By Alex Tarrant
There is no timeframe for when consent issuance will pick up for the rebuilding of homes in Christchurch because the ground is still shifting under them, the Minister responsible for earthquake recovery says.
Gerry Brownlee’s told interest.co.nz land remediation work now needed to be carried out on land in Christchurch before rebuilding could begin, due to the lastest quake in February and continuing aftershocks.
The timeframe for the start of the rebuilding process is crucial for interest rates, given the Reserve Bank's comments last month after its rate cut that it would reverse the cut "once the rebuilding phase materialises." Most economists currently see rates increasing from December, but the speed of the rebuild will determine monetary policy and Brownlee's comments indicate considerable uncertainty over timing.
Although there had been some unacceptable hold-ups for consents following the September event, the quake on February 22 meant returning to the drawing board as land was still moving due to after-shocks, Brownlee said.
Statistics New Zealand figures show only 12 consents for new dwellings in Canterbury had been issued by the end of February due to the September quake (see below).
This has led to questions on whether law changes to supposedly speed up consent issuance for rebuilding last year had any effect, and whether EQC and insurance companies were moving too slowly to asses properties.
6,500 in line for demolition?
Meanwhile, Brownlee said on TV3’s The Nation over the weekend that around 11,000 houses were expected to have more than NZ$100,000 worth of damage following the more recent February 22 quake.
It would be uneconomic to repair about 6,500 of these, Brownlee said, indicating they would be in line to be demolished.
“And that number will creep up as there is a better analysis of those properties,” Brownlee said on The Nation.
Waiting for land remediation work
Speaking to interest.co.nz last week, Brownlee said dwellings demolished or facing demolition could not be rebuilt until the land they were on was remediated.
“The assumption shouldn’t be made that because a house has to come down and be rebuilt that it can’t be lived in. Many people are living in those houses. They’re not as comfortable as they’d like to be, but they’re better than any temporary alternatives."
Consultations were being carried out in Kaiapoi District, as well as Christchurch suburbs like Burwood, Avonside, Dallington, and Bexley, before demolitions could occur.
“I think in the case of Bexley there were some holdups that were pretty unacceptable around consenting, and in fact all of the work in Christchurch was held up by consenting,” Brownlee said.
“So were we uncomfortable? Yes we were. I was very worried that we weren’t making the progress that we should have been, but I can see the reasons why,” he said.
“This time round, had we started all of that [before the February quake], we would still be doing what we’re doing now, which is, going back to the drawing board to reassess the land and work out whether or not those previous solutions were now applicable. They’re most likely not applicable.
“Had they been all completed, which is pretty much a physical impossibility in the time that we had, they would have probably done a pretty good job.
“But we’re now, as I say, Kaiapoi is OK, that’s all going ahead. That will see progressively the number of demolitions and then consents for rebuilds grow in that district,” Brownlee said.
“In Christchurch, we are going through a whole new exercise understanding the land down here. Things have changed quite considerably,” he said.
Putting timeframes on the process was difficult.
“I said to the many, many parties that are involved in this – I had a meeting with them all last Friday – we’ve got a cooperative model going so that we put all the information in one place, so that we can make decisions in a timely fashion once it’s all accumulated and collated, at all haste,” Brownlee said.
“Had we started a whole lot more rebuilds in some of those Christchurch suburbs, it is a fair speculation that they would have been equally totalled by the devastation of the 22 February [quake],” he said.
Brownlee could not give a timeframe for when consent issuance would pick up, “because at the moment we’re still getting the after-shock effect down here. The land is still moving, and that movement is up, down and sideways. So we just need to get that picture as quickly as possible,” he said.
“My commitment to people here in Christchurch is to move as quickly as possible, and to make decisions that will best protect the equity that they’ve got in their properties,” Brownlee said.
From Stats NZ building consent releases:
February: In Canterbury, 16 consents relating to the previous earthquakes were identified, including three new dwellings. The total value of these 16 consents was $2.6 million.
January: In Canterbury, 30 earthquake-related consents were identified in January 2011, including five new dwellings. The total value of these was $4.5 million.
December: In Canterbury, about 30 earthquake-related consents were identified in December 2010, which included two new dwellings. The total value of consents was $10 million.
November: In Canterbury, there were a small number of earthquake-related consents identified in November 2010. The total value of these was $2.3 million. Two of these were for new dwellings.
October: In Canterbury, a small number of low-value consents authorised in October 2010 were related to the earthquake. None of these were for new dwellings.
September: The earthquake on 4 September 2010 has had some impact on building consents issued in Canterbury, due to factors such as territorial authority offices being closed temporarily. The three territorial authorities most affected were Christchurch city, Waimakariri district, and Selwyn district. Combined, the number of consents issued in September was about one-third lower than the monthly average for the previous 12 months. A handful of consents were earthquake-related (none were for new dwellings), with a combined value of approximately $0.5 million.