Chch's Port Hills alive with the sound of anger

17:00, Jun 03 2013
May Wisby
FRUSTRATED: 82-year-old May Wisby has been unable to live in her home in the two and a half years since the February earthquake due to the rockfall risk.

Port Hills green-zoners barred from their homes are seeing red.

More than two-and-a-half years after the February 2011 earthquake, 51 property owners zoned green by the Government still cannot return home because of Christchurch City Council-issued Section 124 notices - or red stickers - which prohibit entry for safety reasons.

Those affected have questioned why, with access to the same geotechnical data, the council and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) engineers have differing views on the risks.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told The Press the council had been "very involved" in the zoning process.

The "vast majority" of red-stickered homes in the Port Hills green zone were not affected by natural hazards. "If someone is on green land and has an S124 notice, then the advice that's been given to me is that there is an issue with the built property, not with the natural hazards."

Most red-stickered home-owners spoken to by The Press were affected by either landslip or rockfall. Some had damage to retaining walls.


The S124 notice on Chip Felton's Mt Pleasant home refers to "ground movement and ground cracking" on the slope above the house, with the potential for "further ground movement to impact the dwelling".

Brownlee's view was initially supported on Friday by council acting building operations manager Kelvin Newman at the unveiling of a successful Cera land remediation in Hillsborough.

However, Newman later said S124 notices on Port Hills properties were "generally because of hazards other than the damage to buildings or land on the property itself, such as potential slips and rock falls that threaten buildings or people's safe access to them".

Those affected have three main options - land remediation or protective structures, accept an insurance payout for the house or appeal the S124 to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) - all of which come with potential fish hooks.

Protection measures would be expensive and not guaranteed to gain consent.

Most insurance policies pay full replacement only if the house is damaged beyond repair. Those able to receive a payout would still be forced to write off the near worthless land as it was unlikely to gain new building consent.

The council has fought to keep S124s in place in at least one case appealed to the MBIE.

A fourth option - to be rezoned green to red - remains for those waiting for the Cera review expected to be released this month.

One Sumner house was red-stickered after being hit by a washing machine-sized boulder in the February 2011 quake, but was later zoned green. Three other rocks fell just short. The homeowner, who did not want to be named, said the decision "raised some questions".

His insurance company was "dragging chain" because of the uncertainty, but he was pragmatic.

"We are between the the proverbial rock and a hard place. The difference is we choose not to be upset and we do not take it out on anyone," he said.



After 50 years living on the hills above Sumner, rocks hold no fear for May Wisby.

The 82-year-old's views on the risk appeared to be vindicated when the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority last year zoned the property green.

However, a city council-issued section 124 notice has prevented Wisby from living in the house for more than 2 years.

She told The Press she wanted to return.

"Before there were houses up on La Mar Ln [the street above her home], we were more open to any rockfall then than we are now. As far as I'm concerned, I was perfectly safe up there."

Rocks fell next door during the quakes, but not on her property.

It was not immediately red-stickered after the quake, and the S124 was removed before being applied for a second time.

The sticker has prevented repair work on the house, built by Wisby and her husband in the early 1960s.

"The longer they leave it, the worse the house becomes."

The house's fate was now in the hands of her insurer and the council.

Wisby was told a rockfall fence would be required to lift the red sticker. She described the solution as "bloody rude" because the threat was not on her land.

Wisby has lived with her daughter since the quake. "She's been very good to me, but it's her home. My home is up there [on the hill]."

Council democracy and regulatory services general manager Peter Mitchell said its powers to issue S124 notices were taken "very seriously".

"[The council] is well aware of the criticism it might face if it did not issue a notice in a situation it assessed as dangerous and someone was killed or seriously injured."

The Press