New Zealand Law Society - Making a positive difference for Christchurch people: Bronwyn Arthur

Making a positive difference for Christchurch people: Bronwyn Arthur

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By Elliot Sim

Bronwyn Arthur, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s (CERA) chief legal advisor, says the organisation has until mid-2016 to make as much difference as it can for Christchurch.

In April 2016 the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 (CER Act) is revoked. As CERA was created by an Order in Council, it does not automatically expire at the same time as the Act but both the legal team and CERA probably have a limited life span.

“For the next 18 months we will be very busy with construction contracts and procurement for the Anchor Projects. We will be dealing with land issues including future use for the ‘residential red zone’ properties that the Crown owns; inputting to the district plan review, which is being undertaken by a hearings panel established under the CER Act; assisting with a recovery plan for Lyttelton; assisting with judicial reviews of the use of the CER Act powers and providing for the transition to whatever is coming after CERA,” she says.

Ms Arthur, who graduated from Victoria University in 1984 with an LLB Hons and a BA in Anthropology and later an LLM, was seconded to CERA for four months from the Crown Law Office to assist with the establishment of CERA. This secondment stretched to 10 months and since January 2012 she has been the chief legal advisor now leading an eight person legal team.

“I am very proud of what we have achieved as a team given the diverse range of work we have had to cover in such a short time” Ms Arthur says.

Before her appointment, Ms Arthur was the Team Leader of the Natural Resources Team at Crown Law, spent 15 years as Crown Counsel and worked for the Ministry for the Environment for eight years as a solicitor where she gained expertise in the Resource Management Act 1991. She also held various roles in private practice law firms.

CLANZ award

One of the highlights of her career came when she was the 2012 winner of the CLANZ Chapman Tripp Public Sector In-House Lawyer of the Year.

This honour was awarded to Ms Arthur in recognition of the daunting task she had to carry out of providing interpretation and conveying application of the CER Act in a national scenario that had led to a state of national emergency being declared.

When CERA was being formed, Ms Arthur says there was no precedent as to how to run the organisation let alone the legal team, and with the CER Act only valid for five years, she admits it has created some “amazing challenges” – good and bad.

To begin with, CERA was only expected to comprise of 50 to 70 people, she reflects. It is now more like 400 and working alongside people with little to no experience in government departments means there was confusion in legislative processes.

Amazing job

“I think CERA has done an amazing job in trying but exhilarating circumstances. Certainly things could have been done better and some will argue that CERA has been involved in things it shouldn’t have, but overall I consider CERA has made a very positive difference to the people of greater Christchurch,” Ms Arthur says.

It was never intended, she says, when CERA was established that it would be purchasing over 7,000 properties in the worst affected areas or would be taking the lead on building major civic institutions.

“CERA’s role has developed as circumstances have changed. I think we are now moving into a new phase of working much closer with the local authorities to ensure there is a smooth transition,” Ms Arthur says.

Once the CER Act is no longer in force, Ms Arthur says she will be having a “long holiday as the pace has been relentless” and she can’t see that changing in the next 18 months.

“After that, I don’t know, but given the unusual experiences I have had since being at CERA I now feel I can take on most legal challenges when it comes to setting up a team and working without precedents,” she says. 

This profile was first published in LawTalk 849, 29 August 2014, page 9.

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