burwood/Pegasus councillor Glenn Livingstone, advocacy is a “fundamental role of being elected”.
In response to those who say that the council’s role is not one of advocacy, he said: “they are our constituents, we are there to represent them”.

“There’s a real truism in the saying ‘knowledge is power’,” Livingstone said of residents who were coming up against insurance companies. “They are all at sea. How can you empower them?”

Glen Clark, Registrar of Electors for east Christchurch, said ensuring east Christchurch home-owners knew they could vote in their original wards was “a huge focus” for the upcoming election.

By working with NZ Post, his team has tried to keep track of people moving from the red zone or otherwise earthquake-damaged homes to make sure residents receive voting papers.

Clark said the drive to allow east Christchurch residents to vote in their on electorates is based on the philosophy that “home is where the heart is”.

“It’s really important for people of Christchurch East to maintain their vote”.