18 Dec 2014

Floods, courts and pay scandals

4:21 pm on 18 December 2014

It's been another busy year for the Christchurch newsroom with some of New Zealand's biggest stories over the past 12 months coming out of Canterbury and the West Coast, the areas covered by the team.

The ruins of the CTV building

Earthquake repairs - and how to pay for them - remained in the headlines in Canterbury in 2014. Photo: AFP

Ashburton was rocked in September by news there had been a shooting at the Work and Income office and that a manhunt was underway for the masked man who had opened fire with a sawn off shotgun.

Police released an image of John Tully, who is being sought after the Ashburton shooting.

Russell John Tully Photo: NZ POLICE

After a seven-hour-long search, Russell John Tully was arrested and charged with the murder of WINZ workers Peggy Noble and Leigh Cleveland and the attempted murders of their colleagues, Lindy Curtis and Kim Adams.

Mr Tully had been turned down for social housing in Ashburton and had been sleeping in a tent in the town's domain.

He's yet to face trial.

The port town of Lyttelton has also had a tough year due to three deaths of workers loading or shifting cargo.

Worksafe New Zealand labelled the deaths unacceptable.

Lyttelton Port chief executive Peter Davie copped flak for accepting a $200,000 pay rise, despite the deaths, taking his pay to $1.24 million for the year.

This prompted a call by the union representing port workers for him to pay the money back.

Mr Davie's pay wasn't the only focus of attention with Rob Jamieson, the chief executive of council-owned lines company Orion, under fire for a 30 percent pay rise, taking his pay for the year to $730,000.

This was soon after the company announced an 8 percent increase in lines charges to take account of the costs of repairing earthquake-damaged infrastructure.

In early December, the Christchurch City Council announced shares in both Lyttelton Port and Orion could be up for sale as it tried to get on top of an expected $1.2 billion shortfall in its budget due to the expense of the rebuild and less money than expected coming from insurance claims.

Radio New Zealand broke the news in May that the move was on the cards when it was shown part of the Cameron Partners report that said asset sales could net the council $1.4 billion.

Earthquakes - asbestos, flooding and consequences

Another Radio New Zealand exclusive in May came with news the Department of Labour did not have a co-ordinated position on the removal of asbestos from earthquake-damaged homes, two years after repairs had been started.

A report obtained under the Official Information Act showed continuing concerns about the sealing of asbestos behind gib board with no register being kept of where this work had been carried out.

Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey said this ran the risk of future home owners not being aware of the existence of the highly toxic material and cutting into it while carrying out renovations.

Properties in the Flockton Basin have been repeatedly flooded.

Properties in the Flockton Basin have been repeatedly flooded since the earthquakes. Photo: RNZ

Another consequence of the earthquakes is slumped land leading to increased flooding.

An area known as the Flockton Basin, which has been subjected to repeated flooding over the past three years, has been given hope in the shape of a $48 million project aimed at getting on top of the problem.

It involves a pump station and a diversion channel to draw flood waters away from the area with work due to start by the middle of next year.

The 2011 earthquake continues to cast a shadow over the city in other ways too.

David Harding, the man who designed the CTV Building (which collapsed, killing 115 people), and Alan Reay, the man who employed him, escaped censure by their professional body by resigning from it.

The families of some of those who died had their hopes raised somebody might be held accountable for the tragedy when police announced in September they would investigate the collapse.

Ian Rennie and Roger Sutton.

Ian Rennie and Roger Sutton at a press conference following the resignation. Photo: RNZ

In November, the man put in charge of running the organisation driving the Government's response to the earthquakes made a shock announcement he was resigning due to a complaint of sexual harassment.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) chief executive Roger Sutton said he was standing down and that he was sorry for calling women 'honey' and 'sweetie' and engaging in inappropriate hugging.

Roger Sutton's boss - Earthquake Recovery Minister and then-Minister for Transport Gerry Brownlee - was also found to have overstepped the mark, when he and two staff members by-passed security at Christchurch Airport while boarding a flight.

He said he was disappointed with himself and insisted he was not trying to seek preferential treatment.

He was fined $2000.

Court cases and coal

Christchurch was again gripped by the case of Helen Milner, dubbed the 'Black Widow' in February when she came up for sentencing after being found guilty of poisoning her husband, Philip Nesbit, in order to benefit from his life insurance payout.

She was sent to prison for a minimum of 17 years.

The case only got to court after investigative work by Mr Nesbit's sister, Lee-Anne Cartier, who covered deficiencies in the original police investigation

Solid Energy has said a special meeting may be held to discuss whether the mine's drift can be safely re-entered.

Solid Energy has said mine re-entry - to recover the bodies of those killed at Pike River - is too dangerous. Photo: RNZ

It was another tough year for the West Coast.

After a start was finally made early in the year on trying to re-enter the Pike River mine to recover the bodies of the 29 men who died there, bad news came in November when the mine's owner, Solid Energy, said it would be too dangerous to do so.

Some of the families have vowed to fight on to see their loved ones remains returned to them.

Further north in Westport, record low prices for coal continued to bite leading to 187 job losses at the Stockton mine.

This followed news Bathurst Resources was delaying what would have been the country's second largest open-cast coal mine at Denniston.

The mine was seen as a lifeline for Westport which now faces losing a generation as young people look further afield for work.

The country's largest ever fraud trial, involving former South Canterbury Finance chief executive Lachie McLeod and two directors, Bob White and Edward Sullivan, dragged on for five months at the High Court in Timaru.

Lachie McLeod and Bob White were cleared of all charges and Edward Sullivan was convicted of five charges for which he received 12 months home detention and 400 hours community work.

In sentencing Sullivan, Justice Heath said he was the victim of misguided loyalty to the company's former chairman, the late Allan Hubbard.

The year ahead

Meanwhile, 2015 is shaping up to be another big year as the Christchurch City Council consults on its plan to sell off $550 million worth of shares in council-owned assets.

Convincing Cantabrians this is a good move could be tough, given a council survey found most were opposed to selling off assets.

Progress on the rebuild should be more evident with the $53 million bus interchange and the $89 million Avon River upgrade due to be completed, and work due to start on the Metro Sports Facility and the Convention Centre.

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