The 2010-11 earthquakes have caused a raft of other problems than simply quake damaged houses – the geography of the city has actually shifted. After the earthquakes some 350 truck-loads of silt were removed. In large parts of the City we now know that the land has sunk up to 50cm while some properties located near rivers and estuaries have sunk by up to a meter. This has caused many properties to be flood prone in areas such as the Flockton-Aylesford area of Shirley and St Albans. In addition, experts warn that rising sea levels as a result of climate change could place other suburban areas of coastal Christchurch such as South New Brighton, South Shore, Sumner, Brooklands and parts of Linwood, under water within the next 100 years.
Since the earthquakes, as we have recently seen again, much of eastern Christchurch finds itself under water after every big rain. Many properties will be continually subject to flooding. In a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and also a Tonkin and Taylor report it is stated that a worst case scenario could see the sea rise 2 metres by 2100. (See http://www.rebuildchristchurch.co.nz/i/46e42c98aae3647b.pdf ). Some of the residents in these areas have already been evacuated from their homes six times since the earthquakes.
Understandably, affected residents call for the Government to zone the area ‘red’ so that they can move on with their lives, but the Government has ruled out red-zoning the Flockton Basin area as the “criteria for red-zoning was not based on flooding. It was based on the potential of the land to support a building“.[i] CERA’s people argue that many of these properties were below flood management height well before the earthquakes. Hon. Gerry Brownlee suggests the problem is related to the drainage plan, stating that flooding in areas badly hit had not been “all that unusual over the decades.”[ii] It is clear that in Christchurch’s post earthquake damage repair, flood modelling was not included in many parts of the City (such as Fitzgerald Avenue) and this too has led to heightened flood risk.[iii]
The plight of the many families living in these areas has been further complicated because many insurers refuse to remedy property damage until the drainage issues have been resolved. This raises the question of who is to be responsible for footing the bill to raise the large chunks of land that have sunk since the earthquakes, if indeed that is to be the solution? The Council suggests a flooding solution is two years away as the engineers look into how they might protect these low-lying homes. The Flood Management Area rules have not taken into account the way in which land has dropped since the earthquakes and many hundreds of properties are likely to be within its zoning. Nor does it take into account the likely further adverse weather events we are increasingly likely to experience and how these adverse events are inter-related. The Christchurch City Council must urgently consider these issues very carefully. Climate change promises only to make matters worse. (In 1981-1990 25 recorded weather events $458m; 1991-2000 34 recorded weather events $127m; 2001-2010 51 recorded weather events $564m. The Number of recorded events has doubled over a 30-year period.) See http://www.nzila.org/documents/130905-lucas.pdf.
The EQC has pledged to assist the Christchurch City Council to speed up mitigation work by making a financial contribution to the council-led flood mitigation as an aspect of its role in settling residential land damage claims. There is a suggestion by lawyer Duncan Webb though, that the EQC payout may be ‘outside the law’ as the EQC Act provides insurance to individual land sites and properties. Hon. Gerry Brownlee retorted that Mr Webb’s comments were “ridiculous and unhelpful“. I’m not so sure.
In other parts of the country, councils are wisely already beginning to use zoning rules as a way of ensuring people do not develop properties in risky areas – you cannot solve a national problem locally. Water management is no longer a personal/individual property problem, nor is it a local problem. Water management in New Zealand needs to be addressed nationally. How many incidents do we have to have around the country, such as Manawatu and Aorere before we begin to take this issue seriously – national solutions need to be found. We are already hearing of insurance excesses of NZD10,000 per flooding in Christchurch. How many average Cantabrian families can afford that? There are examples all over the world where flood insurance is simply too expensive, even as close as Queensland, Australia. (See http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/flood-victims-ripped-off-by-greedy-insurers/desc/ and http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/skyrocketing-insurance-premiums-hit-queensland-flood-victims-and-others/story-e6freoof-1226548519016). And let’s not forget – we’re dealing with the very same insurers. Other creative solutions must be found so make sure you read my post on KiwiSure and ask your preferred political party what they intend doing about this national problem.
East Christchurch residents have found themselves in the unenvious position of battling with insurers to repeatedly replace belongings and repair water logged homes. In places, the earthquakes have created a bowl where surrounding streets have lifted and the centre, fallen. It then only takes a small amount of rain to collect in the centre with no place to drain. The frequent floods draw attention to the fact that the City needs to make some hard decisions about which areas it intends to protect and those from which it will need to retreat. Two camps of thought emerge. On the one hand there are those who see the flood damage as an ‘Act of God’ and therefore it is for the officials and politicians and insurers to fix, while on the other side of the fence there is the hard-line view that what has happened to the land is simply ‘an investment gone wrong’ and therefore there is no automatic right to compensation from the State.[iv]
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has produced a set of ever self-adjusting guidelines that allow a considerable degree of house and foundation repair without consideration of the likely future flood risk. This enables EQC to repair homes which are ‘under the cap’ at existing floor levels despite the fact that those homes have sunk since the earthquakes. This means that any future risk and liability will fall squarely on the homeowner. This is clearly a ‘contingent liability’ for homeowners. For those ‘over the cap’ it is entirely another matter and actual policy provisions should govern. On top of that the City Council has the ability to issue ‘hazard notices’ on properties, which would mean that insurance cover could be withdrawn and any outstanding mortgage on the property, potentially immediately payable. In addition, if there are any unconsented repairs carried out, then the Council would also have no Building Act liabilities and the poor homeowner could once again be left high and dry with no recourse for their loss. This all bears watching closely.
Some homeowners affected by the sinking of land have been told by their insurers that if they want their homes lifted then they will have to cover the costs themselves. This means that every affected property owner in these areas will have to fight individual legal battles based on their actual policies in order to adequately protect their property. The argument is that there is no obligation on the insurer’s part to future proof a house against likely climate change and they are not responsible for properties now considered a future flood risk, unless a full rebuild is required as a consequence of recent earthquake damage.
So the solutions have to come from Government/ EQC. It seems that EQC has accepted that its land damage cover should pay out on both liquefaction and flood risk. EQC recognises higher flood risks due to subsidence as a form of land damage, but they will not pay for a property’s floor level to be raised if that it is not required as part of the earthquake remediation required by any building consent. Calls have been made for the Christchurch City Council to refuse to consent quake repairs that do not address the flood risk.[v] Meanwhile storm battered residents ask “Our homes are insured, our land is insured so why after three years are we still living like this?“[vi] The Earthquake Commission adds in its usual helpful manner that property owners who are at a greater risk of flooding as a result of the quakes will receive money to fix their land, however each individual homeowner will have to find a solution for the remediation of their land.[vii]
Insurers are responsible for properties and foundations but not the land they sit on and it is estimated that there are 17,000 homes in flood-prone areas in the city.
Warren Lewis (a chartered professional engineer) makes the point that ECan handed over all drainage in the city to the City Council which enabled the City Council to carry out drainage works without having to obtain resource consents, thereby preventing any scrutiny of their schemes. In addition there was an amendment to the City Plan by which the Council could combat flooding by declaring flood management areas – areas where new buildings had to be built up by a metre or so higher than their neighbours. Mr Lewis attended numerous hearings and the Environment Court to warn of the serious flooding risk as a result of the proposed development strategy – but to no avail. Sound familiar??
Not unsurprisingly these areas are subject to large drops in land value and if that was not enough, some banks are reluctant to lend, insurers are refusing to cover clients who wish to buy in those areas, or if they do, the premiums are exorbitant. The Building Act and Building Code do deal with flood risk. A council is unable to issue a consent if the land is likely to be subject to natural hazards, of which flooding is one. The Building Code states that a building should be designed and constructed in such a way that the likelihood of water entering buildings is not greater than two per cent in any one year (i.e. a one- in-50 year event). If the house is unable to get a consent then it must be redesigned in a way which complies with the District Plan. The question arises as to whether the floor level allowance ought to match the latest international projections of sea level rise which is projected to take place over the next century. But it’s not just the houses – it’s the whole infrastructure in flood-prone areas……..
What is required here is a strategic approach. It won’t be cheap and the dwindling Christchurch population will become a rush for the door if rates are increased any further. Any comment Mr Key?? Mr Brownlee?? Anyone??
[i] Flockton Basin red zone ruled out, Anna Pearson, Christchurch Press, March 19, 2014.
[ii] Brownlee cautious on flood-risk link to quakes, Georgina Stylianou, Christchurch Press, March 03, 2014.
[iii] Flood modelling omitted in road repair, Marc Greenhill, Christchurch Press, March 13, 2014.
[iv] Rising flood risk in a sunken city, John McCrone, Christchurch Press, Nov 09, 2013.
[v] City urged to take harder line, Georgina Stylianou, Christchurch Press, Feb 04, 2014.
[vi] Residents: Why are we still living like this?, Blair Ensor and Georgina Stylianou, Christchurch Press, March 05, 2014.
[vii] EQC ‘covers flood damage’, Lois Cairns, Christchurch Press, March 08, 2014.
Cost of UK Flood Insurance
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