Quake city voters feeling abandoned

The Christchurch Cathedral has become a symbol of the battle some Christchurch residents will face in their lives. Photo from ODT files.
The Christchurch Cathedral has become a symbol of the battle some Christchurch residents will face in their lives. Photo from ODT files.
National overwhelmingly won the party vote in Christchurch and the wider Canterbury area in 2011 by promising to get the rebuild of the earthquake-damaged city under way.

Despite the Government pouring billions of dollars into the rebuild, political editor DeneMackenzie finds not everyone is happy with progress.

Driving into Christchurch from the south, I notice new houses dominate the landscape from Rolleston, through to Lincoln and Halswell. It looks like a new city has sprung up like a phoenix from the ashes of the earthquake-damaged city.

Rolleston, in particular, is meeting the dreams set way back in the late 1960s by former Labour prime minister Norman Kirk, who believed Rolleston would become a satellite city, feeding workers into the central business district and manufacturing areas.

While Mr Kirk dreamed of a satellite area of blue-collar workers supporting a growing heavy engineering industry, the earthquakes have found Rolleston being inhabited by wealthier residents with the means to escape their damaged or demolished homes because they had the means to fight for their EQC and insurance payments.

New schools, shops and houses start in the west before the reality of the situation greets you east of Cathedral Square, where the damaged Christchurch Cathedral sits rotting and crumbling. From the front, the cathedral looks beyond repair and, in fact, the Anglican diocese wants the cathedral demolished.

Two former MPs from opposing political views - Jim Anderton and Philip Burdon - are leading a campaign to save the cathedral and have it rebuilt.

And from behind, standing in Worcester St, you can see why the two men are passionate about saving the historic building. It appears undamaged from the rear, although internal damage can be seen from the front.

Back on the road into Christchurch, Lincoln has developed from a small country town into a suburb with row after row of similar houses, with colours and roofs almost identical. The same sight greets visitors to Wigram, where Ngai Tahu, and others, have developed former paddocks into housing estates.

Talking to people gathered around cafes and malls in the west of Christchurch, life is going well for many of them. Some spoken to increased their mortgage to buy in a new, undamaged area, but most had jobs or had retirement income.

At Hornby, the mood changed slightly standing outside the Pak'n Save supermarket, just inside the entrance of The Hub.

While some of the shoppers in the packed mall were happy about their situation, Sydenham resident Daryl Cussak was out of work, out of patience and running out of time to get his family rehoused in something suitable.

His house is leaning on one side, and to rebuild piles have to be driven well below the water table, which he said had risen.

He had hoped normal drainage would suffice but was told he would need to spend more money than planned on a deep drain on the street side of his section to capture the water. He is not alone in waiting to get his house fixed, four winters after the earthquakes.

However, driving into Linwood, turning across to Wainoni and along Pages Rd to New Brighton is where reality hits the road.

New Brighton was already a fading star of Christchurch, but the circumstances in which many residents still find themselves living is a shock. Houses are munted, yet show signs of life as residents in the east make the best of bad circumstances. Streets have disappeared.

Most do not have the means to fight the authorities for help. Some were uninsured, and some just despair at anything good ever happening again.

Danny Yung, who runs a dairy-takeaways shop just off what passes as the main shopping area, says people get by but he notices a change of pace when benefits are paid. Some of his friends and customers live from pay day to pay day. The overwhelming feeling is National has much to lose on September 20.

While some people are doing very well - in fact sales of high-end new cars are booming in Christchurch - others are struggling.

When the Otago Daily Times visited the city in 2011, Labour supporters were voting National because they believed Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was going to get things done. Mr Brownlee is a big person with a bigger personality.

Race-day punters at Riccarton, the few attending the first day of the Grand National week and ensconced in the public bar, had a different view of Mr Brownlee three years later.

But Labour is also not doing well. Voters, at least the ones who feel left behind, believe all political parties have abandoned them. Labour has been announcing policies around buying out red-zoned properties in Canterbury of 100% of their 2007 rateable value. But that could be years away.

The Green Party wants to warm up Christchurch homes, but voters in the east say they have homes not worth warming up. They want to shift. Voters in the west already have new insulated homes.

What was particularly galling for some was the Greens planning to spend $462 million on smart transport solutions in Christchurch over five years.

Spending $20 million progressing the Avon-Otakaro River Park and another $15 million on climate change adaptation missed the point completely with Christchurch.

Houses, houses and more houses are needed, not cycleways, parks, and light transport options.

-dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz 


At a glance

• Houses - not parks, cycleways or light rail transport - remain the biggest issue.
• Christchurch Central National Party MP Nicky Wegner likely to lose her seat following boundary changes favouring Labour, but will be returned to the list
• Port Hills Labour MP Ruth Dyson is at risk of losing some of her majority because of boundary changes favouring National Party candidate Nuk Korako. Ms Dyson in not on the list and must win her seat to return to Parliament as Labour's longest-serving MP.
• National's party vote majority at risk because of perceived inaction over fixing housing problems in earthquake-damaged city.
• Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's reputation as a man who gets things done has been hurt.