Following the release of the Independent Ministerial Advisor’s report in June which found that things weren’t up to scratch at the Earthquake Commission, it is great to see some positive changes being made in progressing claims and communication with claimants.
Most of these changes have been really practical and directly addressed some of the issues at EQC. As a result, 46 percent of the claims that were on the books in May have been resolved – and some of these were really tricky ones that had been awaiting resolution for a long time.
All claimants now have got a case manager who is their main point of contact. This means that they don’t have to start their story over and over again when they call EQC to talk to someone about their claim. Staff numbers have been increased to meet demand – unlike the previous Government which reduced staff numbers at the start of last year even though the number of claims kept rising. These staff members are also experts, which ensures that they are well equipped to handle the workload and can work effectively.
It’s been heartening to receive feedback that shows as a consequence of some of these changes, people are having a more positive experience with EQC. We know we still have more to do but we’re working hard to ensure that we get these claims sorted so that people can get on with their lives.
One of the highlights of the past few weeks in Parliament has been seeing the legislation that will deliver the Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal introduced to the House.
I’m delighted that we are making good progress on our pre-election promises and that we’re able to provide Cantabrians with an option to resolve outstanding claims.
Over the past few years I have continued to hear from so many people from all over the city about their struggle to finally resolve their claim and get on with their lives.
As Minister Responsible for the Earthquake Commission, I have made it a priority to ensure this Government can enable homeowners to reach settlement on long-standing residential insurance claims, including with Southern Response and the Earthquake Commission.
The tribunal will do this, with the ability to award costs or general damages and to appoint independent expert advisers to assist the tribunal in understanding technical aspects of a claim. We also recognise that each claim is unique, and that’s why there is flexibility to tailor the tribunal’s approach to the needs of each case.
The tribunal will also act proactively, managing cases throughout the process and setting timeframes that must be followed as claims progress.Delays have been long and frustrating for many, so providing closure is vital for Cantabrians who want to get on with their lives. The tribunal will make a significant difference to those who are still awaiting resolution.
It is exciting to see some real momentum growing behind a number of anchor projects around Christchurch.
Since becoming Minister, I have made it a priority to ensure that we can deliver faster progress and outstanding facilities for the people of Canterbury. In August, groundworks for the Metro Sport Facility will finally get underway.
This substantial piece of work on over 30,000m2 of ground will take around eight months to complete, with the installation of more than 7000 in-ground stone columns. By the end of this, we will see the ground work finished and ready for the main construction works to begin in March or April 2019.
Having inherited a project that was already behind schedule with a significant cost blow-out of over $75 million, it’s fantastic to see that we are moving quickly along to see real physical changes at the site.
I’m looking forward to seeing the work get into full swing and ramp up as we move towards an expected completion date in 2021. We’ve been able to utilise the space well in the meantime by providing Christchurch Hospital staff with an extra 170 parking places, ensuring the safety of staff while a more permanent solution is developed. I’m delighted to see the Metro Sports Facility moving ahead after so many years of delays.
One of the priorities for me as the Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration is ensuring that we are well placed to learn from the Canterbury Earthquakes sequence going ahead. We know that there are valuable lessons to be learned from such an unprecedented event that will enable us to make sure our communities are more resilient and prepared in the future.
It was a great pleasure to announce recently that there will be a two-day symposium held in November this year in conjunction with the Christchurch City Council. This symposium will also provide a platform to lead into a bigger international event that will mark the quake’s tenth anniversary in 2021.
We anticipate the involvement of up to 250 participants from across the public and private sectors, representing those who have been involved in the local recovery, as well as those that may be impacted by future events. Crucially, the symposium and workshops will also give communities the chance to share their wisdom and experiences as those at the coalface of the recovery.
Given New Zealand’s complex geography, we know that it’s merely a question of when and not if another community faces the same challenges. Our communities need to know that the disaster and recovery systems are effective and robust.
The symposium will provide a unique opportunity for community leaders, recovery practitioners and academics to learn from what’s happened in the past and to make sure we get it right in the future.
For seven years, a generation of young Cantabrians has had to make do without important sporting facilities. These were meant to be provided by early 2016 in the Metro Sports Facility, a proposed world class sporting facility.
When this Government came to office, all this had come to was an empty lot. Beset by a $75 million budget blowout, the project was stalled with no realistic plan for completion. Likewise, there had been no real progress on plans or budgets for a stadium for the city to replace the one lost in the earthquake.
This wasn’t a scenario we were willing to let continue. Over the last few months the Crown has worked closely with Christchurch City Council, Sport Canterbury and the sporting codes themselves to get both facilities back on track.
Together, we have completed the detailed design of the Metro Sports Facility. Through a combination of changes to the procurement approach and final design, the estimated cost of the project was reduced by more than $50 million. This long-awaited facility is on track to open by the end of 2021.
Likewise, we’ve worked together to fast-track work on the stadium and work can begin on a detailed business case. The details will be subject to that business case, but we foresee a roofed stadium that will allow the city to host major rugby test matches and other significant sports and entertainment events.
Together we’ve been able to get real progress on projects that have been struggling and add a big boost of momentum to the recovery of our central city.
As we head in to the 8th year since the earthquakes, Canterbury has so much to be proud of. Hundreds of thousands of homes have been repaired, large swaths of our city have been rebuilt and some truly amazing new public spaces have been created. For most people, the trauma of the earthquakes has passed, their homes have been repaired or rebuilt and life has returned to a “new normal.” A recent wellbeing survey by the DHB shows that for most people, wellbeing levels have returned to what they were before the earthquakes.
For too many people though, this progress has been elusive – for the just over two and a half thousand people still waiting for their EQC claim to be settled, life cannot move on. What’s even more frustrating for people is that almost all of these outstanding repairs are remedial repairs – cases where work has already been done but has had to be re-repaired because of issues or faulty work.
Getting progress for these people is a key priority for me as Minister – we cannot be said to have truly recovered from the earthquake until every Cantabrian can move on with their lives and have hope in their future. That’s why I’ve appointed an independent Ministerial Advisor to work with EQC’s board and management on a plan to urgently resolve these outstanding claims and get progress for these people at last.
Seven years is too long to wait, it’s time these people were finally able to move on.
One of the biggest remaining challenge of our rebuild is the ongoing mental health impacts of the earthquakes – especially for our kids. As well as the initial trauma, there have also been the years of slow grinding recovery, which has been especially hard for the people still stuck in broken homes and battling EQC or their insurance companies.
That is why there has been a 93 percent increase in demand for mental health services for young people in Canterbury since 2011.
This is something that our Government is committed to taking action on. It is why Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced we will give every child in Canterbury and Kaikoura access to a mental health professional through their school.
We will spend $28 million hiring a range of mental health professionals from counsellors to psychiatrists to work alongside schools and teachers to help our local kids get the support they deserve. The roll out will start in the east of Christchurch and Hornby and will be completed by mid-next year.
This policy has been designed alongside experts at the CDHB. They have been some of the unsung heroes of the recovery, providing mental health for people who need it most. By working in partnership with local experts, we have been better able to understand the needs of Canterbury kids, and have come up with a plan that I believe will make a huge difference for our young people.
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