Governments still under-prepared for the next big one

Dr Bryce Wilkinson
Insights Newsletter
26 January, 2018

Earthquake-prone New Zealand is still under-prepared for the next earthquake or major disaster. That is the central finding of The New Zealand Initiative’s research report, Recipe for disaster: Building policy on shaky ground.

While much of what the government did needed to be done, post-earthquake recovery was hindered by avoidable policy mistakes, some of which have still not been adequately addressed.

The initial blueprint recovery plan was too broad brush to give the business community the certainty it needed about future infrastructure provision and freedom of action.  It was also too ‘blue sky’ and too divorced from funding realities to be affordable. Yet the subsequent central government imposed plan aggravated some uncertainties and lacked community ‘buy-in’.

Many home owners had dreadful insurance experiences, from which much has been learnt. One test will be how well the promising revised insurance arrangements for responding to the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake work in practice.

An overarching lesson from the Christchurch earthquakes is that undue policy and regulatory uncertainty is terrible for recovery. Homeowners and business owners need to know quickly what the rules are for rebuilding their homes, lives and businesses.

In any future disaster, the government needs to do a better job in establishing early certainty about policies, plans, funding and regulation. Anchor projects and precinct designations should be avoided unless they were pre-planned for in Council’s long-term disaster contingencies.

The report also identifies weaknesses in recovery agency, CERA’s, governance arrangements.

It argues that government could and should better pre-plan for future disasters by:

  • establishing an off-the-shelf framework for a recovery agency;
  • including disaster contingencies in Council long-term plans;
  • progressing the changes to Earthquake Commission cover and insurance processes that were proposed by the last government and trialled in Kaikoura.

The report’s foreword was written by current Christchurch City Council mayor, Lianne Dalziel. She concurs with the need for more public debate about the lessons to be learned from the mistakes made in Christchurch.

Wellington is a particular concern being earthquake prone, a high population area and the seat of central government. CBD rebuild paralysis would be very disruptive. Government needs to progress work to make sure that the next community to be hit is given much greater regime certainty than was achieved in Christchurch.

You can download Recipe for disaster: Building policy on shaky ground on our website. 

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