A group of about 30 Christchurch business people protesting over not being allowed into their CBD businesses have met with Civil Defence officials today.
The protesters, some with placards, gathered at Civil Defence headquarters in a fresh protest over the lack of access after several broke through the red zone cordons yesterday.
The protesters renewed their calls to be allowed access to the cordoned off area so they can get out stock and other important items to carry on their businesses.
This afternoon, Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend emerged from the fenced-off area outside the earthquake command centre at the Christchurch art gallery and spoke to protesters.
He told them the group would be allowed a 30-minute briefing from Civil Defence officials and they were led inside.
Media were not allowed in.
Afterwards, James Ayers, owner of a small business in the red zone, said the meeting was long overdue and he came out of it with a "certain level of comfort".
However, he still had no idea when he would be able to get access to his business.
Civil Defence had given a commitment to keep he and other business owners in the loop. "I don't want to hear what happens to our businesses through the media."
Kishor Singh, who owns two buildings in the red zone, said Civil Defence was unwilling to commit to any timeline for getting them access.
"So we are still in limbo. We don't know whether we will get access next week or in six weeks or a year down the line."
Today's protest was more subdued than yesterday's, when at least 100 people marched through town demanding access to their buildings and information from Civil Defence, with some breaking through the cordoned-off central business district. They were removed by police, but no arrests were made.
In the wake of yesterday's unrest, Civil Defence Minister John Carter admitted there could have been better communication with frustrated business owners.
"We're working through this methodically and logically and without emotion, and while we understand that there will be people who are anxious, we're just going to deal with it in the sensible way that you would expect us to," Mr Carter told reporters this morning.
Commenting about business owners' complaints about feeling out of the loop, Mr Carter said: "I think there maybe is an area there where we might have done more, but having said that of course there was a lot of information we didn't have."
He understood the frustration of business people who felt they had been ignored.
"I can understand that. We've been focusing first of all on rescuing people, secondly on recovering bodies.
"Now we have got the stage where we can address these concerns, and we are. We are taking all the steps possible."
The situation should be kept in context, he said. "We're actually dealing with an unusual event here and it's only been four weeks (since the earthquake)."
Civil Defence was making good progress, he said.
It only had a list of building owners but was now working to compile a list of tenants and business owners.
"Now that we've got to the stage beyond the rescue and recovery we're pausing so that we can accumulate the knowledge that we need so we can contact all those people who have an interest, and so we can make progress in the way that they expect us to," Mr Carter said.
Civil Defence would try to notify business owners as well as building owners when demolitions were necessary.
"We can't guarantee that. There's been occasions where we've been demolishing a building, the notification's been given, all that stuff. The buildings come down, then we find the building next door suddenly becomes dangerous and we have to take that down immediately as well."
Mr Carter also said he was totally satisfied with the work of Civil Defence national controller John Hamilton and acting controller Steve Brazier.
"They're good people, they're doing the job I want them to, that the Government expects of them, and they're doing it for New Zealand."
Civil Defence is working with the Canterbury Business Recovery group to allow business owners limited and controlled access to the quake-damaged red zone from Thursday.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said a process was being looked at to allow more people to get into the CBD to safely access their stock, but it was not a fast process.
It is still unsafe in the CBD, and authorities did not want to see any further death or injury.
"We are not going to rush it. It's too risky."
Mr Brownlee asked business owners to consider whether their stock was worth more than their lives.
"We are not going to lose any more lives simply because we rush at things."
Setting out a timeline for access to the CBD was incredibly difficult, he said.By Jarrod Booker Email Jarrod, NZPA