City urged to take harder line

LEGAL ADVICE: Duncan Webb.
LEGAL ADVICE: Duncan Webb.

An insurance expert is calling on the Christchurch City Council to refuse building consents for quake repairs that do not address flood risk.

Lawyer Duncan Webb's comments come after one of the region's major insurers, Southern Response, confirmed it would not pay for floor levels in flood-prone homes to be raised if the work was not required to obtain consent.

Last month, the findings of a city council-commissioned report warned that warming seas, the melting of Antarctic ice and the increased likelihood of tsunamis raised the chances of some coastal communities going under water.

The report sparked questions about which authority should foot the bill to raise large chunks of Christchurch land.

Webb, a partner at Lane Neave, said insurers tended to do "the least extensive repairs they possibly can", therefore the onus should be on the council to ensure existing homes did not fall under flood plain heights.

There was "an underlying natural hazard problem" with granting consent to flood-prone properties.

"The council wouldn't give consent to a property with a rockfall risk unless there was some form of risk mitigation, like a wall," he said. "They should be taking the same approach for flooding."

Southern Response chief executive Peter Rose said last week that the insurer would only raise floor levels for new builds, not home repairs.

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) will not raise a property's floor level, even if it is in a flood-prone area, if the work was not required for consent.

Rose said a recent High Court decision agreed with the insurers' interpretation of their obligation.

Even if the council did require floor levels to be raised, there is still the question of who would pay.

Insurance Council of New Zealand chief executive Tim Grafton said insurers, EQC and the council were in "the throes of discussing this issue and . . . what approach needs to be taken".

Insurance companies would comply with regulations and the council "was at liberty to change the rules if they wish".

However, the council did not require homes being repaired to be raised.

"The problem that arises now is should that floor level be required to be raised in a repairable situation? And that, of course, raises the question of who pays for that?"

Council natural environment and heritage unit manager Helen Beaumont said about 17,000 properties were in flood-prone areas and this figure would be revised as part of the District Plan review to address changes due to the earthquakes.

"There are significant challenges around this issue and we are working hard to resolve them."

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said yesterday she was not in a position to comment on who would pay for floor levels to be raised. "I'm not sure whether all the questions around liability have yet been resolved."

The Press