More haste in demolition, less speed in Kaikoura recovery

The Adelphi Hotel in the centre of Kaikoura has been red-stickered, meaning it is likely to be demolished.

The Adelphi Hotel in the centre of Kaikoura has been red-stickered, meaning it is likely to be demolished.

OPINION: In recent weeks waste minimisation leaders from across New Zealand have been invited to Kaikoura to collaborate in developing a plan that will enable successful demolition outcomes. 

There is a lot to learn from the years of demolition in Christchurch and the thousands of properties demolished by digger that became a large and costly pile of treated and untreated timber now being put to landfill in the Burwood Resource Recovery Park. Yet there is no plan available for other New Zealand communities to learn from this monumental process. So Kaikoura is forging its own way with a plan that encompasses lessons from Christchurch and creates a resource for others in this unenviable position.

The kaupapa behind this leadership in Kaikoura is not new, not where waste is concerned. For over 20 years they have been leading New Zealand in invention and innovation with waste, in fact this is where the country's Zero Waste Academy was initially established.

Innovate Waste Kaikoura, the team at the heart of this work, is a council-owned community resource recovery enterprise, and their authentic deep-rooted community engagement enables them to consistently rank top in New Zealand for diversion of waste from landfill. 


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Juliet Arnott, who was the co-director of the Whole House Reuse exhibition, where a red zoned house was recycled into ...
Dean Kozanic

Juliet Arnott, who was the co-director of the Whole House Reuse exhibition, where a red zoned house was recycled into 400 different objects at Canterbury Museum.

Kaikoura represents best practice in waste minimisation, and so with earthquake waste their standards are no different. That is why they called in other national experts via the Community Recycling Network Aotearoa, to ensure exemplary post-earthquake waste planning.

The plan that is currently being finalised is based on some of the best lessons to come out of Christchurch and other areas, with some emphasis on the solution we at Rekindle practised whilst working in the Residential Red Zone. In Christchurch we worked in partnership with demolition contractors to salvage reusable materials before the digger came to complete the job.

Kaikoura's plan is similar and involves Innovative Waste leading a team of trained local people, who would otherwise be unemployed at this time, to undertake deconstruction and salvage work in partnership with demolition contractors. This approach maximises the salvage of reusable materials whilst experienced contractors manage all risks and ensure all safety requirements are met. Recovered resources are then available for reuse, repair and rebuilding within the local community.

The Old Convent in Kaikoura has also been red-stickered.
Juliet Arnott

The Old Convent in Kaikoura has also been red-stickered.

This plan is robust and feasible, backed by expertise from within the demolition industry. It is as thorough as any post-quake waste planning has ever been. And yet, it may not be enough.

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This plan will not ensure Kaikoura has positive outcomes from what is, of course, an incredibly challenging and complex process of demolition. It will be at the mercy of haste, of short-term financially-driven decisions that result in a poorer community after the diggers have gone.

It is the same haste that led to asbestos fibres floating around Christchurch city on gusty nor'westerly winds. It is haste that racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in processing and research that failed to solve the problem of mixed treated and untreated timber at the Burwood Resource Recovery Park. It is haste, in a process of loss and demolition, that compounded grief for homeowners who continue to struggle with depression and anxiety today. 

And it is this haste that lead to the Human Rights Commission report "Staying in Red Zones"  recommending that "community engagement matters." The report says "The way in which government and non-government agencies pursue initiatives will determine how successful these are. The requirement to act swiftly must be weighed against the need to actively engage community in the design and implementation of solutions. A 'nothing about us without us' approach requires time, resources, and public and political will, but is essential to ensure that people are not passive recipients of disaster recovery response and risk reduction, but are actively involved in shaping it."

The statistics outlining compromised mental health in Canterbury are an indication that the recovery of the city is very much ongoing. There has been, and continues to be, a need for significant external funding to support Canterbury's psychosocial recovery.  Kaikoura and Canterbury's situations are naturally different and unique from each other in uncountable ways, but regardless at this early stage there is great benefit in Kaikoura taking all possible steps to prevent prolonged and painful recovery.

In Kaikoura, 85 people are currently unemployed and there are many others whose livelihoods and wellbeing have been markedly compromised by these earthquakes. Given the dominant role of tourism in this area, the impacts of this disaster are likely to be felt for some time yet. Kaikoura has worked hard for 20 years to divert waste from landfill, creating much valued employment along the way.

A Zero Waste sentiment sits at the heart of the way this community works. It is obvious in they way they value and care for the natural environment and the resources they have. Inflicting wasteful demolition on this community will have a significant impact in relation to this longstanding kaupapa.

It is therefore crucial for Kaikoura's recovery that central government invests some of its recovery funding in measures that enable community participation in this early stage of the post-quake response. 

It is critical that opportunities for safe community participation in the demolition and salvage processes are harnessed now, before the diggers come. A slower, more careful demolition process would ensure better community recovery, greater reuse of materials, positive recovery outcomes including training and employment, and many opportunities to feel resourceful and connected.

In Kaikoura's case, less haste in demolition will mean greater speed in community recovery.

Juliet Arnott is an occupational therapist, artist and founder of Rekindle. She and her team worked in the Residential Red Zone to divert timber and one whole house from waste. She is now working in Kaikoura.

 - Stuff


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