Christchurch: A tale of two cities

Last updated 05:00 21/02/2014
Red zone house demolition

DEMOLITION: Are new homes being built fast enough to replace those lost?f

Leanne Curtis
LEANNE CURTIS: There are winners and losers depending on insurers, Crown offers and EQC repairs.

Chch quake: then and now

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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The February 2011 earthquake left a city divided, but who sits at either end of the spectrum? MARC GREENHILL reports.

As a wave of economic recovery rolls through Canterbury, not all earthquake-affected residents are along for the ride.

The construction sector is booming, unemployment is at a near-record low and the new city being mapped out is expected to among the world's most liveable.

There is much to be positive about three years on from the February 2011 quake, but stories of both success and despair continue to emerge.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the biggest challenge heading into the fourth year of the recovery was the need to "unify" the city.

"It's about recognising that people are at all different stages. We've got people who are angry, people who quietly despairing and people who are resolved and ready to move on and participate in the excitement the rebuild is able to generate."

The shared sense of "we're in it together" would not last if people did not feel engaged with the vision for the city, she said.

For Dalziel, those who were unlikely to be feeling positive included red-zoned property owners who lost equity by accepting Crown offers, Port Hills residents unable to mitigate rockfall hazard to save their homes and central-city landowners forced to sell to make way for blueprint projects.

"Cantabrians generally, they don't expect there to be winners and losers. They expect people to be treated fairly right across the board."

The New Zealand economy, led by the Canterbury's multibillion-dollar rebuild, was the big winner of the recovery, she said.

Many landlords and residential and commercial property developers were thriving, while some individuals had benefited from significant insurance settlements.

"For all those stories of people who have left their homes behind, there are also stories about families coming together . . . there are many, many happy endings as well," Dalziel said.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said "we've all been victims of the quake" but hoped the anniversary marked the significant turning point from a post-quake environment to one of recovery.

The region's 3.4 per cent unemployment rate was nearly half the national rate of 6 per cent and every economic trend showed improvement, he said.

"I just keep reminding people we're just at the beginning of all this. People need to get their heads around that because they probably don't.

"Anyone who wants to be a significant beneficiary of Christchurch's post-earthquake environment can be. It's just a case of using your initiative and using the opportunities that are clearly being laid out now."

Constraints on resources, especially labour, materials and capital, could be expected in the next 12 months, so planning ahead was crucial, Townsend said.

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The business survival rate had been "extraordinary". More than 15,000 new businesses had been registered in Canterbury since September 2010.

"Our businesses are dealing with issues of growth, not shrinkage, and that's a good thing," he said.

For Townsend, the immediate post-quake losers were those shut out of the central city, the tourism and hospitality sectors, and accommodation providers put out of action.

There were now "significant" signs of recovery in those industries, he said.

"There are still sectors that will find it difficult, particularly small businesses that are finding it difficult to adapt to the new environment, the new ways of doing business and new supply chains.

"If they are careful and they think strategically . . . that is all opportunity."

The construction boom was benefiting more than those in trade-related industries because it had a "cascading effect", Townsend said.

"As the billions of dollars of cash slosh around in our economy, everyone benefits.

"That isn't to say we don't still have some seriously disadvantaged people, and we mustn't forget them, but they will be assisted in the context of a massively growing economy."

Leanne Curtis, of the Canterbury Communities' Earthquake Recovery Network, said the "stuck" people her group represented risked becoming disengaged from the recovery.

"There are some really good things happening out there in the community but for the people we work for, it's a little bit irrelevant for them. It's 'fix my house before you fix my neighbourhood' kind of stuff."

Curtis said there were winners and losers in both the red and green zones depending on insurers, Crown offers and EQC repairs.

"It's fickle, and that's the issue. There's not a lot of consistency and people don't see that as being terribly just.

"Some people will come out with more equity [in their new homes] . . . so there'll certainly be a financial gain. You've not really won when the trauma of getting to that end point was so costly."

The Quake Outcasts, those affected by the Port Hills zoning review, and the red-zone "stayers" still faced a lot of uncertainty.

Some Cantabrians would benefit from the booming economy but "New Zealand is great for doing the rich get rich and the poor get poorer", Curtis said.

"If you're in the construction industry, [you are] probably feeling pretty bloody good now financially. It doesn't really impact on those people who are at the bottom end of financial security. They never really win off a bounding economy".

The fourth year of the recovery required collaboration from the recovery agencies, she said.

Issues to be resolved included land settlement, flood plain issues, the future of the red zone, targeted advocacy and support services, and ensuring EQC and insurers acted fairly in trying to meet their targets

- The Press


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