Why build on risky ground? It costs us all

Rebuilding Christchurch's CBD in the same area already devastated by earthquakes makes no sense, says Dunedin writer Ian Smith, given recent predictions of further aftershocks for years to come.

No-one disputes the enthusiasm of MP Gerry Brownlee for the rebuilding of Christchurch, any more than they would denigrate the attempts by Mayor Bob Parker for rallying the city and its people after the second large "shake" which rendered much of the central city a wasteland. 

But sentiment, and political opportunism aside, Lee Vandervis has raised an important issue, even if he has gone somewhat over the top with some of his suggestions regarding relocation of Christchurch businesses to Dunedin, which was bound to raise hackles in any such discussion.

Let it be remembered, however, that in the spate of head office relocations a decade or two ago, Christchurch was a grateful beneficiary of Dunedin's misfortune, and although an aura of brotherly love may be afoot post quakes, it is not long ago that a strategic plan to close down the remaining vestiges of our neurosurgical services had the hospital complex ringed, three deep, with local supporters, but elicited neither one shred of sympathy, nor any offer of a more equitable compromise, from Christchurch.

Mr Brownlee, bombastically convinced as ever of the righteousness of his cause; Prime Minister John Key, wearing his "Christchurch boy" hat, when politically expedient; even the long-suffering Bob Parker, (for whom, I am sure, most of us have the greatest admiration), must take on board one very significant fact.

The rebuilding of Christchurch will not be financed by Christchurch alone, far from it. The people of Christchurch have borne the human cost in terms of inconvenience, dislocation and sheer disheartenment, but the real cost, the significance of which will remain long after the rhetoric has ended, will reverberate, big time, across every property insurance premium to be paid, New Zealand wide, into the almost infinite future.

The country has been conditioned to accept there will be one rebuild of Christchurch. Its people would be dismayed to find the sacrifices they have made through their insurance and other costs (and they must be real enough for those on fixed incomes in low-income parts of New Zealand to have doubts as to whether re-insurance will actually be affordable) will continue into perpetuity.

The initial enthusiasm for the Christchurch rebuild, consultation with Christchurch citizens as to the shape a revitalised city should take, and initial planning, was all conducted on a basis that, from the time of the major shake, aftershocks and tremors would continue on a decreasing scale until, finally, everything would reach a state of equilibrium again.

More recent and better-informed prognoses, however, have said aftershocks are likely to continue for at least the next 30 years. Under those circumstances, it is perfectly possible Christchurch, in an advanced state of rebuild, could be levelled again.

Christchurch is to be rebuilt in an area no city should have been put in the first place, on gravelly alluvium, prone to liquefaction. Christchurch was originally built on what has proven to be a less than ideal site.

No-one is to blame for that, because the knowledge was simply not available at the time development started. But, now that information has come to light, and we have been appraised of the potential risks of rebuilding on the same site, it would be financially reckless to adopt a head-in-the-sand attitude and regard the disastrous quake of February 2011 as a "one-off" when all projections are that it was likely no such thing.

Putting aside for a moment the opportunism of which Cr Vandervis stands accused, I question, and suspect many others do, the wisdom of rebuilding the Christchurch CBD in the same place as its predecessor.

Sentiment aside, it doesn't make much sense, given the prognosis of further seismic activity of who knows what magnitude. While Cr Vandervis has laid himself open to accusations of narrow parochial interest, this is an issue which should be aired openly.

Equally, other centres besides Dunedin see the opportunities on offer due to a mass exodus from Christchurch; Nelson, for one, although the recent floods may have caused some would-be Christchurch evacuees to have second thoughts about that city as a long-term destination.

Those in Christchurch who have had enough - and their numbers must have surely been augmented by the prospect of ongoing liquefaction clean-ups into an indefinite future - deserve a place to go.

A final point. Mr Brownlee is the minister in charge of Christchurch's recovery. A gung-ho public image and scorn poured on the heads of everyone standing in the way of his objectives is expected of him by both Christchurch and those who tug on his political strings.

A pity then, that he wouldn't take a more rational view of the wider implications of the problem which has been dropped into his lap. From his somewhat catty remarks, he may regard being forced to live in Dunedin as a fate worse than death.

Actually, he doesn't know what he is missing. We live in Dunedin by choice, and, if it is their wish to do so, that choice should not be denied the people of Christchurch.

 

 

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