Red zone security bill drops as authorities farewell booby traps and illegal rental days

The security bill for monitoring Christchurch's residential red zone's is falling as clearance work nears completion.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

The security bill for monitoring Christchurch's residential red zone's is falling as clearance work nears completion.

The security bill for Christchurch's residential red zone has dropped two thirds since its post-earthquake peak when authorities were confronted with booby-trapped houses and dodgy rental listings on Trade Me.

Land Information New Zealand Port Hills group manager Brenden Winder said security personnel still faced some challenges in the Port Hills, where clearance work remained on about 200 Crown-owned red-zone properties.

"It's not totally benign. But the risks have gone away from the much more dramatic risks several years ago."It doesn't keep me awake at night, but pretty regularly we've got stuff happening."

A still from a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority video showing German tourists who camped in a red-zoned property.
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A still from a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority video showing German tourists who camped in a red-zoned property.

Winder declined to divulge how much was spent on security and in what form to avoid "telling the bad guys when we do and don't operate".

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The figure was about one third of what it was when earthquake authorities had to deal with large numbers of vacant properties in the red zones in 2012 and 2013.

Punji stakes under the carpet found in a red-zoned house.
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Punji stakes under the carpet found in a red-zoned house.

Recurring problems back then included squatters, burglaries and vandalism. In one case a group of German tourists were found in a vacant red-zone property – apparently on the advice of a local, Winder said.

"Turns out that someone had said to these tourists, they were camping nearby, 'Why don't you just go and use the house? It's no big deal.' Knowing full well who the previous owners were and who the current owners were.

"We've had people using our land to graze horses in the eastern suburbs."We've had people moving their boundary fences, taking a couple of extra metres here and there to improve their gardens, that's not uncommon."

Demolition work in the Port Hills red zone is about three quarters complete.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Demolition work in the Port Hills red zone is about three quarters complete.

Some properties had posed a more immediate problem, he said.

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"Some of the houses we've gone into have been booby-trapped. Glass, fish hooks, razor wire, punji stakes in the floor."

While contractors "often" found evidence of people staying in houses, Winder said, some instances were more co-ordinated than others.

The owners of one Port Hills property settled with the Crown only to list the house for rent on Trade Me after they had moved out.

"A couple of phone calls from our team and all of a sudden the ad disappeared," Winder said.

The owners pleaded innocence, claiming because they retained the insurance claim on the house as part of their Crown settlement, they thought the building was still theirs to let.

"I don't know how ignorant people are with million-dollar houses," Winder said."[My] gut feeling is probably not [very]."

Security in the Port Hills presented a different challenge from the flat land, as red-zoned properties were spread across many small pockets, Winder said.

"There's more . . . smaller locations and mostly inquisitive neighbours too. It's pretty hard to nick anything in the Port Hills but if you do get anything it's probably worth a bit more."

One high-value example stuck out:

"I believe a baby grand [piano] was left in a property and by the time the demolition contractor got to the property [it] had gone. That's not something you can stick in a backpack."

 - Stuff

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