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.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

 

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