It’s vital Aucklanders felt the decision-making process was fair, says Phil Twyford. Photo / Dean Purcell
The MP for an Auckland suburb impacted by floods is urging mayor Wayne Brown to set up an independent body to handle appeals for categorisations of damaged homes.
Te Atatū MP Phil Twyford said affected homeowners needed to have full confidence in the recovery process.
“On behalf of my constituents, who were really badly flooded in January, I’m asking the mayor to develop an independent appeals mechanism for the categorisation process,” he said.
Damaged homes are placed into categories that determine whether the owners would be offered a buy-out or if other interventions were required.
“Hundreds of people are waiting to get a categorisation,” Twyford said.
“And thousands of people are in the so-called Category 2, where they’re being told they can stay where they are but there’s going to have to be something done either at a property or a neighbourhood level to reduce the risk of flooding.”
In an open letter to the Auckland Council, Twyford said it was vital Aucklanders felt the decision-making process was fair.
“For thousands of Auckland homeowners who were flooded this decision is absolutely critical for their future,” he told RNZ.
“So I’m determined to see that the decision-making process is robust and based on evidence, and I think having a truly independent appeals process will help us get there.”
Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson said the Auckland Council already had a process for homeowners to challenge categorisation decisions.
“We are discussing our initial categorisations with them and taking their feedback where they think we may have made a mistake or missed some information,” she said.
But Twyford said it was vital for the process to be independent.
“I’m worried that if it’s not [independent] and people disagree with the categorisation of their property, they will worry that it was an arbitrary process, that it was an in-house stitch up,” he said.
“I think people need the ability to go to some kind of appeals mechanism and challenge or question the decision. It’s got to be independent, it can’t just be an appeal process to the same people who made the first decision, because if that’s the case I don’t think people will have confidence in it.”
Earlier this week National leader Christopher Luxon called for the establishment of a flood and cyclone ombudsman to review government decisions and make recommendations when homeowners had not been treated fairly.
But Twyford dismissed National’s policy.
“Well, I’m not sure an ombudsman will do the trick,” he said.
“The key here is you’ve got to have an appeal mechanism with the power to determine decisions, they need to able to look at the evidence, draw on technical skills and, if they decide the initial decision wasn’t right, they need to have the power to make a new determination.”
Twyford said a similar process had been proven in Australia.
“In New South Wales, a couple of years ago they had terrible floods, their reconstruction authority has exactly what I’m asking for. It has an arms-length independent appeals process, and I think that’s something we need here.”
Twyford admitted his proposal was not cheap, but said it was worth the cost.
“You’d have to staff it, but we’re talking about a $1 billion recovery programme so we need to spend a little to ensure that we get good quality decisions and to ensure the taxpayer’s investment is well looked after.”
He was hoping the proposal would make it on to the agenda of October’s governing body meeting.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with councillors and council staff, and I know the council is giving thought to this issue right now,” he said.
“My aim is to try to win support from the mayor and councillors for this idea so they can include it in their decision-making next month.”
Simpson did not rule out the possibility of making the appeals process independent.
“There will be a process for homeowners to challenge our buyout offers,” she said.
“What exactly that looks like is not concluded, but its degree of independence is one thing we are considering.”
Simpson said an independent audit of the council’s categorisation process was being performed by Tonkin and Taylor.