Red-zoners stressed to breaking point

The Government's lack of concern for the worst-affected Christchurch communities has been heartless, Mike Coleman believes.

At 1.20pm on February 22 last year, I jumped into my car and headed toward Avonside, my home. I knew it would be badly damaged again.

Three hours later the family stood watching the silty water run over our drive and down our road. My wife had fallen into this muck up to her shoulders a few hours before. I think I knew then our land was gone.

The glistening watery-grey land would turn to red in four months' time.

During those months we heard murmurings of the Government talking to land developers.

Negotiations and options were obviously being considered as they looked at ways forward. The Press ran clips of possible new land being made available: Prestons, Belfast, Highfield.

The prime minister said clearly he would not leave anyone "high and dry".

Gerry Brownlee said he would ensure people would maintain equity.

When June 23 came and the Government announced its "offers" under new legislation, I was stunned.

That night I stood on a street corner next to Brownlee and [television presenter] Mark Sainsbury and asked the most obvious question. "Where will people get land, Gerry? You cannot kick people off their land with no way forward. It is immoral! Gerry, this lady will get $130,000 for her land. She cannot buy a section in Christchurch under $240,000."

As it turns out, many in Bexley were getting well under $100,000.

Gerry's response: "There are 11,000 sections and only 5000 red-zoners so the market will give her a good price".

We now know there were very few sections available. (The city council announced last Friday there are only 600 sections in the city ready to go. Their values are up to $180,000 more than the rateable value on red-zone land.)

Prices of sections were always out of range for many red-zoners. Today they sit on the east stressed and upset. Some have taken their own lives. True.

Some have moved forward as they take a new mortgage out and eventually get a settlement from their insurance company. Many are in limbo and will be devastated financially because their land insurance and house insurance were not fully honoured.

The Government has sat back and allowed this abuse from EQC and insurance companies to take place.

I wrote an article back then: "Sharks dine out on red- zoners". Hey, I was a prophet. It came true.

It took little to know the market would increase; simple supply and demand. Land, rentals, existing homes all have increased. The Government did little to help land supply and keep the market honest, even with all Cera's powers they stood back and let displaced people hit the wall.

The city council too sat back and did "dysfunctional business as usual", ensuring land would not be available due to enormous red tape. I cried out about these issues for months. I wrote email and article after article. Many of us did. We held protest after protest.

I even wrote a letter to New Zealand. We got no response from Cera or Gerry. The Cera legislation said clearly there would be community participation in the planning of recovery for affected communities. There was no consultation. As it stands today: There is no affordable land in Christchurch. There will be thousands of sections in two to three years, Brownlee now says, which "may" drive the price down, but red-zoners have to leave next April. Figure that out?

EQC has frequent policy changes; for example, apportioning repair costs over various quakes keeping people artificially under the cap, meaning many cannot get a rebuild. This from "underqualified" assessors who can take 30 minutes to assess homes.

The EQC assessor looking at a friend's home came up with an $84,000 repair cost in 20 minutes. Arrow International's figure after a seven-hour inspection was $394,000; a clear rebuild. I have both scopes. Unbelievable. People are battling with EQC across the city. Calls not returned. Complaints not followed up. A shutdown.

People in homes unaffected by the quakes are being red- zoned while others totally affected have been green- zoned, yet the Government gives no zoning information on why. They have the geo reports but refuse to release the information.

People uninsured are being forced from their land and will get nothing. Are we as a nation happy to take someone's land from them? If their land was taken under the Public Works Act, they would be paid market value.

The housing market in Christchurch is selling way above rateable value in areas with good land. Displaced people are pushing prices up on most homes for sale (Press, Feb 15).

People are being offered deals from EQC and insurance companies significantly lower than the equity in their properties. Some have been given $800 a 1000/sq metre for rebuilds when the Department of Building and Housing quotes minimums of $1700.

White-zone residents have no idea of their future. Those on cliff edges, who no doubt will be red-zoned, have been told nothing. They could enter the market now if they had fair information.

No information is given on what will happen to our red- zoned land. We all back the proposed Avon-Otakaro Park proposal. We hear nothing from the Government.

The Community Forum legislated for in the Cera Act had no input into Government policy on zonings and displacement. It was six months before forum members had a idea on their role.

There has never been an independent advocacy service for people battling zoning and insurance issues. Cantabrians, including many elderly, are left to battle corporate insurance, EQC and Fletchers on their own.

The shutdown from Brownlee and the Government to genuine concerns from Christchurch communities has been heartless. Responses from Gerry and Cera head Roger Sutton like, "they are our homes now", when people asked to know when their homes were being demolished, reveals the level of disconnection these leaders have with quake-stricken people.

They were our homes, our communities. We didn't choose to leave.

In the end a bureaucrat just has to get the policy through without considering the implications. Brownlee and the Government have succeeded spectacularly in achieving this, while ensuring total shutdown to community dialogue and concern.

I received this email today from someone in Bexley who is very upset: "Having a bad week, feeling down and lost in my own frustration on what and how do we try and make the rest of Christchurch, Gerry inclusive, listen to the plight of those suffering in the east. It is the same story I am hearing day after day; where are we meant to go? I can't answer that for people and am finding it hard because I am asking myself this question as well."

* The Rev Mike Coleman is spokesman for the Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network (WeCan).

The Press