Earthquake protesters run out of options

Red-zone residents upset by the government's handling of land issues in post-quake Christchurch say they are running out of fight and becoming resigned to their fate.

For months a group of residents, led by the Rev Mike Coleman, have been rallying against the government's buy-out offer for red-zone properties, arguing it would leave some in the community crippled by debt and unable to afford land elsewhere in Christchurch.

The protest action has so far fallen on deaf ears, with Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee repeatedly refusing to meet them, or even answer their questions.

That has left them, Coleman said, at a loss as to what to do next and how to be heard.

"We've tried really hard to get people to listen but nobody wants to know. We just don't know what else we can do to highlight how people are battling, particularly for land. I've talked to a lot of folk who are resigned to their fate – they're devastated. They're feeling completely taken over by the whole thing but realise there is no way the government is going to change anything, negotiate or even listen.

"What can you do when you have a minister running something that doesn't really care. He genuinely believes there are winners and losers – and so does John Key. It's just the nature of an earthquake and if you've lost $150,000 because we're kicking you off your land that's just the way it is. I can't accept that," said Coleman.

"But most of us are tired now and I'm not sure if there is anything else we can do. It's very disheartening – I feel like we are climbing Mt Everest in jandals."

Coleman said he would be meeting other members of the Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network (WeCan) this week to discuss their next move.

In the meantime, Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel was considering seeking a declaratory judgement from the High Court on red-zone insurance issues.

She believes there are three key questions that need answering before people in the red zone can make an informed choice about whether to accept the government's offer to buy their entire property at its rateable value (known as option one) or whether they would be better off if they accepted the government's offer on their land and negotiated with their insurer over compensation for the damage to their home.

The questions she wants answered are:

Are insurers obliged to replace a property that would have been repairable had it not been located in the red zone?

Is the Earthquake Commission (EQC) obliged to pay out the formula or minimum section size even if the individual section would have been repairable for less if it had not been re-zoned?

What is the market value of properties under a compulsory acquisition order?

Dalziel said she had been unable to get answers from Brownlee so had decided to ask the the government to back a request for a declaratory judgement.

"These questions are important because the government has made much of this offer being voluntary, saying people can simply continue to deal with their insurer and the EQC.

"But we still don't know what that would mean," Dalziel said.

Of the more than 6000 property owners in Christchurch's residential red zone, fewer than half have made a decision on what offer they will accept. As at November 29, 782 property owners had selected option one and 1983 option two. Twenty nine red-zone property owners have contacted the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority to said they wanted to be in a different zone.

Sunday Star Times