Why are Chch people still angry?

DAVID KILLICK
Last updated 09:05 29/05/2013
Share an Idea
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ

CONSULTATION: People wrote down their thoughts for the Christchurch City Council's Share an Idea expo in May 2011, but since then the Christchurch rebuild has been a top-down, authoritarian process.

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OPINION: Delays, stress, frustration, anger and mistrust are still blighting the recovery of Christchurch 2 1/2 years after the earthquakes.

Are these feelings justified? How, if possible, can we fix things?

When I suggested two weeks ago that Christchurch could learn from the Japanese way of patience and co-operation, those comments sparked a furore.

People said they felt entirely justified getting angry at what was happening or not happening in Christchurch.

Most were highly critical of the authorities. For many, the recovery process has been more stressful than the earthquakes.

Health professionals have identified stress and mental-health issues as a major concern.

The notion of community, of people working together to fix things instead of relying entirely on top-down decision-making, is important in Japan.

Kiwis are doing that too, but often it seems to be a struggle. People find themselves pitted against those whose responsibility it should be to help.

They have three main concerns:

Insurance and EQC

Many people are still living in badly damaged houses. They are still waiting for insurance settlements, so they can repair, rebuild or move.

In other countries, it is either impossible or prohibitively expensive to get earthquake insurance, but people know and accept that. To keep saying that the Christchurch earthquakes were unprecedented is a cop-out.

The Earthquake Commission appears shambolic. What is most frustrating is the lack of a time frame. The process is illogical.

We are lucky that our house suffered only minor damage. However, our neighbour's house, which is joined to ours by shared garaging, has been repaired. Another neighbours's house is also being repaired, yet we haven't heard from EQC.

"There's no rhyme or reason," the call-centre person admitted. We were told our case had been referred to the "multi-dwelling team".

Could we talk to someone on that team? No, they didn't have a phone number.

Some people have been delighted by the repairs to their homes, while others have complained about shoddy workmanship.

Simply patching over the damage is highly questionable. It is probable that some property values will fall in years to come.

Solution: the Government needs to insist on accountability and action. Otherwise, you can only keep battling, if you can handle the stress. For some, accepting a loss and moving on has been the only answer.

Lack of democracy and consultation

Apart from the Share an Idea campaign, the Christchurch rebuild has been a top-down, authoritarian process.

Partly, this is understandable and inevitable, at least in the initial phase of a disaster. Sometimes an authoritarian approach can work, as long as most people are convinced it is in their best interests.

The trouble in Christchurch is that there are too many authorities.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the Christchurch Central Development Unit took over from the Christchurch City Council in the central city.

Democracy was abolished at Environment Canterbury. Yet all these organisations still play a role. It's a big bureaucratic jumble.

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There is a difference between consultation and notification, but that seems to escape many in power.

Minister of Education Hekia Parata said she consulted before making the latest decisions on school closures and mergers. Why, then, are people still so angry?

Part of the reason may be an apparent lack of empathy by politicians and the perception that important decisions are being made by bureaucrats in Wellington who don't know or care how Christchurch people feel.

Solution: bring back provincial government! Well, that is unlikely, but political reorganisation would help. Local elections are coming. Get involved in your community, have a say and vote carefully.

Bungled decision-making

Some people believe major decisions are plain wrong, such as spending the best part of $1 billion on a sports stadium and convention centre instead of building affordable housing.

A sports stadium might work if it can be partly self-funding. A convention centre is more likely to become a white elephant.

People have been incensed by other decisions, from giving the council chief executive a hefty pay rise to spending thousands of dollars on street planters.

The fate of Christ Church Cathedral and other heritage buildings has caused anger, and some new designs do not please.

Solution: give designers and the public more say.

Debate over design is healthy. Even a few good buildings or attractive developments can inspire. We have seen a few already, such as the urban village design competitions.

Temporary buildings or structures can bring a smile and lift the spirits, but are no substitutes for long-term plans.

We need action, but we also need more debate, before bad decisions become, literally, set in concrete.

Have your say on architecture and the rebuild. Email letters@press.co.nz.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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