Editorial: 12.51 a time for hope

Two years ago we woke to a normal morning. We dressed, we ate, we prepared to face the day ahead.

We were living in a city that had been knobbled, but not destroyed. We were lucky to have lived through disaster, while escaping loss of life.

Just after lunch, our world changed. 12.51.

Today, across the city, we will pause to remember on the second anniversary of the deadly magnitude 6.3 quake that took 185 lives, wounded hundreds of others and felled thousands of buildings, many of them our homes or totems of our cultural heritage.

The numbers that define that day have been well recorded. But now we have new numbers with which to measure life in this city. They reveal just how slow this rebuild has progressed. Now, 731 days after that 18 seconds in February, much of the new city we hope for is still on paper.

Insurance companies have settled just one third of claims against people's badly damaged homes. EQC has completed repairs on fewer than half of the homes the agency is due to repair. A cordon, manned by the military, remains around 38ha of our CBD. More than 900 sections lie empty in commercial and retail zones.

Behind each of those figures are people and livelihoods. Behind every residential claim yet to be settled is a household, and in that household are people. They are the citizens of this city who are living their daily lives with cracks in their homes, on shaky foundations.

For many, these are just minor irritations or reminders of a day they would rather forget. For others, the unsettled claims are the source of intense hurt, stress and uncertainty, both financial and emotional. Thousands of property owners with claims with any complexity such a multiple units, bare hillside land, or those caught between EQC and an insurer, have been unable to move on.

Last week, the Minister of Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, stood in the heart of the fallen CBD. He proclaimed the CBD cordons would soon be reduced, hotels would reopen, and large developments were on track. We no longer had a red zone, he said. Instead, it is a rebuild zone. It's a nice message and one that slips easily off the tongue as we assure the world Christchurch is open for business. But still, on this important day, it remains merely an assurance.

Behind the scenes there remains so much more to do.

Hundreds of central city property owners are still negotiating the sale of their land for use in the central city blueprint area. Great uncertainty remains over the plans for major retail precincts amid muddy policy relating to the acquisition of that land. Thousands of homeowners are still waiting for answers from EQC or insurers.

The slow pace is not the fault of one person, nor one agency. It is the fault of many. It is also a reflection, in part, of the complexity of the task ahead. But every person and every agency involved in this rebuild needs to take stock today and ask themselves if they are doing their best to expedite this rebuild.

In one more year we will again pause to remember that which we have lost. And if the promises are not delivered and targets left unmet, February 22 will again be a date on which we measure progress by the number of those still hurting, rather than by the things we have achieved.

In years to come, this day should become a day not only to remember, but also to celebrate the great new city we have built.

The Press