Christchurch is a city in crisis

Christchurch was hit by a couple of strong quakes the day before Xmas Eve. I have to say that the sense of disillusionment and renewed anxiety that has fallen over the city has been palpable. After several months of relative quiet, these quakes have been a real kick in the guts. Any sense of optimism was always fragile and that has been smashed.

For people out in the Eastside it has meant more soul-destroying liquefaction and, elsewhere in the city, more damage to already damaged buildings. Some buildings, formerly deemed to be repairable, are now to be demolished. Both the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and the Christchurch City Council haven't been up front about the new damage - presumably they think they are protecting a city's battered morale. We are well beyond that point now.

Any notion that a significant rebuild will begin in Christchurch in 2012 was always fanciful but it is now right off the agenda. The international insurers will not touch this city with a barge pole. Interestingly it is an issue I've heard both Quake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Mayor Bob Parker skirt around in recent interviews. Vague claims that there is still cause for optimism are simply ridiculous.

In the meantime the Government's 'hands off' approach to the quake recovery process has only served to make this city's future increasingly unclear. With the possibility that Christchurch could be facing seismic activity for up to four years and with the flight from the city set to accelerate, this is a crisis that has been compounded by the Government's ideological assumption that, somehow, 'the market' will see Christchurch right.

Thanks to the Government's neoliberal zealotry, many owners of damaged homes are in danger of losing a considerable amount of equity. That's 'the market' in action.

And on the Eastside the situation continues to get worse. Large areas are now simply uninhabitable - although Roger Sutton and CERA have yet to recognise this. The Press yesterday reported that on the 23 December a Green Zone resident received a letter from CERA advising his zoning appeal had been turned down: he was confirmed as remaining Green. On the same day his area of Burwood was hit by liquefaction again.

Now the people in these areas, already under considerable stress, are expected to wait while CERA reassesses these areas again. Given CERA's inability to get it right first time round, no one is confident they will get it right this time round either. Roger Sutton's familiar refrain that he 'understands' what people are going though is really beginning to grate. Sutton is now being lampooned as the 'nice Aunt' who shows up to say something encouraging but meaningless and then disappears again.

People's lives and futures are at stake here and I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that there has been a ghettoisation of the eastern suburbs.

People out in the Eastside can't swan off to holiday homes in Marlborough (Brownlee) or holidays in Taupo (Parker) and the Gold Coast (Marryatt). They are stuck in this deep mess for the duration. Platitudes about the 'Canterbury spirit' and 'everyone pulling together' merely mask the deep inequalities between the quake 'haves' and 'have nots'.

The Government has allowed a social disaster to unfold in Christchurch.

Instead of fighting for the interests and concerns of local people the Christchurch City Council has been little more than a mouthpiece for the Government's views. We have Mayor Bob Parker to largely 'thank' for that - but he has been backed by councillors also allied to the National Party. This includes councillors like Sue Wells whose 'priority' this year was to attend a wine 'conference' in Germany - and got local ratepayers to pay for her holiday.

Ironically the councillors who have not toed the Parker line have been publicly lambasted by Brownlee for not supporting the recovery process. That really is calling the kettle black.

Earthquake Communities Action Network


  1. Let's not forget that at the very moment CERA was announcing the reclassification of Parklands as 'blue-green' - i.e. repairable - Bob Parker was making his first post-quake visit to the suburb, and was totally in the dark as to what CERA was doing. Naturally Bob and his minders were spewing when they found out, but as good little Brownlee acolytes they dutifully grabbed their ankles and gritted their teeth.

    The damage in that area from Friday's quake is the last straw for many. How heartening for them to discover that, according to John Key, it's mostly 'psychological'.


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