2 Nov 2015

Red zoners should be offered land first - mayor

6:51 am on 2 November 2015

If red zone land is sold by the government for housing, the former residents should be given the right of first refusal, says the Christchurch mayor.

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

No decision has been taken on what should happen to the land that used to be called home by 7404 households, but the government may sell it to recoup some of the $1.5 billion it has spent buying up the properties.

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel was amongst those whose home was declared part of the red zone in 2012.

She still visits the place she called home for 13 years, which is now an overgrown vacant lot.

"I'm probably never going to forget it.

"But I hadn't lived there as long as my neighbours had who had raised their children. So there are people with mixed feelings, but I think all of us who lived there want to see something really special emerge."

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Ms Dalziel said if the government did sell some of the land for housing, the money raised should be put into parks and native plantings.

And she would like to see the original inhabitants consulted first.

"This has to be handled really carefully and if there are development opportunities, in my view the right of first refusal should be reinstated and it should be offered to people who lived there first."

Evan Smith

Evan Smith Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Another whose home was red zoned is Evan Smith, who is now working on ways to harness the potential of the area as co-chair of the Avon Otakaro Network.

He said offering red zoned residents first right of refusal was a good idea.

"It may be demand is higher than supply, in which case there would have to be some kind of a draft to work out who could apply for that.

"But I know that those who have left, if they were to have the option to return, then may of them would actually look at that quite seriously."

Evan Smith said if housing was to go back into the red zone it should be confined to the fringes, leaving the area alongside the Avon River for wetlands and parks.

"If you're driving to work everyday through flooded roads that are pot holed everywhere, then it does affect your mental health on a daily basis, it just grinds you down.

"The more that we can bring some life back to that river corridor, that has a lot of restoration value for people's well-being."

But is it even possible to rebuild on red zoned land that's prone to liquefaction, where the earthquakes turned once solid ground liquid, causing houses to topple off their foundations?

Misko Cubrinovski

Misko Cubrinovski Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Canterbury University professor Misko Cubrinovski - a liquefaction expert - said repairing the land was much easier now there were no houses there.

"You can apply certain methods in a cost effective way over large areas. Area wide remediation could be...pre-loading the ground with additional weight so that it consolidates and densifies."

Whether it would be make economic sense to repair the ground in this way for the purpose of building houses was another matter however.

Professor Cubrinovski noted that land repairs and purpose built foundations could add another 30 percent to the cost of building a home.

"Engineering has evolved to a point that you can really build and construct on any type of land. The art of engineering at the end of the day is really finding the right balance between the expected performance and how much money you would like to invest in that performance."

The government has yet to declare when a decision will be made on the red zone but said there would be widespread consultation before anything happens there.

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