Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Greens flag concerns but unanimous support for quake bills

The Green Party has lent its support for the dredging of Kaikoura's harbour and other quake work in a rare show of unanimity in Parliament. Photo / Alan Gibson
The Green Party has lent its support for the dredging of Kaikoura's harbour and other quake work in a rare show of unanimity in Parliament. Photo / Alan Gibson

The Green Party says it is concerned about the impact on the environment from emergency legislation for dredging Kaikoura's harbour but lent its support in a rare show of unanimity in Parliament.

The Hurunui/Kaikoura Earthquakes Emergency Relief Bill passed its first reading unanimously today and was sent to a Select Committee for brief consideration before it returns to Parliament on Thursday.

Modelled on the emergency legislation used in Christchurch, it will apply until April 2018 and suspends much of the burden of applying for resource consents for work required for the recovery.

That work is expected to include the dredging of Kaikoura Harbour to restore boat access to Kaikoura's port as well as work such as bulldozing land slips into the sea. It also relieves farmers of having to apply for consent to replace or repair farm damage, such as to stock water.

The Government says dredging the port is critical for bringing in supplies as well as the longer term future of Kaikoura's tourism and fisheries industries. It will also allow soil from landslips to be moved and possibly dumped into the sea.

The bay at Kaikoura. Photo /  Alan Gibson.
The bay at Kaikoura. Photo / Alan Gibson.

It will also allow farmers to forgo the resource consent process completely to repair or replace facilities on their land such as stock water and septic tanks, provided they advise the council within 40 days.

Green co-leader James Shaw said while the party did have some concerns about the environmental impact of work such as dumping rubble into the sea, Brownlee had agreed to include some safeguards.

That includes a requirement to consider how to reduce the impact on the environment before the emergency powers were used and to monitor the impact as much as possible.

He said the environment was critical for Kaikoura's tourism industry and Kaikoura District Council had a strong environmental reputation.

"We want to make sure their environmental reputation and tourism is protected."

Environment Canterbury and Kaikoura District Council were consulted on the bill. Brownlee said while no input was sought from environment groups, it was supported locally by the 'Guardians of Kaikoura.'

"One of the interesting things is you've had one of the biggest possible upsets to the ecosystem where the whole floor of the ocean has come up quite some distance. The whales are back, the seals are back, the dolphins are back and we are told the paua is showing very early signs of recovery ... as is the case with the koura.

You'd have to say nature is extremely adaptable in these circumstances."

The Resource Management Act requires those who undertake emergency works to notify it within seven days and apply for consent within 20 days. The Kaikoura legislation extends those timeframes to 40 working days and 120 working days respectively.

A second bill will also be sent for a truncated select committee process. That bill allows ministers to override local bylaws or council plans if necessary by passing an Order in Council.

Shaw said there were concerns about the powers the legislation gave to ministers. "We want to be sure they have learned the lesson of Christchurch."

A third bill which brings forward the date at which new Civil Defence powers come into effect from March next year to this month was to be passed under urgency.

Brownlee said that was because it had already gone through a full process.

It sets out the powers of Civil Defence once the initial emergency is over and the transition period begins. The only additional provision was an ability for local council to demand earthquake assessment reports from private building owners.

- NZ Herald

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