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Thursday, 16 June 2011

Blindingly obvious, and the not so obvious about the land

Gerry Brownlee has said it is blindingly obvious which areas need to be abandoned. Despite that no one has been prepared to name areas and streets. Some say the insurance companies are the cause of the delay, others that Treasury is still playing with numbers. Neither of these can have any effect over the status of the land, or the people who live on it. What is patently unclear is why there are delays, and what exactly is being discussed.

Gerry Brownlee talks about getting the best deal for homeowners, which is most meritorious, if his idea of a good deal coincides with yours and mine. If it does, we will all be happy, our gratitude will increase and he will continue to grow in our esteem.

So what is a good deal? From my perspective it is one that provides each household with a safe and appropriate location. There are constraints, most noticeably the urgency required to move a few thousand households out of the way of water or rockfall hazards. Scarcity of land is a significant constraint, and not all available land is affordable or desirable.

What is not blindingly obvious, or even slightly transparent, is the extent to which the issues of safe and appropriate locations are under discussion. There has been a rumour doing the rounds that insurance companies have been buying land for housing. CERA has asked to be notified of current and planned housing subdivisions. Then what? A common mantra is that of "choice". What choices will there be for those being relocated?

Some areas are likely to be inappropriate for practical or health reasons. Most subdivisions are devoid of social infrastructure, and the use of cars is obligatory to have access to both essential and recreational facilities. Some people don't have transport and cannot operate independently away from a frequent and reliable transport service. This is going to be important, or even crucial, to a wide range of people from those who need to commute to work, those who have children, and those who are retired. Others need regular access to health facilities and distance will present major difficulties. Many are sufficiently traumatized by earthquakes already experienced that the prospect of moving to, or near, Rolleston would further endanger their health.

Given that the social infrastructure for most land developments exist only on paper, what discussions are there on ensuring these happen quickly? In most cases it will be inappropriate to shift people first, with a vague promise of social infrastructure following soon. Even if the promises were to be fulfilled, which past experiences with developers and local government show to be unlikely, what happens in the meantime? Will part of the package include enforceable obligations on developers and local authorities to begin providing the infrastructure as soon as the package is announced?

The other issue not revealed is that of land size. In the Lockyer Valley project (see here) a like-for-like approach is being applied so everyone ends up with a section the same size as the one they abandoned. Here EQC have an 8 metre rule - what discussion, if any, is there on this?

ADDED 19 June: Parts 2 & 3 of this blog are here and here.

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