Editorial: Shortcuts on plan a mistake

To many Christchurch residents with earthquake-damaged homes, there will be something a little galling in the spectacle of insurance companies complaining about possible delays to the rebuild. It is now four years past the first big earthquake and private insurance companies have still completed fewer than half the repairs and rebuilds they are responsible for.

There are no doubt valid reasons in many cases for the time it has taken to get work going - aftershocks continued for a long time, determining the true extent of damage can sometimes be difficult, differences with the Earthquake Commission have had to be sorted out and so on. But complaints about insurance companies dragging their feet are too numerous for there not to be some foundation for at least a few of them.

For insurance companies now to complain that proposals by the Christchurch City Council in its new district plan will cause delays and extra costs to the rebuild seems a bit rich. It is also, in this case, misconceived. Southern Response, the Government-owned entity that took over AMI's earthquake liabilities, and Tower Insurance have both complained about council proposals aimed at reducing the risk of flooding in low-lying areas. The proposals would cover 25,000 properties in flood-prone areas and would introduce stricter minimum floor levels for houses built in those areas.

According to the companies, it would be seriously disruptive to introduce the new rules while they are partway through their rebuild and repair programmes. They say it could force them to rework their plans in hundreds of cases, losing up to 10 months of progress. The companies want the rules to be relaxed for projects already in the design and concept phase.

That would be wrong. The proposals are no surprise. Some such requirements have been in the air for many months. The insurance companies should have expected them and factored them into their planning already.

Worse than that, some of the greatest damage in the eastern suburbs occurred where a hazard was known but was underestimated and not adequately prepared for. The companies' idea that they should be allowed to go ahead and rebuild and repair where there may be greater risks suggests they have learnt none of the lessons of the earthquakes.

The companies are under pressure from homeowners to get repairs and rebuilds done as quickly as possible, and home-owners will no doubt be distressed by delays, but there is nothing to be gained by ignoring risk and doing the work hastily, only to build up greater potential trouble in the future.

A catchcry from the Government, the city council and others involved in the rebuild has been that we should aim to rebuild a resilient city, one that can withstand any likely hazards in future. The district plan had to be reviewed to take account of the changes wrought by the earthquakes and has tried to fulfil that aim. While the urge to get everything over and done with may be strong, it will be doing no-one any favours if we now succumb to the temptation to take shortcuts.

The Press