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Thousands of Chch homeowners told they can stay

Published: 8:58AM Monday September 05, 2011 Source: ONE News

The first Cabinet meeting held outside Wellington in 16 years has delivered good news for many residents in the Port Hills of Christchurch.

The Government has announced that 9700 homes have been moved from the white zone to the green zone, meaning their owners can stay on their land and rebuild, following the earthquakes.

"These homeowners can now get on with the process of repairing or rebuilding their homes if they were damaged by the earthquakes," Prime Minister John Key said.

However, 3700 Port Hills residents remain in the white zone awaiting further information.

Details of the latest quake zones are available at Landcheck or Cera .

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says the issues in the Port Hills are different to those in the low lying plains areas where there has generally been widespread land damage from liquefaction and lateral spreading.

In the Port Hills, the issues have largely involved potential rock fall, cliff collapse, land slips and risks of that nature, he said.

Brownlee said extensive geotechnical assessment supported the decision to rezone most of the Port Hills to green as it had shown a low geotechnical hazard risk.

There would be some cases in these newly classified green zone areas where properties have land damage which may require further geotechnical assessment before building or rebuilding can occur, he said. This would be dealt with by EQC and insurance companies "under normal insurance processes".

Brownlee said more Port Hills land would be rezoned green soon, once further investigation and assessment was completed.

For some others in the Port Hills it will take "a bit longer" while some complex issues involving life safety risks and geotechnical hazards are worked through with Christchurch City Council, he said.

"I understand it's frustrating for people having to wait, but we've got to make sure we fully understand the risks and options around this land. Everything possible is being done to give people certainty as soon as we can."

Trade training boost

It has been estimated up to 30,000 extra skilled workers are needed to rebuild Christchurch.

The Government made a small start on that today, announcing the number of places at the Canterbury Tertiary College will be trebled to 550.

Key said this will be with courses such as carpentry, engineering, construction, plumbing, painting and decorating, and business administration.
Labour has been calling for extra trades training for months now.

"We do need those skills down there and we do need to give the skills to young Cantabrians who can then contribute to the rebuilding of their own city," said Labour Leader Phil Goff.

Economy takes a hit

The Christchurch economy has taken a hit with the earthquakes.  The number of people on the unemployment benefit has risen by 13% to 6080.

Many had forecast things would be a lot worse.

Key said: "The unemployment rate in Christchurch is still below the national average - it's 5.7% as opposed to a national average of six and a half percent."
Some have found it too much though. Four thousand people left Christchurch for overseas between March and July and 5000 children remain outside their original school.

That is a just a fraction of the population, however.

Brownlee expressed his "admiration and pride in the way that the people of Canterbury have been willing to stick around and been willing to put up with what is a difficult circumstance".

Not everyone was impressed though, a small but noisy protest group farewelling the historic Cabinet meeting in Christchurch.

Too many authorities?

Ministers heard from a wide range of people in the city today, including mayor Bob Parker and CERA chief executive Roger Sutton.

There has been some concern about the number of authorities overseeing the rebuild of the city, with Parker, Sutton and Brownlee all with different responsibilities.

Solid Energy CEO Don Elder told ONE News there needs to be better leadership . "We need better unity in the city," he said.

However, Key told TV ONE's Breakfast he was satisfied the recovery was heading in the right direction.

"While they're separate and distinct groupings, they're all very much on the same page," he said.

"They want to see Christchurch rebuilt, they want to see confidence restored to the city.

"I think if you get to a situation for instance where we're not happy the release of land is fast enough, CERA's powers are such they can fast track that, so I think within the various different parties there's the capacity to make this thing go faster."

Key said there are still challenges for the city and the country as a whole as it recovers from the earthquake and the cost is going to be significant.

"We haven't seen a natural disaster have a bigger impact on a developed economy as this one - it's running at 10% of GDP, so this is an enormous deal.

"We don't know the final cost of this thing - is it 20 million, 25 million?"

Appeal money allocated

It was also announced that $66.5 million of the $100 million that has been pledged to the earthquake appeal has been allocated.

Twenty million dollars has been granted to sports and recreation for projects like repairing sports fields and tennis courts.  There's also a $10 million hardship fund and $20 million for arts, culture and recreation.

However, ONE News political editor Guyon Espiner says when it comes to the big picture, it's insurance that seems to be the thing that's holding up the rebuild. Insurance companies are reluctant to insure some of the big project rebuilds until they can be certain that the seismic activity in Christchurch has dampened down, he said.

The Government says it wants a market solution to this, but Espiner said the question is how long are they prepared to wait before deciding the Government needs to step in a play a role itself.