Fear over mall safety persists

The safety of Christchurch's shopping malls after the earthquakes is still preying on the minds of some residents, particularly women, The Press local issues survey shows.

However, 52 per cent do not have any safety concerns.

Westfield Riccarton is perceived as unsafe by the largest number of respondents to the building-safety question in the Opinions Market Research survey group.

The mall was ruled safe after detailed engineering reports were accepted by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

Some people in the survey believe there are safety concerns with The Palms Shopping Centre, multistorey parking buildings, malls in general, cinemas, Christchurch Hospital and any building of more than a few floors.

Fewer participants raised safety concerns about the Eastgate and Northlands malls, supermarkets, the Lyttelton road tunnel, Canterbury University buildings, the New Brighton Pier, the CBS Canterbury Arena, the Canterbury Museum and Christchurch International Airport.

All participants were asked if there were any buildings in Christchurch that were open but did not feel safe to be in. Forty-eight per cent – 173 people – said "yes" and 52 per cent answered "no".

Forty-one per cent of the 173 said Westfield felt unsafe and 27 per cent thought the same about The Palms.

Parking buildings and "malls general" were seen as unsafe by 18 per cent each, followed by cinemas at 12 per cent and the hospital at 9 per cent.

Eastgate and Northlands were perceived as unsafe by 7 and 6 per cent respectively.

Westfield New Zealand management were "surprised" at the poll's findings and asked for details of the survey.

Shopping centre management general manager Linda Trainer repeated what Westfield had told mall retailers and the media two months ago.

She said Cera had given written confirmation accepting detailed engineering reports on the mall submitted to it in February.

The acceptance letter said: "On the basis of this review, Cera has no structural engineering concerns with the occupancy of these buildings."

That included the multi-storey car parks, Trainer said.

"In the event of a significant aftershock, Westfield will continue to undertake engineering inspections and repairing," she said.

Palms manager Simon Carter said management and retailers wanted to "reassure our customers that our centre is a safe building to visit".

"We have and always will place safety as our top priority," he said.

The centre's detailed engineering evaluation report was signed off by Cera on April 11, and the acceptance letter said there were no structural concerns with buildings, Carter said.

The Palms was closed for six months after the February 2011 quake for assessment and repairs.

"Our project team has shared insights with other building owners, and the performance over the last year has given The Palms and many other building owners a lot of confidence in the repair methodologies used," Carter said.

Opinions Market Research director Karen Selway said there was an interesting gender split on building safety.

"Women – 60 per cent – were more likely than men – 36 per cent – to state that there was a building in which they did not feel safe," she said.

"This may have been related to the fact that shopping malls were prominent among the named buildings.

"The fact that shopping malls were mentioned may in turn be related to the fact that these structures are among the larger building structures open to the public in Christchurch."

The finding correlated with another part of the survey on earthquake readiness that showed women were slightly more prepared for action than men, she said.

Views on the safety of Christchurch Hospital tallied with other survey findings.

The hospital was considered to be "by far the most important facility in the rebuild of Christchurch".

The poll of 359 Christchurch City and Waimakariri and Selwyn district residents aged 18 and over is representative in terms of age, gender and location in accordance with the 2006 census and has a margin of error of about 5.2 per cent at a 95 per cent confidence level.

The Press