“Clarifying the value system is the greatest contribution a leader can make.”
— Peters and Waterman

Dear Members

A big thanks to some of our members who sent Minister Brownlee letters of dissatisfaction with the Ministers decision to not allow projects temporary use of the residential red zone and therefore putting the kibosh on the Recycle Project. Interestingly they were sent a response from the Minister of which we have received copies and they can be found here. We thank those residents for sending these letters on to us as we found the content interesting although somewhat confusing.

We know many of us have had these official letters that would read well to someone outside of the earthquake zone but mean nothing at all to those who live here and experience life in Canterbury. This one is full of misrepresentations and it begs a rant.

Our Rant
The Ministers starts out with a statement of regret in his delay to responding to the residents. This is a wonderful apologetic nature for not replying sooner as it has been almost a month since the Minister was sent letters about his decision. However let’s also consider the irony of this apologetic response when CanCERN has been working with CERA for over a year on the Recycle project, waited months for responses via CERA from the minister and, as we expect, when we finally receive the OIA paperwork, that the Minister would have seen a request to start this project on his desk many times over many months. Our estimate would be that the community and members of CERA would have spent a minimum of 100 hours of work to make this idea incredibly palatable to the minister and the tax-payers of New Zealand. Will the minister be apologizing to CERA and CanCERN for the lost time and energy that was expended? Why didn’t the Minister just say NO to any use of the Residential Red Zone from the outset and save a lot of time, money, energy and frustration?

The Minister goes on to say that a balance of the good intentions of the recycle project ‘must be carefully considered with the priority need to clear and maintain the red zone and its possible future uses’. We thank the Minister for recognizing the good intentions of this project but we are confused. Does this mean that the Minister was not aware that CanCERN would maintain the site, clear it when the project was finished or leave when the site needed to be used for something else? Does this mean that the Minister was not aware that CanCERN already had a very good relationship with CERA and that we had already discussed, many times over, the possible implications for using the red zone and found very common sense ways to ensure that this project would not hinder government operations in any way?

We expect the Minister did know about this, so what is the motive for halting temporary use of the residential red zone?

We can only speculate, in the absence of any clear information, that the Minister doesn’t want to set a precedent and have businesses grumbling about community projects like ours getting preferential treatment. This is possible but highly unlikely as most of the contractors working in this space are very aware of this project and 100% supportive of its success. On the other end of the speculation spectrum maybe the Minister has done this to ensure that residents that still remain in the residential red zone are given no excuses to stay longer. Or perhaps he just didn’t like being publicly challenged for deciding to charge a community group commercial fees. Obviously we are none the wiser as to why the minister made this decision.

The Minister goes on to list the negative effects of such a project in the residential red zone. To save time we have listed these below and put our thoughts and questions alongside for you to make up your own mind on the Ministers reasoning.
1. Minister – ‘These activities may slow the clearance operation’
CanCERN – How does the storage of items in an off street garage on a site that has already been cleared slow the pulling down of houses? We think this is not possible.
2. Minister – ‘This operation may constrain the future use process’
CanCERN – The removal of 1 garage can be done in less than one day, by volunteers. And as far as we know there was to be a contract agreement between CanCERN and CERA that would have ensured that there would be no interference between present or future government operations in the red zone.
3. Minister – “there are ongoing costs – security, property management, staff and contractors, vegetation management, administration and rates”
CanCERN – Our presence would have been at our expense. We had fenced off the site, managed the vegetation and taken on the liability of the storage shed and its contents and gained temporary resource consent for the storage of the items. It is true the government would be paying the rates for this piece of land but we thought the savings being made by reducing waste going to landfill and giving materials to community projects would surely have covered a rates bill on a bare piece of land.
4. The Minister then talks about lease agreements and landlord responsibilities and liabilities.
CanCERN – This point is a repetition but as mentioned above we were to take on the liabilities, we had already received a consent agreement from the City Council and the lease agreement that he refers to is a piece of A4 paper that can be filled and signed in a matter of minutes by CERA and is a standard agreement that CERA uses regularly with contractors that are working in the Red Zone.

At the end of the letter the Minister states that CERA are working with CanCERN to identify sites that could be used in the green zone to make this allow this project to continue. This is true and we thank the work and support of the CERA teams that are working very hard to try and make this happen. Unfortunately it is hard to ‘pull up’ from a response like this when so much work has been done and everyone feels like they are back at square one.
CanCERN, like many in the community, still wonders why, at the final hurdle, the Minister rejected the use of the residential red zone and put a halt to such a community focused project.
Similarly we wonder if there could have been a very different outcome had CERA Chief Executive, Roger Sutton taken on the rightful delegation of decision making for this operation, which has nothing to do with legislation or government, and given this project the green light many months ago. A challenge for CERA to consider.

A selection of reflections to the question – what is the most common mistake that leaders make in post-disaster recovery?

  • “If only I had done what the people clearly wanted and needed, and not been persuaded by superiors who did not understand the community”
  • “I did not consider ALL who may be affected by my decision making. It didn’t have to happen more than once for me to learn a lesson”.
  • “Leaders typical mistake is to think they know what communities want and don’t put the effort in to find out.”
  • “Putting ego above the needs of people and not listening – thinking they know the answers already.”
  • “Act too quickly, do not explain what they are doing; treat the affected community as mugs, rather than people with an interest in their own community.”
  • “Thinking that they can do it all – their way”
  • “They don’t always tap into knowledge or ask the right questions”
  • “Not being willing to listen – to take on the wisdom of other people”
  • “Listen to your instincts and common sense, and don’t be bullied by those who don’t understand the field realities”
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