September 4: Three year report card

DAVID KILLICK
Last updated 05:00 04/09/2013
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OPINION: Three years to the day since the first big earthquake struck Canterbury, how do you rate progress? How confident are you in plans for the future?

Cast your mind back to September 4, 2010, a Saturday. At 4.35am we were jolted out of bed. Our top floor shook like crazy. It felt like the house was falling down.

After the shaking stopped, we went downstairs and turned on the transistor radio. No power, no water. There had been considerable damage in the region, but it appeared the city had escaped relatively lightly.

We had no idea that a few months later a shallower, less powerful, but deadly quake would strike.

Recovery has been slower than many people expected. The earthquakes' colossal impact has thrown major issues into relief: among them, the need for affordable housing, better transportation, and the question of how and where the city should grow. Many of these issues were glaringly obvious even before the quakes.

What have we learnt in three years? The scorecard is mixed.

EQC: We are still waiting at our place. EQC did an assessment two years ago; since then, nothing. We are lucky that our house received only minor damage, but our neighbours' houses on both sides have already been repaired. EQC agreed this seemed like an anomaly. We may opt out. What irks many people is that the whole process seems illogical and unfair. Why go through the charade of "communicating" without giving people a timeframe? Nobody can get on with their lives until their house is repaired. Many people are disputing EQC assessments.

Insurance companies: Having to go to court to try to settle insurance claims must be mega stressful. Reports that big Australian-owned insurance companies have raked in big profits are an insult to Canterbury earthquake victims. Nonsensical TV insurance advertisements rub salt in the wounds. People's trust in the insurance industry has been seriously eroded.

Building contractors: Some people say repair work has been first class; others report they have been forced to sign off on work they are not happy with. Some tradespeople report they have been unable to get work because Fletchers controls everything. It is impossible to tell the overall state of repaired houses. Buyers beware: In the future some property values may plummet. 

Infrastructure repairs: Council engineers and power company linesmen did well getting things running after the quakes, but many roads are diabolical, even after repairs. It is as if they are part of a bid to join the third world. Underground pipes are a problem. We need to build back better, with more resilient infrastructure.

The Government and the council: Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee has shown himself to be tough and pragmatic, while sometimes alienating people unnecessarily. Education Minister Heraka Parata's schools restructuring was badly botched. Cera's Roger Sutton is a smooth operator but faces an uphill battle.

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Mayor Bob Parker has worked hard, but the council has been dysfunctional and has wasted public money. Poor progress on building consents turned into a crisis. Business as usual was not the answer; the city needs innovators, not administrators.

Let's hope Lianne Dalziel - and, we assume, a new CEO to replace Tony Marryatt - will make a difference.

Part of the problem has been too many organisations and too much bureaucracy (what exactly is Ecan's role?).

Planners: People loved the council's Share an Idea campaign, and the vision of a City in a Garden. The Breathe! Urban village competition and plans for an eco-friendly city are encouraging. The river precinct will be an asset. Questions remain. The Town Hall will saved. Is that good or bad? Do we need a big convention centre and sports stadium? What will happen to the cathedral(s)? Smaller shops, cafes, and the Re:Start mall have been successful. I like the concept of the green frame, but we still need a unified plan for the whole region, not just the central city.

Architects and designers: A return to the past is impossible. The challenge is for designers to come up with buildings that are safe, strong, versatile, eco-friendly, attractive, exciting, harmonious, and affordable. Quite a tall order then. But I am optimistic.

Emergency services: We can be proud of our emergency services. Fast response times are critical. The first quake gave them a chance to plan. On February 22, police were cordoning off the city within minutes. One potential problem: We still need a central disaster HQ. 

Scientists and engineers: While people now know more about earthquakes, they may still not understand the risks: Richter magnitude is not the only factor; proximity, depth, and duration matter, as do G-forces and the MMI scale, and the nature of land and structures. Science and engineering are critical in designing new buildings. Safety is paramount.

Have your say by commenting below or emailing letters@press.co.nz.

- The Press

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