Masonry targeted

September 3rd, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Nick Smith has announced:

A new category of priority buildings, covering parts of unreinforced masonry like parapets and facades, is to be included in the Building Act requirements for upgrading earthquake-prone buildings following strong submissions to select committee including from Canterbury earthquake survivor and Lincoln University lecturer Ann Brower, Building and Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith announced today. 

“We need to heed every possible lesson from the 22 February earthquake in Christchurch in rewriting the building laws to minimise future fatalities. Falling parts of unreinforced masonry like parapets and facades killed 35 people that tragic day, including every passenger on the Red Bus except Ann Brower.

God, how awful.

The significant change is adding a new category of priority buildings to cover those parts of an unreinforced masonry building like a parapet or veranda which could fall into a public road, footpath or other thoroughfare that has been identified by a council as having sufficient vehicle or pedestrian traffic to warrant prioritisation. It is estimated that some 2000 buildings nationwide will fall into this new category.

The effect of being a priority building is that the times for assessment and upgrade requirements are halved. In a high risk area, this means the assessments will need to be completed in two and a half years, instead of five, and upgraded within seven and a half years rather than 15. In a medium risk area, the assessments would need to occur in five years instead of 10, and the repairs within 12 and a half years, rather than 25. 

This seems a sensible priority.

Another possible $5 billion from taxpayers for Christchurch

June 13th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Government’s contribution to the rebuild of Christchurch was likely to end up as high as $20 billion, Prime Minister John Key says.

Key said the Government’s commitment to the reconstruction could increase by $5b, and that Christchurch people had turned a corner following the difficult times brought about from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

”We’ve put about $15b of taxpayers money into the rebuild, but it will probably end up being the best part of $20b over time,” Key said.

Yet a small minority claim that isn’t enough. I’m not sure any OECD Government has ever spent more on a natural disaster, as a proportion of GDP.

Relocating Parliament

May 9th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting Cabinet paper on what happens to Parliament and Cabinet if Wellington is devastated by an earthquake. Key aspects are:

  • Parliament and Government shifts to Auckland
  • Parliament will meet at the Devonport Naval Base for 14 days initially, and then elsewhere in Auckland
  • Decision to move would be made by the Prime Minister
  • MPs and essential staff would be transported by either helicopter from Paraparaumu, plane from Ohakea or by ship
  • The House would meet within 7 days
  • Only 42 essential staff plus 120 MPs, GG and spouse would relocate to Auckland
  • Temporary Executive Government and Parliament would have 12 DPMC staff, two GG staff, seven Clerk’s Office staff, eight PMO and Ministerial staff, five Parliamentary Counsel staff and six Parliamentary Service staff


The Press on Labour

March 4th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Labour leader David Cunliffe perhaps scored one or two electoral points last week when he visited – in her damaged home – an 85-year-old widow who told him she had been “pushed from pillar to post” in her dealings with EQC. …

Unfortunately, it was no substitute for a cohesive and well-articulated earthquake recovery policy from Labour, which continues to look lacklustre when it comes to explaining how it would handle the rebuild.

Cunliffe followed up his photo opportunity with a pledge to set up, if elected to Government, a $2 million fund to help individuals bring test cases against EQC and insurance companies, to “clarify the law, remove blockages and help get things moving”.

There is an immediate perception problem with the amount, which seems almost insignificant given the scale of the problem.

While Cunliffe talks of millions, the Government in election year is bound to keep repeating its mantra that it is funding $15 billion of a $40b rebuild.

Cunliffe’s rhetoric almost invites critique. If elected to Government, it would be better for Labour to clarify the law itself, even if that involves seeking its own declaratory judgments from the courts, rather than relying on citizens bringing test cases.

Paying people to take EQC and insurance companies to court might also create blockages, rather than remove them, at least in the cases of those who become involved in litigation.

It seems to be one of their more stupid policies. We’ll pay people to take our own insurance company to court.

And, given the length of time such cases take to be heard and adjudicated, then potentially appealed, it is hard to imagine how this scheme will help to get things moving to any significant degree.

A great way to delay things. Will they fund cases all the way to the Supreme Court?

It would be inviting them, in some cases, to sue EQC, a government department. What Cunliffe is saying, essentially, is that “if elected to govern, we will give you some money so that you can take our own officials to court, so that they can have a better idea of how they should be handling your case file”.

This is not what electors are looking for in a credible opposition party campaigning in election year.

It sounds like a policy a 22 year old staffer dreamt up the day before the visit. The key word in the editorial is credible. The policy is not credible, and neither is the party promoting it.

$260 million for Canterbury University

November 1st, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The University of Canterbury has received the $260 million government cash injection it desperately needs to get back on its feet.

Prime Minister John Key, along with Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce and National Christchurch East candidate Matthew Doocey, made the announcement at the Christchurch campus this afternoon.

The Government’s contribution will fund a new science centre and expand and upgrade engineering facilities, Joyce said. 

“While generally the Government expects tertiary education institutions to fund their own capital investment from their balance sheets, Canterbury institutions are dealing with a unique set of challenges. The blunt reality is that Canterbury University would find it very difficult to recover without this support.”

The university has a redevelopment plan to modernise its campus and infrastructure. The total programme is valued at $1.1 billion over 10 years.

About 25 per cent will be insurer-funded, about half funded by the university and the rest from the government support announced today.

It will be interesting to see what the final bill for the earthquake comes to. Very pleased that the Government is managing to play its part in the rebuild, and remain on a course to surplus. I recall the Greens demanding an increase in tax rates to fund the rebuild.

The Press on the next 1,000 days

May 31st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press has two nifty features on this story.

At the top of the page they have  a recovery meter showing the percentage completed for various recovery tasks such as home reparis, EQC claims and payouts, infrastructure rebuilds, demolitions and opening of the red zone.

Down the bottom they have a calendar of likely future events.

$2b for Christchurch

April 29th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

The Government has taken another $2 billion hit to its books as the estimated cost of the Christchurch rebuild continues to escalate amid signs the bill could grow even more.

Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key revealed the forecast cost to the Government had risen from $13b to $15b since the Treasury’s December update was issued.

The new figures, to be included in the May 16 Budget, would also show the overall capital cost of the rebuild would soar by a third to reach $40b against December’s $30b estimate.

Speaking at the National Party’s Mainland Region conference in Hanmer Springs, Mr Key said the new figures showed the extent of the challenge of rebuilding the earthquake-damaged city.

“This is the largest and most complex, single economic project in New Zealand’s history. The scale of the rebuild is unprecedented,” he told delegates, who had earlier negotiated a mock “toll booth” placed by anti-privatisation protesters at a bridge on the way to the conference venue.

Even the Crown’s spend of $15 billion must be several times bigger than any other project in NZ? What would be the biggest to date before the earthquake?

UPDATE: I’m informed that the only “project” that has been a larger spend for New Zealand was WWII. Puts it in perspective.

$30 billion, maybe $40 billion

April 24th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

The Canterbury recovery will cost almost $1 billion more than the value of Cyprus’ gross domestic product, almost twice Iceland’s and more than double New Zealand’s annual health spend.

And while Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says the recovery’s price tag is still on the rise, looking set to surpass the latest $30b estimate, Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend has now gone further, saying the recovery will cost $40b.

Bill English must sometimes gaze enviously at Michael Cullen’s photo, assuming he has a dart board in his office.

The last Finance Minister had a booming global economy, and his biggest problem was inventing new spending schemes to stop the surplus getting too large.

English has had not only the worst global recession since the Great Depression, but also the fiscal shock of the Christchurch Earthquake which as a percentage of the economy is one of the greatest to hit a developed economy in modern times.

The fact we are on track to achieve surplus the financial year after next is a minor miracle, after inheriting a structural deficit projection.

Insurance in Wellington

March 14th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Alastair Thompson writes at Scoop:

Sources tell me that insurance chiefs from the biggest reinsurers in the world are now pricing Wellington as “ground Zero for earthquake reinsurance risk” in the world. Not the Asia-Pacific. Not the ring of fire. The world.

And as a result practically speaking earthquake reinsurance cover is not practically available for commercial property in Wellington.

Yes some policies are being written on some buildings (usually ones which are up to code and have blue chip tenants) for 400% to 600% premium increases.

My apartment’s building insurance has already doubled and off memory it is at 80% of code!

In the Wellington commercial property market full insurance is a condition of all the mortgage business. Full replacement earthquake insurance is a standard term and condition.

In NZ most companies which carry business interruption insurance also need to have earthquake interruption cover to satisfy the conditions of the bank credit facilities. These often include warrantees around the quality of the building that business is being conducted out of – including the existence of earthquake insurance cover.

So what does this mean?

It means that the Wellington CBD property market is frozen. The only purchasers are ones which are buying with cash. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of distressed mortgaged unit title and company share owners in the city.

It means rentals are falling and landlords are getting creative.

A good description of the problem.

An important cost benefit analysis

March 4th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Catherine Harris at Stuff reports:

A former adviser to the Reserve Bank and World Bank says the cost of bringing in tougher tests for earthquake-prone buildings would far outweigh the benefits.

Economic consultant Ian Harrison said he had analysed proposals put forward by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on building standards, and it showed the cost of the tougher regime would be 50 times the benefits.

In Auckland the cost was 1762 times the benefit.

Harrison said his research was based on the ministry’s own expert analysis.

“The proposals will save only 0.25 lives a year at a cost of over $4 billion,” he said.

This speaks volumes.

Risk must always be balance against cost. Far from clear that the Government has it right in this case.

UPDATE: Have just had clarified that the Government has made no decisions on building standards, so ipso facto don’t have it wrong or right.

The proposals are from the Royal Commission on the Canterbury Earthquakes. MOBIE are consulting on those recommendations, but the Government itself has made no decision on any changes. They are just doing what a Government should – consulting on what the Royal Commission has recommended.

Incidentally submissions close this week on 8 March on them.

While I think a lot of deference should be given to the Royal Commissions, I don’t think that means what they recommend should automatically be accepted. I think the balance of cost and risk has to be carefully considered, and at this stage it doesn’t appear the Commission has got that balance quite right. We’ll see in time what the Government itself actually proposes.

Why bother getting insurance?

February 18th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Homepaddock highlights this policy from NZ First:

All Christchurch uninsured red-zoned land owners who accept the current Government’s 50 per cent compensation offer will get the other half should New Zealand First become part of the next coalition Government.

Ensuring these landowners are treated fairly and receive the full rateable value of the land will be a bottom line in any coalition negotiations.

Very unwise for a party on 4% to start laying down non-negotiable policies two years before an election.

Ele points out:

The party obviously doesn’t understand that what it regards as treating these landowners fairly would be treating insurance companies, their staff and shareholders, and taxpayers most unfairly.

This would kill the insurance industry because no-one would bother insuring their properties if they knew the government would pick up the pieces after a disaster.

This policy passes all the risk and costs from private property owners and insurance companies to the government which means taxpayers.

Exactly. The precedent would be horrible. You’d be mad to ever get insurance again.

Now remember that NZ First has said this is a non-negotiable bottom line policy for any future Government.

Isn’t MMP great!

Moral hazard

January 29th, 2013 at 9:11 am by David Farrar

Marc Greenhill at Stuff reports:

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has rejected suggestions he ignored officials’ advice in making reduced offers to uninsured red-zoners.

The Press reported yesterday the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) advised Brownlee last August that property owners in the residential red zone who did not qualify for the initial Crown compensation deal – mainly commercial properties and undeveloped land – should have the same offer extended to them.

A decision was made to offer those in limbo half the rateable value (RV) of their land and avoid the “moral hazard” of a government safety net for the uninsured.

I think it would have been very bad to offer the same price for an uninsured property as for those insured. It would have set an awful precedent and encourage people not to insure.

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said the “low-ball” offers would form part of a formal complaint she had made to the auditor-general about the Government’s handling of the residential red zone.

Labour – campaigning for the rights of the uninsured to get the same payouts as the insured. That’s true equality for you comrades!

The ones who wouldn’t even have organised the rubble to be cleared by now

December 6th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reported:

Christchurch MPs hand-delivered a letter to Prime Minister John Key today, voicing concerns about the lack of democracy in Canterbury.

Green MP Eugenie Sage, Labour’s Lianne Dalziel, and NZ First MP Denis O’Rourke wrote the letter on behalf of signatories including Save Our Schools, Historic Places Canterbury, Christchurch Civic Trust and the Wizard of New Zealand.

The letter requested the reinstatement of democratic elections for the regional council, Environment Canterbury, in 2013.

It also protested the demolition of heritage buildings, school closures, Government acquisition of land in the CBD, and asked for a reassessment of the April 30 deadline for red-zoned homeowners to move out of the red zone.

Did they also complain about the Easter Bunny not turning up?

There is a legitimate issue around ECan. I don’t think the Govt made the right decision there, and people have every right to protest that decision. Well, they have the right to protest any decision, but the others are really just calls for Christchurch to remain a ruined city. Let’s take them one by one.

demolition of heritage buildings

I’m sorry, but there was a fucking earthquake. People died. They got squashed by unsafe buildings. These heritage buildings are generally now death traps.  The Govt hasn’t decided to demolish them because they hate heritage buildings. They are being demolished because they are unsafe. I have zero sympathy for people who put heritage ahead of safety. I love heritage buildings. I wish we had more of them, like they do in the US and Europe. But there was a fucking earthquake.

school closures

Yes the Govt stuffed up with the initial proposals. But these MPs are calling for indefinite delays. They say they don’t like the consultation deadline of this week, but are not proposing an alternate one. Basically they just want no change from the status quo. That is the luxury of opposition – do nothing but oppose, oppose, oppose.

Government acquisition of land in the CBD

This one is just nuts. They demanded that people have their say on a new city centre. They did have their say. The blueprint released had widespread support – it had the green spaces people wanted, it had buildings not too tall etc. Now of course in any remodelling of the CBD after a disaster, there will have to be some compulsory acquisitions. Sure you can argue against that from a libertarian perspective and say the Govt should have no power of acquisition. But how the hell can you argue for a new city centre, and then whine about the fact the Govt will actually make it happen. Are those MPs really suggesting that the new city centre have to be built only on bits and pieces of land that is already Council or Govt owned?

Put it like this, if Labour and Greens were the Govt and the earthquake happened on their watch, do you possibly think they would not be using compulsory acquisition powers to rebuild the CBD due to their libertarian beliefs?

a reassessment of the April 30 deadline for red-zoned homeowners to move out of the red zone

Again, they just want nothing to happen  it seems. I think most people in Christchurch want progress. Of course they are not happy with every decision the Govt has made. Who is? But almost everything they are calling for is to slow or stop the rebuild – basically they just oppose anything that has anyone upset.

April 2013 will be 30 months after the first earthquake. The Govt could in fact have made no offers. It could have said this is between you and your insurance agency. Instead we’ve had the largest ever expenditure on a natural disaster (as a % of GDP) in the world for decades.

UPDATE: I see the NZEI has voted to go on strike the day after the final decisions are announced about Canterbury schools. Wouldn’t it have been slightly less knee jerk to wait to see what is decided, before voting to strike about it? Basically they are indicating that they are going to strike regardless. They want no change at all. I understand change is upsetting. but schools exist for the benefits of pupils, not teachers. If there are not enough pupils to justify a school not merging, then change is inevitable.


The Chch CBD plan

July 30th, 2012 at 6:12 pm by David Farrar

The proposed plan is here. It looks pretty damn good to me. The key projects are:

  • A green space around the Avon River
  • The square, with more green areas
  • A retail precinct
  • A convention centre that can hold 2,000 people at once
  • Health, justice and arts precincts
  • An earthquake memorial
  • A cultural centre
  • A metro sports facility
  • An enclosed sports stadium
  • A centralised bus interchange

As I blogged previously, the city centre was somewhat dying even before the earthquake. This plan, if accepted and affordable, looks to make central Christchurch a great place to work, live and play.

Wellington fucked in an earthquake

July 5th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Katie Chapman at Stuff reports:

A big quake could leave Wellington cut off from the rest of the North Island for four months, new disaster predictions show.

It could take 40 days to restore the water supply to even a basic level, while road access could take up to 120 days, according to “worst case” predictions presented to the region’s Civil Defence Emergency Management Group.

That could leave Wellington residents or commuters trapped in the city for months, and dependent on water rations being distributed by authorities for about six weeks.

The predictions relate to a quake of magnitude 7.5 or higher, and come after a magnitude-7 quake off Taranaki on Tuesday.

Basically we are very fucked if the big one strikes. I’m just 200 metres away from the local New World, so in the event of the big one, I’ll be looting shopping for supplies as quickly as I can, and then probably pitch my emergency shelter tent in Katherine Mansfield Park. Rather than rely on authorities for water rations, I’ll do a daily trip to the Kaiwharawhara stream for fresh water.

By coincidence there is going to be a nation-wide earthquake drill in September called the New Zealand ShakeOut campaign. The Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management want to get a million people involved in it, so I’ll blog details close to the time.

They also kindly reminded me that in a quake their advice is to drop, cover and hold – not to flee the building as I did!

A 7.0 quake

July 3rd, 2012 at 11:09 pm by David Farrar

This is the first time that I’ve actually freaked out over an earthquake. Being on the 10th floor, I felt it badly. Made it down 10 flights of steps in around 40 seconds. The first shake had me at my door frame. Then there was a pause and I had a gut feeling it may shake again so headed for the stairs. Just as I got there, then an even bigger shake and decided it was safer to get out, than head back in.

Hope those near Opunake are fine. Thank goodness it was 250 km deep. A shallow quake could have been very nasty.

One upside. I discovered an earthquake is a very good cure for the flu. My aching muscles and lethargy disappeared instantly as I fled the building!

Call in the UN

June 11th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Aggrieved Christchurch red-zone residents are taking their plight to the United Nations.

They believe the Government’s buyout offer breaches their human rights and the United Nations should intervene on their behalf.

Oh yes. Send in the Peacekeepers and the black helicopters.

Kaiapoi resident and Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network (WeCan) spokesman Brent Cairns said the idea of zoning specific areas where repairs and rebuilding were allowed was a violation of civil liberties.

Yes, it is a breach of human rights to zone land as unsafe.

The “supposedly voluntary buyout offer” was structured in such a way that it was, in effect, compulsory and bypassed existing laws that regulated the taking of land by Government.

How awful – the taxpayers are offering the full GV of properties on unsafe land. That is such a breach of human rights. Some people forget that the Government was not obliged to do anything at all – they could leave it all to EQC and the private insurers.

Cairns said the Government’s threats that services would either be removed or not repaired in red-zone areas, should property owners choose to stay on in their homes, more than 7200 families were effectively being evicted.

If only 50 out of 5,000 people stay on in a red zoned area, then the funding responsibility for maintaining infrastructure services is theirs. Just as if you build a new house out in the waps, you are likely to bear the cost of connecting up services to you.

Cairns has developed a template letter he is urging people to use to write to the United Nations Human Rights Council, asking it to investigate.

Oh yes, the good Governments of Angola, Cuba, Indonesia, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Moldova, Russia, Saudia Arabia and Uganda who all servce on the HRC will be just the ones to sort this out.

Can anyone work out Labour’s position on Christchurch

April 18th, 2012 at 2:58 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

But in a speech to the Employers Chamber of Commerce in Wellington this afternoon, Dalziel lashed out at both the Government and the council.

Everyone but Lianne is incompetent it seems.

“Without a layer of governance between the Minister and the recovery authority we have decisions being made by Cabinet, implemented by bureaucrats and undermining the last remaining democratic institution in Christchurch – our city council.”

So Labour’s policy is that there should be a Board for CERA? So the Minister appoints a Board that appoints a CEO, and all decisions go from staff to the CEO to the Board to the Minister. Yes, that will speed things up.

The council itself had not responded properly to the shock of the earthquake either, she said. …

However, the mistakes of the council had been compounded by the Government’s response of “imposing a growing bureaucracy” which “must not replace the core functions that belong to the council – the only body that can offer democratic participation in decision-making”.

It is a strange argument that local government is democratic, but central government is not.

“The solutions to all the problems we face in Christchurch can be found in strengthening the council so that it can perform its proper function in collaboration with the citizens of Christchurch, not to usurp its role with a government department without any practical knowledge and experience of urban planning and design.”

So now the policy is to “strengthen” the Council. Can anyone explain to me, what exactly is meant by that?

Just being angry about everything isn’t a substitute for rational policy and analysis.

The new unit is seconding experienced staff from the Council. Unless one is proposing that the City Council be given the powers of compulsory land acquisition, it has to be done by CERA.

The Christchurch CBD rebuild

April 18th, 2012 at 10:44 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A new Christchurch Central Development Unit has 100 days to prepare a ”Blueprint for Action”.

The unit will be headed by Warwick Isaacs, currently the general manager of operations for Cera, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

The new unit was announced today by the Minister for Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee. He said it was time for action and the city needed a clear direction for the centre’s rebuild.

The unit has been created as part of Cera because of the authority’s wide-ranging powers, which include compulsory acquisition of land for major projects.

Brownlee said the Government had largely adopted the Christchurch City Council’s draft plan for the centre.

He said the unit would second staff from the city council and Environment Canterbury, but it would collaborate with the City Council and it was not a takeover.

The council will remain the consenting authority, but Brownlee made a commitment that building consents for the central city would be approved within 14 days.

Isaacs has an extensive record in local government. He was the chief executive officer of the Timaru District Council for 10 years before coming to Christchurch after the February 22 quake as part of Civil Defence’s emergency response team.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker welcomed the unit and said he was delighted that the Government had essentially accepted the community’s vision for its city.

He told a business leaders’ briefing this morning that the unit’s ability to develop and implement a plan showed that the Resource Management Act could not deliver the ”speed, direction and outcomes that we need”.

Seems pretty sensible to me. We await the condemnation from the Labour Party Mayoral candidate.

Dalziel starting her Mayoral campaign early

April 5th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Christchurch democracy is to be “discarded” with the Government poised to take control of the central city rebuild, Labour says. …

Parker said he had not been informed of any “dramatic announcements” about the council’s role in the central city rebuild. …

Cera chief executive Roger Sutton also said he was not aware of any proposal to take over planning responsibilities in the central city.

I think this is more about the 2013 Mayoral elections.

Guest Post: Rebuilding Christchurch following 22/2

March 6th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by John Stringer:

I’m no architect, but I know a bit about art and culture and was born and bred in Christchurch. I grafted my young children here from Kapiti so they too could be ‘Cantabs’ under this sprawling big sky. I adore Christchurch and have made considerable sacrifices to remain here, and  was a parliamentary candidate for Christchurch Central in the late nineties. The confused demolition of the classic Sydenham Heritage Church (1878) a southern gateway to inner Christchurch (on Colombo & Brougham Streets) has pained me on top of all the other complex emotions of 22/2.

Heritage takes perhaps 100 years to set. Simply bowling Christchurch over and starting again will dislocate us from cultural anchoring points intrinsic to our being and history. Retention and restoration are important to healing and recovery –seeing familiarity restored, like an amputee receiving an artificial limb. Who would not restore the toppled statues of Godley and Scott?  Why then, not iconic buildings? While there is an exciting opportunity to rebuild with fresh vision, we must retain the core of what Christchurch is, architecturally.

Cultural iconography has to be a selected snap shot of time (for us mid-nineteenth century neo-gothic Victorian) otherwise cities are an unfocussed mash of everything and nothing. 
Tourists come to take pictures of the Arts Centre and the Christ Church cathedral, not the Forsyth Barr building.  We have trams, Avon punts, Christ’s College –all icons of identity and heritage.  Restoration is vital.

Perhaps our best exemplar is Dresden’s Frauenkirche, the iconic “Church of Our Lady” at the center of their city obliterated in WWII.  This building was lovingly restored from almost nothing, as the architectural heart of Dresden. This was an obvious – and no doubt expensive – piece of cultural healing and identification; holding on to an element of the past to anchor the future.  Human beings do not do well in cultural vacuums. We need reference points.

Many of our old buildings survived: the Jubilee Clock Tower on Victoria Street, much of the Arts Centre, the Museum, many of our old churches (St Albans Union at Merivale; St Mary’s a few blocks down; the Catholic Basilica on Barbadoes St– perhaps out most attractive building) and many did not. Restoration is achievable, but so is fusion. As with Kirkaldie & Stains’ fascade in Lambton Quay, Wellington. Restoration along with faked facades behind which safe modern buildings are constructed, might be a symbiosis pleasing to most: Christ Church cathedral and the Chalice – traditional and contemporary side-by-side, like grandparent and grandchild supporting each other. Eradicate the one, and the other is lessoned, a lesson to us all.

It is not simply an issue of safety.  Older buildings can be strengthened and made safe. My alma mater the red brick Christchurch Boys’ High School was largely unaffected in the quake due to strengthening.

It need not be an argument between traditionalist and progressive. Fusion is the key.  We should restore, strengthen as much of our heritage as we can preserve, and in the grey areas, retain facades at street level with modern buildings behind.

Change, however, is inevitable, and perhaps it is time to review emphases in different parts of the city.  My own thoughts are: that the eastern suburbs (Parklands, Bexley) could be thinned by natural attrition (no one should be forced away) and perhaps this area of Christchurch refocused as recreational serving city-wide sports needs with centralized hockey, cricket, rugby and soccer fields and mountain biking (already an emphasis at Bottle Lake).  Large grassed fields slotted in amongst retained housing would be well served by the existing ring roads to these areas, such as QEII Drive. It would also lesson traffic congestion around Hagley Park and Harper & Deans Avenues. The obvious beach, and attractive wetlands, already lends itself as an enhanced recreational and leisure focus nestled naturally amongst less residential intensity.  This reduces risk to human life in the event of more earthquakes, floods or tsunami.

Rather than rebuild, I would thin the CBD out (especially Cathedral Square) with small parks to set tall buildings back astride grassed areas with fountains and people friendly contexts.  New York has done this very successfully. This creates more natural space and light, for cafes, tourism, open air events like the Buskers’ festival (why jam these into Cathedral Square and the Arts Centre?).

I would extend the CBD into Sydenham-Addington with central government-subsidized commercial rentals to help re-establish small businesses lost in the CBD, and to grow new enterprises.  This area is already bisected by the railway line and rail station. Shouldn’t this be a natural hub for the city?  The trams could easily extend into this part of town traversing the new parks named after significant Canterbury events or personages, enhancing our sense of heritage as done with Latimer & Cranmer Squares reflecting our Anglican heritage. These new parks might be named: “4 Sept,” “22 Feb,”  “Crusader,” or perhaps after historic battlefields where the 1st and 20th Canterbury Battalions played decisive roles: “Suvla Bay,” “Messines,” etc. (as the French have done in Paris with “Bir Hacheim” metro station).  Our CBD would then be defined between Rolleston Ave (which I would extend across the river by the hospital into Antigua Street, renamed Rolleston Ave South), Brougham St, Fitzgerald Ave and Bealey Ave.

I would push Deans Ave south to Hazeldean St and into Lincoln Rd to create a second ‘Moorhouse’ lateral into the expanded Addington-Sydenham CBD.  This area is already flanked by Hagley Park, and is zoned commercial with little residential. It has an existing major west-east arterial motorway creating a rapid egress from the city to the south as well as the railway.  These suburbs are also traditionally lower socio-economic. What better a commemoration of the earthquake than to re-create this part of Christchurch as a new economic boon sector reflective of Merivale and Fendalton their counterparts on the other side of the Park.

There are huge opportunities.  The challenge is not to become bogged down in reactionary arguments (the Moore sheep sculpture on the Port Hills; the Chalice; the Millennium Bridge; or inter-suburban parochialism). Rather, to have a wide creative response that fuses a breadth of aesthetic opinion and culture reflective of Christchurch’s diversity while retaining our intrinsic raison d’être – the architectural vision of our city’s Victorian founders


John Stringer is an ex-Anglican pastor of the Christchurch Dioceses under license to the Bishop. He is an international author who lost everything at Mt Pleasant on 22/2 (house, business, car and job) and now lives in rental accommodation in St Albans with his wife Laurie.

Demolished after 144 years. St Albans Methodist Sunday School (behind the late nineteenth-century church) at Merivale, corner Papanui Rd and Rugby St, 1902 rebuilt after the 1868 fire. Damaged 4 Sept 2010 and 22 Feb. 2011 and finally demolished Jan. 2012.  Photos: John Stringer.

Dresden’s Frauenkirche basilica before and after restoration (the black blocks in the left image are original). Photos: public domain.

It is not your cathedral

March 6th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A Christchurch City Councillor has called for a televised debate on whether the cathedral should be pulled down.

Councillor Aaron Keown, representing the Shirley-Papanui ward, has argued the Anglican Church is not being transparent about the reasons for not demolishing the cathedral.

“You’ve got a building in the centre of Christchurch that has more value to the city and the people of Christchurch than it does to the church.

Tough. It belongs to the Anglican Church. The public don’t get a vote on this.

Mr Keown said the costs and upkeep of the cathedral should be transferred to the city.

“It would still be the Anglican Cathedral, I would like to see them semi hand over the ownership. Kind of like how there have partnerships with iwi, we’ve got to do the same with the church. The church just don’t have the money they once had.”

You want to spend ratepayers money on buying a cathedral??? No. And the Church has an insurance policy.

He said he will bring up the possibility of council leading legal action against the church at the next meeting.

What part of private property rights is hard to understand? Also what part of unsafe is hard to fathom.

I’m not saying the Anglican Church has made the right decision. I’m saying it is their decision. If you don’t like it, then join the Church and roll the bishop or something – if that is possible.

Cathedral to be demolished

March 2nd, 2012 at 9:29 pm by David Farrar

Bishop Victoria Matthews has announced:

Dear Friends,

I am writing to inform you of last evenings meeting and the decision reached about the next step for our beloved Cathedral.

The Standing Committee and Church Property Trustees voted to bring the ChristChurch Cathedral down to a safe level. This is understood to be between two and three meters in height with some parts of the walls necessarily being lower for safety reasons. This means the footprint will be preserved but that there will be extensive controlled demolition and controlled deconstruction. For reasons of safety and the likelihood of ongoing seismic activity, we will not be preserving any of the walls intact. What this plan does allow is the safe retrieval of taonga and heritage items from the ruins. To give one example, we anticipate the safe retrieval of the remaining stained glass windows over the next couple of months. The process of bringing down the Cathedral to a safe level will take most of the balance of the year.

This is very different from the plan presented last October, due to the seismic events of 23 December. CERA has insisted that we present a new plan to ensure the building is safe and we agree with their requirement.

I am sad to have to relay this decision but I believe it is the way forward. There are of course other voices and alternative opinions but I have relayed to you the decision of the Cathedral Project Group, which is the group that has the delegated authority to make recommendations about the future of the Cathedral to the Cathedral Chapter, CPT and Standing Committee. The decision was made with much prayer and deliberation and has the support of each of the various groups. It is also the decision that has the highest support from CERA for safety reasons. The demolition and deconstruction will be carried our with care and great respect for a wonderful sacred space that has been damaged beyond repair.

My prayers and the prayers of many around the world are with you at this time. It is now up to all of us to show that we are the living Cathedral of Christchurch; and that we carry within us and live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we go and wherever we are. In the midst of this sad outcome let us not neglect to witness to the hope within us due to Gods love, grace and mercy.

In Christ,

A very sad decision, but arguably an inevitable one.

I quite like the suggestion one person made which is to turn the ruins into the central memorial for the earthquakes, and a tourist attraction – and build an entirely new cathedral next to it.

One year on for Canterbury

February 22nd, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

A year ago, at 12.51 pm Canterbury was hit by the second earthquake. The first one was on 4 September 2010.

By pure coincidence on both days I was flying to Australia on the redeye flight, so found about both in airport lounges.

I recall after the first earthquake thinking how it was a minor miracle that no one died, and partly putting it down to the timing at 4.35 am, when most were asleep in their beds.

The second earthquake was not so well timed. It was technically less powerful than the September quake, but it was centred closer to Christchurch and was centred at half the depth. The combination of the timing, the earlier damage and the location led to 185 human beings losing their life.

There is much one can say about what has happened since, with the $30 billion estimated price tag, the decisions on reconstruction etc. But I don’t think today is the day for that. Today I just want to say to those in Canterbury that a year on we have not forgotten, and we will not forget.

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity

February 17th, 2012 at 10:47 am by David Farrar

Marc Greenhill in The Press reports:

A Christchurch woman with a rare medical condition has been forced to sleep outdoors or suffer migraines and insomnia because of repairs in her earthquake-damaged street.

Anne Gastinger, of Dallington, has electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or an adverse reaction to electromagnetic waves and wi-fi, and severe chemical allergies, including to treated wood. …

Her symptoms, which include migraines and insomnia, worsened in April last year when overhead powerlines were installed because of damage to underground cables.

“I was managing really well here. When the high-voltage lines went up, I was no longer able to tolerate for any length of time being at home. My body seems to lack the tolerance.”

Since then, to avoid migraines and insomnia, she has spent most nights sleeping outside at a friend’s home in an abandoned red-zoned area with no electricity or wi-fi.

She rarely spoke about the condition because it was a not an acknowledged diagnosis in New Zealand, although a Christchurch GP had provided a medical certificate confirming her symptoms.

I have no doubt Ms Gastinger suffers migraines and insomnia, and is in considerable distress from what has happened.

However the reference to the condition of electromagnetic hypersensitivity not being acknowledged in New Zealand did make me curious.

As is often the case, the Wikipedia article provides a lot of useful info on this condition. The article states:

Although the thermal effects of electromagnetic fields on the body are established, self-described sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity report responding to non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (or electromagnetic radiation) at intensities well below the limits permitted by international radiation safety standards. The majority of provocation trials to date have found that self-described sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unable to distinguish between exposure to real and fake electromagnetic fields, and it is not recognized as a medical condition by the medical or scientific communities.

The WHO fact sheet also states:

A number of studies have been conducted where EHS individuals were exposed to EMF similar to those that they attributed to the cause of their symptoms. The aim was to elicit symptoms under controlled laboratory conditions.

The majority of studies indicate that EHS individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any more accurately than non-EHS individuals. Well controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms were not correlated with EMF exposure. …

There are also some indications that these symptoms may be due to pre-existing psychiatric conditions as well as stress reactions as a result of worrying about EMF health effects, rather than the EMF exposure itself.

With this in mind, I do wonder the wisdom of The Press giving this story considerable prominence, as it may in fact itself increase the stress reactions caused by people worrying about EMF.

Note that I repeat my earlier point that I am sure Ms Gastringer does suffer from the symptoms she describes, and she is convinced they are caused by EMFs. In no way am I suggesting she is not in distress by the situation the earthquake has caused.