Vandervis comments rankle in Christchurch

A call by a Dunedin city councillor for some Christchurch rebuilding to be shifted to Dunedin has drawn the ire of Christchurch residents and scorn from Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Cr Lee Vandervis raised the prospect in an opinion piece first published in the Otago Daily Times last week, and reprinted in Christchurch newspaper The Press on Saturday.

His argument prompted a storm of criticism, with responses by Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay, hundreds of online messages - many angrily anti-Dunedin - and blogs criticising Cr Vandervis' view.

Cr Vandervis was sticking to his guns yesterday, telling the ODT the public outcry showed Christchurch residents were living "in denial" about the seismic reality facing their city.

Mr Parker's response, arguing the earthquakes instead represented a new beginning for the city, also showed he was living "in dreamland", Cr Vandervis said.

The southern stoush continued to escalate yesterday when Mr Brownlee waded in, saying Cr Vandervis' "somewhat ill-informed" argument was - like the earthquakes - distressing for the people of Christchurch.

"I just think it's terribly tragic that a Dunedin city councillor can only see a future of Dunedin by being a pariah on someone else's misfortune.

"It's distressing enough for people in Christchurch to have to go through the difficulties that the earthquake events continue to present, without actually scaring them completely by suggesting that they're going to have to relocate to Dunedin."

He said expert geotechnical analysis clearly showed Christchurch could be rebuilt, and the city's economy and people were standing up well in the face of adversity.

"The activity there is very, very strong and the will to rebuild is also very strong." Cr Vandervis' argument won some support from Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull yesterday.

Cr Vandervis' views were those of only one councillor - not the city - but had "some credibility" from a geological perspective, given continued seismic activity in the area, Mr Cull said.

It would be wise for the Government to consider spreading the risk, rather than concentrating key facilities and infrastructure in Christchurch, he believed. "But I don't think it should be just Dunedin [that benefited]," Mr Cull said.

Speaking earlier, Cr Vandervis said he was being deliberately provocative to try and prompt national debate about the merits of rebuilding Christchurch.

He believed money destined to rebuild Government offices and key Christchurch infrastructure - such as the Lyttelton Port - should instead be spent in Dunedin.

The continued relocation of the New Zealand Transport Agency's Christchurch office - shifted five times in the last year - was an example of the "madness" of rebuilding in Christchurch, Cr Vandervis said.

He apologised if his comments had upset Christchurch residents, but said he had no regrets about raising the issue and denied his comments risked damaging Dunedin's brand.


The earthquake's possible value

There are two fault-lines located to Dunedin, one on the Taieri, apparently, and the 'Akatore Fault' which runs off our coastline and parallel to it. There are other faults which may be benign, or may, in the fullness of time, prove to be 'not'.

One value to Dunedin of the Christchurch quake, is the prior warning it gives to those with the intelligence to take notice, that many of Dunedin's older stone/brick buildings, having been based upon a European concept of ''permanent materials'' developed in areas not prone to seismic activity, have the potential to create just as much danger, havoc and disruption as was the case in Christchurch.

We, however, have the luxury of nature having fired a shot across our bows, and we would be wise, I feel, if that warning didn't go unheeded.

Christchurch and insurance companies

The insurance companies will settle the question of rebuilding Christchurch. They just won't cover high risk property. So Cr Vandervis is right about it being a waste of money to try to rebuild Christchurch.  (And he's  very brave to say so publicly.)

Where people go instead is just a matter of personal choice. Where government-funded service centres go should instead be a matter of prudent policy.  It seems fair enough for a Dunedin City Councillor to express the opinion that some of these South Island services would be better located in Dunedin.

Our central and local government politicians seem to be trying to imitate Winston Churchill during World War 2 - tenacious, resilient and unwilling to surrender to anything. Nice rhetoric, but Mother Nature will win.

Cr Vandervis opinion

I rarely agree with comments by Cr Vandervis, but his recently published opinion on relocating some of Christchurch to Dunedin is worthy of merit. The reply by Gerry Brownlee is very disappointing.

Maybe our Mayor and council should do some more work on this now.

Very good analogies, Conservation.

I myself lived 3 years in Christchurch (1986-88) and indeed I feel incredible sadness to see it gone to such ruin. It would now be too haunting for me to walk around the main city. A flight over the CBD from there to Dunedin in September (having transferred from another flight in) after taking off to the north was a shock enough for me.  The photo I took looked monochromatic.  It was really bleak, and I felt sick at heart for the rest of the flight.

It is like a terminally ill, much loved pet indeed, that no one wants to let go off, but it comes to a point sadly, when one is merely delaying the inevitable.  We would all hope the quakes stop, but they don't, and that, sadly, is the reality.[Abridged]

No time for kneejerk reactions

It’s understandable, emotions getting in the way of practicalities, for those persistent to ride it out, and it does seem at least that some parts of the city are still OK, but for the rest, well, it comes to asking about the old adage: Did the wise man build his house upon the sand or soft earth, where it might sink in a quake?

It was meant to be more of a welcome as, understandably, the endless quakes are wearing away at the people. Something seems to be brewing, no good the geologists saying it will cease,. We have heard that a few times already and still the shakes come, doing further damage.

Lee was just telling it how it is.

On faultlines...

Some posters could go and get real themselves by watching the briefing last week held by Geonet.  It will help put things in perspective.

Just staggering

This whole debate is just petty and unnecessary.

I suggest some posters and Cr Vandervis should call Recover Canterbury for the facts instead of making sweeping generalisations and masquerading idle speculation as statements of fact.

Recover Canterbury will tell you that the main impact from the earthquakes in Christchurch has been to local small businesses with small customer catchments. The small businesses have effectively been disconnected from their customer bases when they were forced to move out of unsafe buildings. Those business with large pan-city catchments or distribution depots are staying and are doing OK.

Sure, some restaurants or family owned businesses may shift, but its very doubtful that some of the bigger players like PDL will be.[Abridged]


The leaders must have frank discussion with their citizens.  They must leave their egos out of this and concentrate how to better their citizens lives.

Does it make sense to pour millions of dollars into infrastructure and old churches when its possible that another series of earthquakes will damage more of that city?

Again the arrogance of the leadership makes me feel Mickey Mouse is leading the pack or the mindlessness of the old boy network.

Letting the old girl go

Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made. A responsible government would put the needs of the economy and the people over making unpopular decisions. Cr Vanderviss is showing the sort of leadership that this country needs. Maybe it's time to start to conceiving the inconceivable. Maybe it's time to concede defeat to mother nature and accept that this battle of wills will only have one winner.

In an analogy-filled response to this issue I can only summarise by juxtaposing Christchurch and the poor old family dog that really should be allowed to pass away, but it's a hard decision to make, to allow that beloved one to pass on. Maybe it will be better for everybody if the life-support were to be turned off.

How many more aftershocks, building collapses or, god forbid, fatalities before Parker and Brownlee make that call to man the lifeboats? [Abridged]


Dunedin faults and seismic hazards

The newspaper has previously published two useful items:

Dunedin residents ‘should not be complacent’ (9.3.11) - Dunedin fault map.

Quaking in our boots: How prepared is Dunedin? (18.9.10) -

Map: Faults of the Lower South Island

See also:

Attempt to quantify Dunedin’s seismic hazard, EQC research paper

Seismic Risk in the Otago Region (summary and report) — Opus International Consultants (2005) for Otago Regional Council


What Brownlee is really scared of

Gerry Brownlee's rather catty and unnecessarily 'ad-hominem' outburst towards Christchurch's southern neighbour is prompted by one thing, and one thing only.

Christchurch people relocating here, sending their offspring to our schools medium-term, or just paying us a couple of weeks' visit as respite from the quakes, might well realise that the tripe that they have been fed by our rather condescending and sniffy 'pseudo-English' neighbours since time immemorial regarding Dunedin as a place-to-live, has been ill-founded and untrue.

He wouldn't want the news relayed back to 'The Garden City' or what remains of it, that Dunedin was actually an agreeable place in which to live and one which has a great deal going for it, because, God forbid, that might precipitate a mass exodus from the city which he represents. There are times when 'bigger' is not necessarily 'better'.

"Forced to relocate" piffle

Christchurch people are already being forced to relocate - forced by circumstance, nature, whatever you want to call it. 

Loss of their homes and the unaffordability or unavailability of equivalent housing is one reason.  Delays in getting compensation, repairs and so on have seen people move "temporarily", as have disruptions to children's schooling.  As time goes on and they become comfortable in the new town is it not likely that they will decide not to move back? 

Add to this the effect on many people of the months - years - of stress.  People have different capacities for dealing with stress, and I have nothing but amazed respect for all those Christchurch people who have picked themselves up, cleaned things up and managed to keep smiling.  But it wears a person down, the only difference being how quickly.  Seeing one's children nervous, knowing one cannot promise "it's over, we're safe now" and make it better with a cuddle must be too much to bear in the end.  Many have already left.  

Cr Vandervis did not suggest the rest of the population be forced into their cars and on to buses and sent to Dunedin against their wishes; his main argument was that the facilities that are at risk from further quakes damaging either them or the supportive infrastructure - water, electricity, roading, drains - should be located somewhere less vulnerable. Also, when an employer moves here, and taking all the other factors into consideration, his workers may decide of their own free will to relocate.

Lee Vandervis' comments

Vandervis is (unfortunately) on the money. Christchurch is not a viable prospect for investors, local and overseas. Few sensible real estate purchasers would buy there, with the city's earthquake record now. Few sensible investors will plonk their money down on business ventures centered in Christchurch. Insurance can be impossible.

Things have changed for Christchurch, and to pretend that we can somehow make it as if it never happened, and keep Christchurch as the centre of South Island business and culture is unwise.

That said, in the interests of robustness of infrastructure, I don't believe it would be wise to centre everything around Dunedin. No-one knew about the fault below Christchurch before this all happened - who knows if Dunedin has a similar unknown fault or issue? Dunedin is susceptible to sea level rise, for example, which may affect us in coming decades: another reason why thinking and planning must be long-term.

Truly robust systems are decentralised (with backups if possible), and I believe that the way forward is to share Christchurch's load throughout the towns and cities of the South Island.   As an aside, we also need to start thinking how Dunedin can assist Cantabrians who wish to relocate here - financially and otherwise.


Brownlee remark

Gerry Brownlee wades nto the debate over Cr Lee Vandervis' remarks to say, "It's distressing enough for people in Christchurch to have to go through the difficulties that the earthquake events continue to present, without actually scaring them completely by suggesting that they're going to have to relocate to Dunedin."(Emphasis mine.)

Apart from the chilly reception National government officials would likely receive at the Hillside Workshops and past DCC spending habits, I am hard-pressed to think of any reason why Mister Brownlee thinks Dunedin "scary".

Earthquakes, nostalgia and safety

Brownlee and Parker and all that lot need to get real.

Why would you rebuild on risky land when you know the "new"faultlines are still in the same place that caused the earthquakes in the first place. The fact is that Christchurch has had 10,000 earthquakes since the original one and the seismologists are saying that this may continue for years.

How arrogant of these leaders to think they can outthwart nature.  It is obvious that a real true and safe plan needs to be found.  All those Christchurch peeps can get bitter and twisted but the truth is Christchurch should not be rebuilt in the same place.  It is not safe.

Silly to blame a DCC councillor when he is only speaking the truth.  As to whether it benefits Dunedin is another matter.  But first and foremost the people of Christchurch deserve the truth and the truth is itis not safe to rebuild Christchurch in the same places

kris nicolau


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