Financial judgement day for Christchurch today


After nearly nine long years since the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that started Christchurch’s seismic odyssey, the city will today have its final financial reckoning. This is the day when Christchurch’s financial future is laid bare for public scrutiny. This is where the final details of the agreement between Christchurch and the Crown over who owns what, who is responsible for what and who still owes what, will become clear.

This is an event that New Zealand should take notice of. When we have big disasters in the future – think Alpine Fault magnitude 8.0+; Auckland Volcanic Field and so forth – and the Crown and the territorial authorities meet to work out a long term recovery plan, this is what the end of that recovery might look like. This is worth noting because it might well be a blue print for how we manage the later stages of the recovery from big disasters in the future.

Has the recovery been perfect, gone totally to plan and involved total co-operation between all agencies from start to finish? Absolutely not. Disputes were had, such as the clash between the Crown and the C.C.C. over the competence of the Christchurch City Council; between the claimants and their insurance companies, some of which are still not resolved nearly nine years later. But with the exception of the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami with the resulting nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, at the same time there probably has not been such a large scale recovery effort in a first world city, since New Orleans was battered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The agreement will address what to do with the Christchurch residential red zone, the square kilometres of suburbia in eastern Christchurch that suffered a disastrous mix of liquefaction, ground subsidence and lateral spreading. The subsidence means significant parts are at increased risk of flooding and/or do not drain as well as other land does after flood events, which means it is no longer inhabitable even if the earthquake damage can be fixed. Residents want a mix of ecoparks, forest and flood protection, but no one is quite sure how that will turn out.

It will also look at assets that have been completed such as the Christchurch Convention Centre, currently under construction and due for completion in 2020. It will also look at what happens to ones such as the Christchurch Bus Exchange, which has been completed as well as ones that have yet to be commenced such as the stadium.The stadium has been controversial for the lack of commitment by the biggest probable users in terms of helping to fund it.

The end agreement might be liberating, with Christchurch now finally a free city again, left to finish its recovery from one of the blackest days in New Zealand history. Or it might be a millstone that is contentious in future elections. But come what may, today will be interesting one way or the other.