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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Geotechnical reports: transparency and accountability

Many in the Residential Red Zone will have a general understanding why their land has been put in that category, others won't be sure. Some living on the margins inside the Green Zones will not be confident about the decision to place them there. Quite a few in-betweeners may find their eventual classification a bit of a mystery. The only way to encourage understanding and confidence is to make publicly available the same detailed geotechnical information that was provided to the government.

To have made decisions down to the individual section level implies that there is significant detailed and overall information available. The Landcheck website (here) says, as it has from the time of the announcements in June:
Since the first earthquake struck in September last year, extensive geotechnical work has been undertaken to assess the state of the affected land. While this work is ongoing, information on the state of land, including how badly damaged land is and whether land will be suitable for rebuilding, is now available.
What has not been said is when and how this detailed information will be released publicly.

So far we have been reasonably trusting of CERA and the government on technical details. Now, however, many are faced with the extremely important issues of what package to accept, or if the zoning is to be appealed. Without access to detailed information any decision made is not fully informed. There will be cases where the status of the land becomes an insurance issue, or affects mortgage decisions. Discussions with insurance companies or banks may be prejudiced without full information about the land.

A second aspect of making the reports available is accountability. Those who have prepared the reports, and all who have or will act upon them, must be accountable for both the content and the decisions that arise from them. We need to be able to measure the gap between what has been said, and recommended, and what is happening. We need to know that whatever we base our decisions on is sound.

An important example of the need for transparency is the reclassification of Kairaki. In the Tonkin & Taylor report, released on the EQC website in February (just before the 22nd), the land was generally considered suitable for rebuilding. Obviously something changed - we need to know what it was, and whether it could have been anticipated. The relevant parts of the report state:
Section 7.2  The subsurface materials underlying the subject area of Kairaki and Pines Beach are assessed to have generally returned to their pre earthquake strength, with the same liquefaction potential as before the earthquake. As such the continued current residential use and remediation of properties for this subject area is considered technically feasible.
Section 7.3  In terms of Section 106 of the Resource Management Act 1991, and Section 71 of the Building Act 2004, we consider that the risk of land damage due to a future seismic event is sufficiently low that building consents should continue to be issued for residential developments within the subject area in accordance with existing procedures.
This is not an exercise in blame. What is happening in Canterbury is outside the experience and knowledge of everyone. What has to be seen, in print, is the considered view of those who have as good an understanding as there can be. Making the information public will expose it to the widest possible discussion and expert analysis. From that exposure those who are uncertain, or in disagreement with their zoning, will gain the information needed to decide the best option for them.

We also need to know, as part of dealing with a wide range of emotions, what happened and why we are being displaced.


Postscript 1: In the hope of benefiting from CERA's desire to give us all the news, good and bad, I e-mailed them on the 27th of June asking when "the geotech analyses and reports on the land beneath the Avon Red Zones will be released or, if they are available, where they can be downloaded." A reply was received advising they did not have the information, it being held by Gerry Brownlie's office, and so the request was forwarded on. On the 20th of July Gerry Brownlie's office acknowledged receipt of the request. Time is nearly up for the request to be complied with. Will keep you posted.

Postscript 2:  A couple of months ago EQC removed the web page with the few interpretative reports they had released, so it is not possible to compare what was said in the past with the current perspective. As it happens I downloaded those that I could find, as soon as they became available. They cover: Brooklands, Kairaki - Pines Beach, Spencerville, Tai Tapu. If anyone wants a copy let me know.

Once upon a time EQC's Claims Procedure Manual was available on-line. That too disappeared, some time back.

Its a bit Orwellian really - the minions in the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) reshaping history by removing embarrassing documents?
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