Civil Defence meets with frustrated business owners

7:26 pm on 22 March 2011

Disgruntled business owners in earthquake-hit Christchurch have again protested outside the Civil Defence headquarters.

A crowd of about 100 protested outside Civil Defence on Monday at what they said was a lack of communication from officials, and about 30 stormed through the cordon into the red zone - the part of the city most damaged by the quake on 22 February.

The red zone is bordered by Madras, Gilmore, Durham and St Asaph streets.

Fewer business people turned up to the protest on Tuesday, but they were quickly ushered off to an impromptu meeting by Canterbury's Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend.

Media were not allowed into the meeting, but some of those attending said afterwards that they had been given more information about when they could get into buildings in the CBD.

They were also given assurances that their buildings will not be demolished without their knowledge.

Afterwards, some of those attending said they had been given more information about how they could get into buildings in the restricted area.

Some business owners were satisfied with the outcome, but others felt

the meeting did not give them the answers they wanted.

The owner of several retail and rental properties in the CBD, Kishor Singh, says he wants more information.

"There have been some answers, but not enough. They still don't have any timeframe of when they will let us inside the red zone cordon area. Basically, the idea that we got was that they had no idea."

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said he would be surprised if there are any more protests, because the owners have now come to an agreement about a way forward with Civil Defence.

The Government on Tuesday announced a further $6.85 million package to help Canterbury businesses recover and Mr Townsend says this is a good first step.

Minister acknowledges lack of information

Earlier, Civil Defence Minister John Carter acknowledged that people could have been given more information about work in the red zone following the quake.

Mr Carter says more information could have been given to business operators, though he says there has so far only been a list of building owners, not those who operated companies in them. That list is now being compiled.

One of the business owners who took part in Monday's protest says he has heard nothing from Civil Defence despite being registered to gain access to his premises.

Joe Arts, who owns a printing firm on the fringe of the CBD, told Morning Report on Tuesday he needs to get to his building because his firm hasn't sent out its invoices for February, cash flow is drying up and his mail order business is "diving through the floor".

Mr Arts says he has been registered as wanting to gain access to the building for four weeks and the ground floor of the building his firm occupies is "100% earthquake strengthened".

Civil Defence national controller John Hamilton says access is sometimes limited when buildings on either side are "red-stickered" as unsafe, which may be the issue in this case.

He says he will check that Mr Arts' name is on the register and work to ensure steps are taken to allow him access.

Mr Hamilton is urging patience and says owners should first register their names online. They will then be allowed in if their building is deemed safe, but he is not going to lift the cordon because the area is still dangerous and could put people at risk.

He says he understands business owners' frustration and the process in place is working as quickly as possible.

Civil Defence said on Monday 270 business owners had already been taken into the cordon and by the end of the week that number will stand at 500.