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Saturday, 11 June 2011

Gerry Brownlee - what is happening to deal with the land problems

For those of you who don't get The Press, there is an article in today's edition by Gerry Brownlee about the state of the land.

It doesn't give any hard facts, but explains what the government is trying to achieve (a big package that helps and protects homeowners), the issues that are being dealt with, and the complexity of the processes involved. 

The article is available online at the Press here.

CCC Draft Annual Plan - now available

The Draft Annual Plan is now available. The Council media release is here. There is a summary of the plan at the top of this page here. The full plan and associated documents are available at the bottom of the same page.

If you wish to make a written submission on the plan, or any part that is of interest, you have two weeks to do so.

Your feedback can be made on paper (e.g. as a letter) or on-line. If making a written submission it must physically reach the Council at the Art Gallery no later than 10.00am, Monday the 27th. For on-line feedback the form is here. The on-line form does not provide much room so if you have a lot to say, put it in writing.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Insurance company pitfalls

Each week-day the four local Labour constituency MPs put out a joint earthquake bulletin of what they have been doing and the issues they are encountering. In yesterday's bulletin Clayton Cosgrove wrote at length about the insurance related problems being identified in his electorate.

The following extract is from Clayton Cosgrove's contribution to yesterday's Christchurch Earthquake bulletin edition 56, which can be found here. (Note: in the bulletin the whole text is just one paragraph. As reading it in that state is a daunting prospect, I have broken up into digestible paragraphs. Apologies for any confusion that may cause).
At last night’s Kaiapoi Residents’ Association meeting, residents heard a high quality legal presentation from an independent legal representative on the tactics being employed by some insurance companies and their project managers.
Clauses are being inserted in insurance company project management contracts for the repair and rebuild of houses which seem to give  the insurance companies, through their project managers, great power over claimants while claimants are left holding most of the responsibility.
In one example discussed last night an insurance company is requiring claimants’ EQC payments including the excess to be immediately handed over to them on receipt. Presumably this allows the insurance company to sit on the money in the interim and earn interest before the repair or the rebuild starts. There is no legal basis for this. In one case brought up last night, a bank had been written to directly in respect of a particular claimant’s payment.
In another example, claimants are being asked to indemnify insurance companies and their project managers in respect of any breaches when entering into arrangements with third parties. People are asking — WHY? Clauses are being slipped in with no explanation. These issues are causing real worry and stress for claimants who don’t have the legal expertise to interpret their contracts.
At last night’s meeting, cabinet minister Kate Wilkinson said the Government would not interfere with private contractual arrangements. People aren’t asking for that. They want the Government to do what the Australian Government did — that is, to protect claimants with some degree of legal advice to help them interpret their contracts. I have repeatedly told Gerry Brownlee this, but he isn’t listening, and nor is Kate Wilkinson.
If people haven’t got the confidence in their insurance companies to sign off their claims, then this will badly impede the progress of the recovery. People are asking — WHY won’t the Government help us? Why, after doing the right thing and paying our insurance premiums for years, should we have to pay for our own legal experts to keep some insurance companies honest? This is not about interfering in private contractual arrangements. THIS IS ABOUT CONSUMER PROTECTION

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Avonside Community Group Newsletter 9 June 2011

Leanne Curtis has done another of her well received Avonside Community Group newsletters (each one always reaches the top seven most popular recent posts on the blog). This one was too complicated for the blog, so the attachments had been removed. Instead links to the original documents have been inserted, in green. You still get the same information. The newsletter breaks part way through because of it's length, just click the continuation link to carry on.

The insurance article Leanne refers to is very interesting and a cautionary tale. Please read it to get an understanding of the ways the insurance companies are operating. Read also the next post on this blog about Clayton Cosgrove's concerns with insurance companies. These companies are not to be trusted - not because they are dishonest, but because each one is out to protect its  interests and are prepared to minimise yours if they think they can. The "ethical" environment they operate in is quite different from ours.

Hi people (and welcome to all the new readers!)

Apologies for such a depressing start to last week's letter. I think the winter (and the  chemical toilet) is addling my brain! Anyway, we have decided to stay in Avonside and tough it out over the winter and I hope many others will make the same choice. It's not pretty but better the devil you know at this stage. I was trying to look for positive thoughts after Monday's 5.5 aftershock and came up with the following:
  1. our house did not fall down (much more than it already is)
  2. the ground did not liquefy
  3. the kids did not freak
  4. the dog could not scale the newly heightened fences and escape Almost felt good about it!
Land Announcements
Apparently Minister Gerry Brownlee wants to be able to present a 'package' with the land announcements so people who may be forced to 'retreat' from land will have a better idea of what this means. To do this, they have to work with the insurance companies which is no mean feat. Insurance companies have many variations of policies (some as many as 45) and these variations obviously make it difficult to come up with a one size fits all package. I suppose the thing to hold onto is the fact that we may have a much clearer idea of what our future looks like in the near future.

Folk are still having issues with EQC and many questions remain to be answered.  Reid Stiven the Senior Claims Coordinator in Christchurch currently has a weekly Wednesday Q&A spot on CTV's City Life programme. The programme is screened at 9am, 4pm, and 10pm and the producers welcome your questions to ask Reid - email or ring 3777033.  If you take advantage of this please cc me as we also meet with Reid Stiven at EQC on a regular basis and try to address generic issues at these times.  CTV advise that they will publish these City Life programmes on Youtube from next week (including this week's bulletin), keep an eye on this here: .

Insurance Article has a very good article (attached - read it here) written by Andrew Hooker which looks at the dangers of cash settlements and explains 'like for like' and storage of gear. I strongly suggest you have a read.

More earthquake analysis

The Australian Earthquake Engineering Society web site has a follow-up report on observations of Christchurch, from Nawawi Chouw, Hong Hao and Helen Goldsworthy.

The title of the report is Some observations of damage in the 22nd February Christchurch earthquake. It is a brief description of the range of damage that occurred as a result of the earthquake, and observations on why some of the damage occurred. The following gives one view on why certain buildings failed:
As will be shown below, the damage was mainly associated with inappropriate design and construction practices similar to those that have been observed in many previous earthquakes. These include structural irregularity in both horizontal and vertical directions, lack of continuity, poor anchorage and connectivity of structural components, and lack of separation between adjacent structures.
It is a mainly visual report, well illustrated, with the images clearly showing the effect on land, buildings, and other structures of vertical and lateral movements, and liquifaction, produced by the earthquake. Despite being a technical report it is written in a way that anyone can understand the content.

There are examples and photographs from the inner city, parts of the river near the city, Fitzgerald Ave., some suburbs, and Lyttelton.

The Australian Earthquake Engineering Society web site is here (with lots of other, earlier, reports on the home page), and this latest report can be downloaded from here (note: it is a big PDF file at 3.8 MB).

The Waimakariri Way

Waimakariri District Council have an earthquake recovery website called New Foundations.

Someone, or some people, at the Council have done a great job in setting out what has to be done, what is being done, and provided two PDF documents containing a range of questions and answers. Most of the information is specific to Waimakariri, particularly Kaiapoi, Pines Beach and Kairaki, but makes good reading.

The two question and answer documents are useful primers for the many issues we will be faced with. A large part of the content is a useful arrangement of material that has been produced over time, putting it all together in their local context.

Also on the website is a Q & A on building issues, with a range of 'what-ifs' where houses are being repaired, rebuilt or demolished. It is reasonably helpful, but some of the answers are too generic to help in a specific situation. It is here.

For us the site is both informative and a useful way of preparing our expectations for the sort of information we will want to receive when EQC, CERA, and the insurance companies begin building and infrastructure work in the eastern suburbs.

The website is here. The two question and answer documents can be downloaded from that page. There is also a New Foundations newsletter which can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Red Cross - Winter Assistance Grant for under 5s

From the Red Cross website.
The aim of this grant is to assist households which have children under 5 who are living in significantly damaged homes caused by either the September or February earthquake. The significant damage must include serious compromise to the insulation of their homes.
This grant assists households with their electricity bills over the months of June, July, August and September.
This grant is for up to $400 in total and will be made up of four monthly payments of $100 which will be paid directly to electricity retailer outlined on the application form.
NOTE: if you have already received a Winter Assistance Grant you are not eligible to apply for this one. Full information and an application form are here.

Who would live in an earthquake zone?

An interesting question, and it seems us humans and our ancestors have been doing it for a couple of million years. The answer, according to research published earlier this year, is that earthquakes create the type of terrain that sustains us.

There is a short article about being attracted to earthquake terrain on here, along with a reference to Christchurch as an example of the consequential hazards.

CCC Draft Annual Plan - rates increases etc.

The CCC will release it's Draft Annual Plan 2011-2012 on Saturday, following consideration by the Council on Thursday and Friday. This is not the plan for rebuilding the city, rather it is the plan for how the CCC intends spending money on more normal things.

There will be a two week opportunity for groups and individuals to make submissions on the content of the plan before it is finalised.

Highlights and small points of the plan include:
  • the CCC is facing deficits totalling approximately $100m for the current and following three years (all arising as a result of the earthquakes)
  • insurance premiums paid by CCC are expected to rise as much as 300% for the stuff below ground and 400% for some things above ground
  • some projects on the council's books will need to be reconsidered, some deferred
  • a rates increase of 5.32% plus an earthquake premium of 2.21% (the latter to run for three years) is being recommended
  • removal of the central city shuttle
  • approximately 50% of CCC fees will increase, with a median increase of 3% (the bulk of the increases seem to be cost recovery only)
The CCC announcement is here and you can download the Council meeting agenda  from the same page. The plan will be available from the same link some time on Saturday.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Insurance disputes in Australia

The bigger a natural disaster, the greater the cost to insurance companies. Insurers facing very expensive payouts (and pressure from re-insurers) are desperately keen to stick strictly to the wording of policies, and keep costs as low as possible. Consequently the meaning of words becomes very important, differences of interpretation are inevitable, and disputes will arise.

In Australia a significant number of disputes have arisen between claimants and their insurers over flooding and insurance cover in Queensland and Victoria earlier this year. So far 400 disputes have been filed, more than three times the number arising from the Victorian bush fires, with another 400-500 disputed claims in the pipeline.

Insurance disputes in Australia are handled by FOS (the Financial Ombudsman Service), a private service similar to the New Zealand Insurance and Savings Ombudsman (ISO).  The FOS dispute resolution process has some parallels with the NZ equivalent, but is less procedurally oriented to the insurance company's needs (e.g. you can complain to FOS while still in the process of being in dispute with the company. In NZ you must wait for the company to give you a letter of Deadlock before you are allowed to complain to the ISO).

Once FOS begin investigating a dispute they take a case management approach drawing on the following:
  • negotiation
  • conciliation or mediation
  • deciding the dispute in accordance with their set process
Of particular interest is the face to face way in which the dispute is managed. FOS arrange meetings between the parties, to see if differences can be resolved before a more formal procedure is adopted. In the case of the Queensland and Victorian floods, FOS is visiting each of the flood victims for a one on one meeting.

It is interesting to compare this with the remote and unhelpful approach of New Zealand's ISO, which has in the past stated they will not set up an office in Christchurch to handle local earthquake insurance complaints. It is also interesting to speculate whether the Parliamentary Ombudsmen will adopt a FOS-like approach to complaints against EQC.

For now it looks as though our playing field is definitely not level, and tipped in favour of insurers. A cynic might say insurers will use this imbalance to apply the Humpty Dumpty dictat: "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." (from Through the Looking Glass).

The FOS web page outlining their dispute process is here, information on the handling of disputes arising from the floods is on the Australian insuranceNEWS website here. A previous post on the ISO is here.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Anyone for Wigram?

While we await the land reports there is an opportunity to consider the options for however many have to move.

For those who need to move quickly the options do not appear to be great: either close-in at Wigram or increasingly further out at Prebbleton, Halswell or beyond. Without seeing the geotech report for Marshlands the name alone suggests the place is potentially a silly idea. Having many years ago lived near Wigram it seemed a good and now unfamiliar place to look through the eyes of someone needing a new beginning.

Compared to living along the river, or on one of the hill areas, the visual outlook is depressing. Go along one of the new built streets and there is nothing to look at - just a sea of roofs squatting on blandly similar houses, the Hills small in the distance, and that is about it. Go for a walk and there is more of the same. The future will bring even more and more of the same. Walk ways and reserves are to be provided one day, and on a scale more generous than many other subdivision schemes. For now it is a culture shock.

Deciding not to be deterred by the prospect of living in a suburb where visual and psychological stimulation might initially equal that of a housing estate in Britain, there is hope that, given the opportunity for innovation and originality, a suitable home can be built.

Sections are currently available, with a great deal of scope for expansion including high density housing. Eventually there will be approximately 1,600 residential sections. Ignoring prices, it is interesting to check through what is involved in buying, building, and living there. I am a beginner at this. We live in a house that was new when bought, but we had no hand in the design, approval or construction. So, if some of the things I raise seem naive or ignorant that is because I am, and so too are a lot of others.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

New fault lines - the scientific view

For those who like to get, or check, their news from primary sources there is a GNS Science web page with the fault line information that has just been released. It includes two maps and a 7 minute video showing the different techniques used to survey what is happening underground. The video is great if you want know what the trucks were doing along the street, or the helicopter flying back and forth only a few hundred metres above. The page is here.

A huge amount of other information about the September and February earthquakes can be found on the GNS web page here. The information includes explanatory videos, maps and links to specific topics.

For a quite detailed explanation of the February earthquake, and information on the extent to which land rose or fell, see the GNS page here. The following quote, based on information available to GNS as at the 8th of April, is from that page:
The land has gone up as much as 40 centimetres around the western side of the Avon-Heathcote estuary. The Port Hills have gone up by varying amounts, from about 5 centimetres under Lyttelton Harbour to a maximum of about 25 centimetres at the base of the hills near the Heathcote valley.
As a direct result of the fault slip, the Bexley, Aranui, Wainoni, Avondale and New Brighton areas have gone down, mostly by less than 15 centimetres. Central, northern and northeastern Christchurch have also gone down, but generally by less than 5 centimetres. However, there may be additional subsidence as a result of ground compaction and liquefaction during the strong shaking.
The web page has a map showing the areas where the rise and fall has occurred.