Landowners defy council order to leave

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 05:00 16/12/2011
Joe Bennett
Fairfax NZ

STAYING PUT: Joe Bennett says he and his dog, Blue, will stay put, despite a notice from the Christchurch City Council ordering them out.

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Christchurch homeowners defying notices to leave their rockfall-threatened properties have received an unwanted early Christmas present.

As Christchurch City councillors approved a full rates remission for red-stickered Port Hills properties, 27 notices to fix – effectively an immediate order to vacate the property – were yesterday hand-delivered by council staff.

Homeowners were given a deadline of January 18 to vacate or face fines of up to $200,000 or court action.

About 500 Port Hills homes were issued notices prohibiting entry after the February 22 earthquake because of rockfall, cliff collapse or landslide danger.

Lyttelton writer Joe Bennett, who has been outspoken about remaining in his home, said yesterday he planned to ignore the notice.

"I think most other people are as well. It'll end up in court," he said. "I have no doubt [the council] have batteries of lawyers, all at my expense yet again, and they wouldn't be doing this unless they were confident of their legal right, but that doesn't reduce my point of principle, which is that I'm responsible for my own fate."

Bennett questioned if the council was prepared to have ratepayers arrested.

"Are they going to put me in jail? If they're not going to put me in jail, I'll walk back up. If they turn off the water and power, I'll just camp here," he said.

Bill Skelton, of Lyttelton, said the timing so close to Christmas was a shock.

"This really puts the pressure on over the holidays," he said.

The notice was "illegal" because homeowners did not have a reasonable opportunity to fix the problem, Skelton said.

"I have no land problems, no structural problems with my house, and we are quite comfortable living here. We're not going to allow a broad-brush approach by the council to their own risk-averse attempt to minimise their own liability and putting us in a completely untenable financial position."

Council regulation and democracy general manager Peter Mitchell said the council was obliged to enforce the notices. "We cannot sit back and ignore the fact that people are living in homes that we have deemed are at risk of rockfall or other geotechnical issues. Our city is still at risk of another earthquake and the outcome could be tragic for these residents or people visiting their homes," he said.

"While we understand that it is difficult for people who cannot be in their homes, we must make safety the No1 priority. The notices have been issued for good reason and it is very important that people follow them."

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