Liquefaction data ignored - report

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2011

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Canterbury councils have almost never considered earthquakes when approving subdivisions on liquefaction-prone land, a reports says.

A report from resource management consultancy Enfocus to the Canterbury earthquakes royal commission says Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury took a passive approach to earthquake risk.

The city council's plans appeared to put a strong emphasis on the risk of earthquakes but did not translate this into demands on developers, the report said.

"Insofar as seismic risk is concerned, there is little direct link between policies and regulation."

Council plans did not include any maps of liquefaction-prone land despite this information being available, the report said.

With one exception, ECan also did not push for quake-related conditions on developments, viewing its role as more educational.

ECan said identifying land as liquefaction-prone "only serves to add potential for angst and cost in ... development". The report characterised this as a "dubious approach".

Since the February 22 quake, more than 6500 properties have been written off because the land they are on is prone to liquefaction and too damaged to be habitable.

In the next two years this will force thousands of people to abandon large tracts of eastern Christchurch, including subdivisions approved in the past decade.

Many people have expressed frustration after moving into a new subdivision – in some cases after the February 22 quake – only to be told their property would have to be abandoned.

However, the report did not solely blame the councils, saying the rules made it unclear how much weight should be given to risk of quakes. "Greater central government guidance for local authorities on planning for earthquake risk may be warranted," it said.

ECan and the city council declined to comment on the report yesterday but said they would submit a response to the royal commission.

ECan said it welcomed the opportunity to take part and find ways to improve planning for future subdivisions.

The findings support a report issued by the Environment Ministry which concluded that no Christchurch subdivision approved since 1977 took account of liquefaction.

"This information was non-existent in the zoning and consent decision-making process," the report said.

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- The Press

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