Compensation call after unnecessary 'heartache'

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 07/12/2013
May Wisbey
IAIN McGREGOR/ Fairfax NZ

SEEING RED: Retiree May Wisbey, 82, has spent nearly three years waiting for a section 124 notice to be removed from her green-zoned Sumner home. Her neighbour’s house in La Mar Ln has stayed green, but hers has been rezoned red.

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Tessa Bowden and her family have been living in something of an island since their close-knit Lyttelton neighbourhood was zoned red.

She and husband Luke Hollister decided to wait out the Government's zoning review, while their neighbours packed up their lives and headed for the likes of Wellington, Kapiti Coast, Nelson and the Netherlands.

Now the zoning has been reversed to green, Bowden says her forced-out Walkers Rd neighbours should be compensated for the unnecessary stress and financial loss.

Thirty-three Port Hills properties had their red-zoning reversed to green as a result of the review announced by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee on Thursday.

Nine owners had settled with the Crown - most from Walkers Rd.

None of the neighbours wanted to leave when they were red-zoned in mid-2012, Bowden said.

Brownlee said the former owners would be given the option of buying back their homes at the sale price, but Bowden called this "ludicrous".

"We're talking about financial ruin. They've all had to make new lives," she said.

"The Government should stump up with compensation."

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) said yesterday the Crown would reimburse "reasonable expenses incurred" involved in selling the property to the Crown and then buying it back.

As for compensation, Cera said only that it would "work with those property owners on a case-by-case basis to better understand their situations and consider what support could be offered".

Bowden and Hollister were facing an equity loss of about $150,000 had they accepted the Crown offer - so to be rezoned green made the wait worthwhile.

"We're the luckiest. We can fix this house and hopefully get what it's worth. But we can't get our kids' friends back," Bowden said.

Christchurch lawyer Duncan Webb said residents "essentially forced to sell" could have a compensation case, albeit a complex one.

"All of that heartache would have been avoided had [the Government] made that decision the first time. It's a breach of a reasonable expectation of certainty and fair dealing," he said.

Brownlee would not reveal the cost of the review's rezonings, which also resulted in 237 green-zoned properties going red.

Those property owners had until March 31, 2014 to sign a sale and purchase agreement with the Crown, based on the property's 2007 rateable valuation.

A Cera spokesman said it would be unfair to change the rateable valuation calculation when more than 7000 property owners had accepted the Crown offer on that basis.

Cera would "carefully monitor" whether the deadline may need extending, he said.

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) said it learned of the outcome of the zoning review at the same time as property owners. A spokeswoman said it was still gathering information.

WHAT ROCKFALL DANGER?

 

"Sod em."

That is the message retiree May Wisbey has for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera).

The 82-year-old has spent three years waiting for a city council-issued section 124 notice to be removed so she can move back into her Sumner home.

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When she got a letter from Cera in the post, she expected it would say the notice would be lifted. Instead, it said there was no going back.

Her green-zoned Ocean View Tce home, which has a 2007 rateable valuation of $409,000, had been rezoned red due to rockfall danger.

In the 50 years she lived there, not a single rock had landed on it. Her neighbours' home in La Mar Ln has stayed green.

"I'd go back tomorrow," she said. "It's been a long wait. To have this as the outcome . . . it just makes you feel sick."

In the interim, she has been staying with her daughter - meaning her granddaughter had to share a room with her mum.

"If I refuse whatever they offer to buy the house and land, where do I go? The way the prices have gone up, I'll have a hard time even getting a house, let alone replacing it," she said.

On the other side of the valley, newly red-zoned Sumnervale Drive resident Bryan Grimshaw has already decided: He's not going anywhere.

His wife took the "bombshell" call from Cera and simply had to hang up. They had no idea they could be affected by the review.

They spent 18 months displaced from their green-zoned house after it was given a section 124 notice following the February 2011 quake.

When that lifted, the Earthquake Commission repairs were carried out. The couple spent a further $100,000 on renovations - new kitchen, new carpet. Cera has told them they would get none of their investment back.

Grimshaw already planned to refuse the Government offer. He will only move if they get a fair settlement and the 2007 rateable valuation was not that, he said.

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday the Government accepted there would be "winners and losers" from the 2007 RV offers.

"We accept that. But what we're trying to do across many thousands and thousands of properties across Christchurch is be as fair as we possibly can both to those homeowners and actually, ultimately, to taxpayers who pay the bill," he said.

- Fairfax Media

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