Take care if you try to poke the taniwha of the red zone lands
OPINION: The red zone lands mean so many different things to so many different people.
Our trauma, our angst, our home. Our backyard, our neighbourhood. Our opportunity, safety buffer, hope, sanctuary.
Our vision, our river park.
Our one chance to get it right: our stunning legacy for future generations.
This is no more so than in the eastern flatland suburbs of Christchurch.
Like a slithery Taniwha snaking through the heart of the east, the memory, the emotion, and the promise lie in wait – only occasionally stirring.
But woe betide anyone who seeks to poke it with a stick, or grasp it with both hands and oust it from its place of rest. The beast can spring into life with a ferocity that could devour the seemingly all-powerful.
We got a faint glimpse of that this week.
"The Government hopes to recoup money from Christchurch's red zone by leasing or selling land for private sector development," said an article in The Press on Tuesday. The Government was considering "options that offered a 'financial return for the Crown' for the future use of the land".
There was an immediate backlash: accusations of government – and council - subterfuge, lies, collusion with insurers and money men. Loss adjustment! Land-banking! Exploitation! Deceit!
The voluntary offer, which was far from voluntary for most, the 'fair deal' that made losers out of many, the lack of first right of refusal, the plight of those who stuck it out and haven't moved on for whatever reason, the lack of transparency or clear timeframes for decision-making, but above all the erosion of trust and confidence in political and commercial process all erupted abruptly.
"It would break my heart if houses were to ever be built back where our beloved … family home was red-zoned in Dallington…"
"A massive sit-in on any land they try to build on … as they have conned people out of their homes…"
All these sentiments were stirred up when the Taniwha writhed for just a moment.
If there is any hint that anybody, whether public or private, profits – or is perceived to profit – out of the misery of those who were red-zoned or left behind in the adjacent TC3 zones, then the Taniwha will rise with a vengeance that time will not dull.
Yes, there may be need for new and affordable housing in the east that can help offset costs, but let's be innovative in how that may be achieved without encroaching again on lands best left alone.
Leave the Taniwha in peace. Let the lands return to what they want to be: a green and blue floodplain space that nurtures and protects the adjoining communities – and the wellbeing of the entire city.
Evan Smith is an an ex-Red Zoner, the co-chair of the Avon-Otakaro Network and programme manager for Eastern Vision. The series Eyes East, which focuses on the eastern suburbs, can be viewed on demand at rebuildchristchurch.co.nz.