22 Feb 2016

Five years on, why is Chch still waiting?

8:49 am on 22 February 2016

Delays with rebuilding homes, unresolved insurance claims and delays to the government's so-called anchor projects have cast a long shadow over the progress of Christchurch's rebuild.

Insurers and the Earthquake Commission have come under criticism for what some people say is unacceptable delays to settling some claims; while the government agency, the Christchurch Central Development Unit, has had to defend why only two of 19 anchor projects have been completed.

Yesterday about 1000 people protested in Cathedral Square, demanding a deadline for the settlement of claims.

Guyon Espiner talks to some of those who took part in the protest:

Pip Coory, a business analyst, owns a quake-damaged home on the outskirts of Christchurch near Leeston; the majority of damage was done during the September 2010 earthquake, with further damage in the February quake.

She has been dealing with her insurer, IAG, for the past two years on reaching a settlement.

"It's just been a continual rigmarole. It's been absolutely crazy. They're still denying the extent of my damage. They bought a geo-tech in that completely denied the impact on my property. I mean, you can see the impact.''

Ms Coory said it was unacceptable that she continued to fight for what she said was a fair settlement.

"Insurance regulation must change. There is absolutely no way that they should have been allowed to deal with this and let it go on for so long and it's only because there is no regulation there monitoring them and making sure they are acting in a professional manner, so they are making up the rules.''

An IAG spokesperson said it was very disappointed that there remained some claims yet to be settled and have reviewed Ms Coory's claim in light of the costing and advice of experts on a number of occasions and believe the offers made on the basis of all the available information have been fair and reasonable.

The parties are continuing to work to reach an agreement.

Latest figures from the Insurance Council show that $16.7 billion had been paid out in claims by December 2015.

Insurance Council NZ chief executive Tim Grafton said he could not say when all the claims would be resolved because some claimants were taking legal action and there was no way to know when that would end.

But he said the rebuild was only able to get underway three and a half years ago, because of the ongoing quakes.

"After multiple ground tests had been done, after multiple shakes had started to settle down, so things only started three and half years ago. We've 89 percent of property claims settled as at the end of last year, so it's been a tremendous story in terms of getting a lot done in three and a half years.''

Mr Grafton said the process would have been much quicker if there was not the dual system with the EQC and thought that in future assessments should be carried out by the insurer in the first instance.

But he said there were other factors too.

"The collapse of the Christchurch City Council consenting system was unhelpful half way through the process.

"We had reports done of mass land movement in the Port Hills which we were not privy to until months after they were completed and that led to a slow down in that area of the rebuild. A lot of things could have been done, a lot of parties have learnt a lot from it."

Christchurch rebuild various sites

Sites of the Christchurch rebuild. Photo: RNZ

Earthquake Commission chief executive Ian Simpson agreed that it and the Insurance Council needed to find better ways to work together.

Mr Simpson said there were two main factors for the delays: the size of the earthquakes and the complexity of them.

"EQC is unique in the world with the land cover we offer New Zealanders but it was all built around landslip damage and yet in Christchurch now we have new forms of damage where land is now more vulnerable to flooding or liquefaction post the earthquakes, so we've had to understand that.''

The commission organised a home repair programme for 69,000 houses with about 5500 homes now being reinspected by EQC for second-time repairs because of poor workmanship.

Ian Simpson accepted some targets by the commission had not been met but defended setting them.

"We needed to set better expectations at the start and we are guilty of historically setting really aggressive targets for ourselves in order to motivate our people, in order to motivate the 10,000 contractors to fix the houses, just to get on with it but that does leave an expectation that sometimes we haven't met.''

Progress of the central city rebuild has also been criticised.

Baden Ewart is the director of the Christchurch Central Development Unit, (an arm of CERA which is responsible for delivering the central city anchor projects.

He said he was pleased with its progress in Christchurch.

"We've had to acquire land, we had to engage with council and get the council's commitment to the work itself. We've had to build a group of people to do the work. We're about 80 percent through the land acquisition process, there were many buildings that had to be demolished to make way for the new developments.''

He said that they were optimistic at the start and learned along the way that it took time to deal with property owners.

Of the 19 proposed anchor projects two are completed, the Bus Interchange and the Margaret Mahy Family Playground. The Avon River Precinct is 90 percent complete.

Baden Ewart said the mantra now was: get the rebuild right, not rushed.

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