14 Jul 2015

Red zone stayers 'stuck in limbo'

4:01 pm on 14 July 2015

Delays over a long-running court battle mean remaining residents in Canterbury's post-quake red zones are no closer to knowing whether essential services will be cut off, or if they'll be forced to leave.

Red zone: The bumpy roads of Brooklands lead to empty cul de sacs and vacant land plots.

Red zone: The bumpy roads of Brooklands lead to empty cul de sacs and vacant land plots. Photo: RNZ / Georgina Stylianou

Nearly 200 people own properties in Canterbury's red zones, but the earthquake recovery authority (Cera) did not know exactly how many residents were still living in them.

The Chief Human Rights Commissioner has said Cantabrians in the region's red zones are stuck in limbo.

The bumpy roads of Brooklands lead to empty cul de sacs and vacant land plots, but a sign attached to a lamp post reads 'Ratepayers and residents still live here'.

Resident Pierre Kickhefer said more than 20 properties in the northeastern seaside suburb still had people living in them.

He claimed many more would have stayed but they felt compelled to take up the Crown's buyout offers and the remaining residents were waiting for confirmation that they wouldn't be forced to leave.

He said taking the Government's offer would have been a "disaster" financially. He said he did not want to leave his home, and still doesn't.

"They're going to have to drag me out of here in chains."

Mr Kickhefer said he wanted to know what would happen to the land and whether or not roads and infrastructure in the red zones would be fixed.

Brooklands red-zone stayers Les Griffiths, left and Pierre Kickhefer enjoy the newfound peace and quiet but miss their community.

Brooklands red-zone stayers Les Griffiths, (L) and Pierre Kickhefer. Photo: RNZ / Georgina Stylianou

A Kaiapoi red-zoned resident, Brent Cairns, said he and his wife chose to stay and are now surrounded by greenery and birdlife.

"We've been living in a fair bit of hell but we're now looking for the future," he said. "For the red zones to be turned into something for the community, something that's going to add value to the community as opposed to a negative."

The Chief Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford, has publicly criticised ongoing recovery delays and said the red zone stayers seemed to have been forgotten and were stuck in limbo.

"There are stayers that are literally on roads that are green-zoned on the other side," he said. "It shouldn't be rocket science to connect them up to the services they need."

Mr Rutherford said the Government needed to keep stayers in its mind and come up with "reasonable solutions" for them.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) has revised its proposed buyout offers for owners of uninsured properties and commercial and vacant land after being directed to do so by the Supreme Court. The legal action was brought by a group of red zone owners called the "Quake Outcasts.

Buyout offers

The draft recovery plan, which has yet to be signed off by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, increased buyout offers for uninsured homeowners from 50 percent to 80 percent of their land's 2007 rateable value.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said she wanted the Government to further increase its offers to ensure homeowners could afford to move on.

"That will be helpful for us as a council because we are able then, if people do accept that offer, to switch off services in particular areas."

She said because red zone stayers were still ratepayers the council could not legally shut off services.

Cera says any decisions about the future use of the red zones needed to be considered carefully in light of the Supreme Court decision.

The authority's general manager of the residential red zone, Ivan Iafeta, said responding to the court decision, which directed the Government to revise its offers for owners of uninsured homes and vacant and commercial land, was the priority.

"The council are continuing to provide infrastructure services to property owners who remain in the red zone, albeit sometimes on a temporary basis, until decisions are made on the longer term use of the area.

Mr Iafeta told Morning Report that CERA would work go through a public process with the council to determine what the future use of the areas would be. He could not say when decisions would be made.

There are 183 properties in the region's red zones where Crown offers have expired, but the total number of people still living in the red zone is unknown.

The suburb of Brooklands had about 500 homes prior to the earthquakes, now about 20 remain with people living in them.

The Christchurch suburb of Brooklands once had 500 homes, now only 20 are inhabited. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham