Editorial: Inaction on flood basin defies belief

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Four times in little more than a month, heavy rain has turned the land into a lake, flooding their homes, forcing them out. File photo / Getty Images
Four times in little more than a month, heavy rain has turned the land into a lake, flooding their homes, forcing them out. File photo / Getty Images

The rest of the country can only watch in disbelief that nothing is being done for residents of the Flockton Basin in Christchurch. Four times in little more than a month, heavy rain has turned the land into a lake, flooding their homes, forcing them out. Yet still, the Government and the city council can offer them no solution.

The solution seems obvious. The low-lying land has slumped lower as a result of the earthquakes, so it should be subject to the same relief as the land left unstable by the earthquakes. It is surely another "red zone" where the Government offers to buy each house at its pre-quake value, enabling any owner who wants to move to do so.

But neither the Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee, nor Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has wanted to see the basin red-zoned. They have been holding out for an engineering solution involving widened waterways and pumping stations to help drain the area during a downpour.

They hope to get something done in the next couple of years. "It seems like a long time, but two years for engineering works is quite fast," Mr Brownlee said. "Internationally, there are all sorts of places that have flood-prone geology that is successfully dealt with, and that is what we want here."

The Prime Minister, confronted with the residents' plight when he was in Christchurch on Tuesday, said he is waiting for the council to produce a plan. He needs to stop waiting and crack a whip. He should give the council until the end of the week.

The Christchurch City Council's performance has been dismal since the earthquakes. It has spent half its time demanding the Government do more and the other half complaining that government agencies are displacing it. This time the council has been designated "lead agency". Flockton Basin is a problem on a council scale.

Technically it is a problem of flood, not earthquake, which is why the Government has been reluctant to provide a red-zone solution. Houses that were red-zoned had insurance for the Government to recover on the basis that quakes had left the land no longer stable enough for a building. Land left flood-prone does not have the same insurance.

But politically, this is an earthquake problem, as the Prime Minister well knows. Before the earthquakes very few people, even in Christchurch, had heard of Flockton. It is doubtful that even those living in that part of the city knew they were in a basin. Even now, the land looks as flat as the rest of the city until it rains. It is then that the slump from the earthquake becomes distressingly apparent.

Not everyone wants to leave. Despite being flooded four times, some residents want to stay, putting their faith in flood-mitigation works. But is this really wise? Large stretches of eastern Christchurch along the Avon River are going to become open space when all abandoned houses in the red zone have been cleared away. Parks and a widened rowing course are in prospect.

Flockton is to the north of the river and if cleared of houses, it would be a puddle of wetland surrounded by residential streets. Is it worth the council spending $50 million to deepen and widen creeks in the vicinity and maintain pumps to keep it habitable? One resident said after the last storm, "When I walk on my back lawn it's like walking on jelly, it's just so full of water. It's just not getting time to dry out between soakings."

Christchurch is finding grim humour in the fact that these afflictions are supposed to occur once in a hundred years.

The city has endured so much in the past four years that Flockton cannot be treated as any other flood-prone place. The residents need help to get out now.

- NZ Herald

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