White-zone homeowners grow impatient

HOLDING OUT: Heather Larson, Jennifer Rochford and Rochford's daughter, Billie, in Avoca Valley Rd where Rochford's home has been red-stickered.
HOLDING OUT: Heather Larson, Jennifer Rochford and Rochford's daughter, Billie, in Avoca Valley Rd where Rochford's home has been red-stickered.

Avoca Valley Rd is a street divided.

Residents on one side of the Heathcote street have either been forced to abandon their homes because of rockfall risk or face court action for defying Christchurch City Council orders to leave.

Properties on the other side are green-stickered, but permission to live in their homes is cold comfort with the area's future still to be decided.

More than 3500 Port Hills houses remain in the unmapped white zone, including most in Avoca Valley Rd.

The results of a life-risk model developed by GNS Science and assessments of individual properties are expected by June.

A decision cannot come soon enough for Avoca Valley residents Hans and Janice Schaper, who lost their home of more than 20 years and two businesses when the property was red-stickered.

The Kawa Cafe was forced to close on February 22 last year. The couple have limited access to their market garden.

"We've had no rockfall since last February, so they're mucking us around a bit. They said we could go back last April," Janice Schaper said.

"There's no communication. The poorest thing that could have happened in this whole saga is no-one tells you anything."

The delays were "hitting us hard income-wise", she said.

"If we weren't allowed to just go back and work on the garden, I don't know what we would have done."

Ignoring the red sticker, as others had done, was not an option because the house was too badly damaged, she said.

"Our insurance is running out for our accommodation, and we might get some help, but how long does it go on for?" she said.

"When you've got two businesses, it's really hard going just to stay afloat."

Jennifer and Gary Rochford are among the homeowners who have defied orders to leave.

They have been under surveillance from private investigators and threatened with court action.

The past year had been "a bit of a rollercoaster", Jennifer Rochford said.

"The first few months were all right, but now I'm just starting to get tired of it. I think everyone is," she said.

"There's very little information, so we don't really feel like they really know whether we should be here or not."

The pressure placed on some neighbours, especially the elderly, was "extreme".

No rocks fell on her property on February 22 and none had fallen since.

"It just seems like how much danger can we be in when we've gone through so many aftershocks and no new rocks have come down on our side of the valley?" she said.

Rochford was confident the street could be saved, despite reports Port Hills remediation could cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"I still think there's no way this valley will go red [zone], simply because this will have national implications. If we can't live where we're living, there are a lot of people in New Zealand who can't live in their homes as well," she said.

Green-stickered homeowner Heather Larson, a resident for 21 years, said she felt for her neighbours after a chance meeting with an engineer three months after the February quake resulted in her red sticker being removed.

She did not believe her property was at imminent risk and was frustrated by the lack of communication and decision-making.

Blasting and repair work on the hillside above took place over eight weeks last year, but stopped abruptly.

More "desperate" homeowners began returning about the same time, she said.

"The geotech guys did some long hours, but then they downed tools and left it exactly as you see it," she said.

"Some residents at the top end of the valley decided to move back in because the geotech guys said they had done it to the best of their ability and we were for peer review."

Residents were told at a street meeting that more remedial work was needed, but the immediate risk had been eliminated.

"Since the guys did the work up there, no rocks have come down. Everyone here is getting frustrated and impatient with the decision-making because nothing has come down," Larson said.

Those living in green-stickered homes had no more certainty than their neighbours, she said.

A decision to demolish red-stickered homes would leave the remaining properties vulnerable.

"The left-hand side [of the street] people who are still white zone still can't move forward or sell or fix their properties because the insurance companies don't want to know. Whether you're red or white, you still can't do anything.," she said.

"A green sticker just means you can live in your house for now, which is a bonus."

Regular visits from residents no longer living in their homes had reduced, grass was growing "as high as your neck" and letterboxes were becoming overloaded with junk mail, Larson said.

Neighbours she spoke to last week were "in tears" about the future.

"The longer it gets left, they feel they've already lost in Avoca Valley. They think it'll get red-zoned and that'll be it."

It had been a "slow" past 12 months, Larson said.

"No-one seems to want to make a decision because it's life-threatening if a rock comes down, and I understand that, but what's happening now is it's destroying everyone up here because the timeframes have gone on for so long," she said.

"If it's too risky to live here, they should just say it's red-zoned."

The Press