Editorial: Open up land data

Last updated 05:00 20/11/2012

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OPINION: The new level of co-operation between insurance companies and EQC is good news for Christchurch residents with TC3 properties.

After months of dispute, the two parties have agreed to share drilling data and make it available after a building consent has been lodged for a site - a resource that will make it easier for landowners to rebuild.

Wider access to the data would allow buyers and sellers to proceed with confidence, which would remove another worry for TC3 owners who have endured the long and fraught process of drilling to discover the stability of their land - a process that will not end for some people until perhaps March. Unfettered access to the data would allow informed decisions to be made about the buying and selling of their sections.

At least the data provided by the insurance industry and EQC and controlled by Cera will allow insurers, engineers and architects to get information about the ground conditions of a property and design an appropriate structure for it. The confidence thereby created will hasten the return of suburbs to something like pre-earthquake conditions and increase rebuilds.

Boosting the gains is the addition to the database of geotechnical information about land throughout Canterbury. EQC has been drilling on more than TC3 sections, which has provided it with information about soil conditions throughout the province.

The group to benefit from all this information will be landholders wanting to build, engineers, architects and developers, but councils would also also gain were they given access to the database. Then they would be able to zone land to prevent subdivisions on unstable areas and those prone to floods and liquefaction, which would reduce the impact of disasters. People would thereby be spared the full dose of disruption and anxiety that nature can deal out, and much money would be saved.

But those happy consequences will come about only if councils get access to the information, take it seriously and do not indulge in the excessive risk-taking that has brought so much anguish to this city.

The Christchurch City Council's refusal to take notice of the scientists' identification of liquefaction-prone areas, and to allow building on them, greatly increased the human and material costs of the earthquakes. Similarly ignored were the dangers of building under and on top of cliffs, close to watercourses and within the splash distance of beaches.

Such planning mistakes are, as a consequence of the quakes, now far less likely to be repeated, because councils and their citizens have learned about the destructive power of the earth beneath them. But time will dim the lessons and the increasing demand for spectacular and cheap sections will stoke pressure for building on unsafe land.

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The best hope for preventing a repeat of slack zoning lies not in local bodies but in legislation that specifically bans building on dangerous land, and which provides comprehensive information about land to those with a serious interest in it.

It would, though, be a mistake to over-state dangers. Much of the TC3 land in Christchurch can be remediated and strengthened structures put on it. The new database will help ensure that positive outcome, and in the process ease the worries of many people. Even more would benefit if land data was much more freely available.

- The Press

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