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John Key has cancelled his scheduled trip to Europe in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.

The Prime Minister yesterday said he was "awe-struck" by the damage caused to the city where he grew up and would only leave if he could be confident Christchurch's recovery was on track.

Mr Key was due to fly out on Friday and the announcement he had cancelled his trip came as foreign affairs officials briefed media due to travel with him.

Media were being told of the importance of the trip when a spokeswoman for Mr Key arrived and told them the trip had been cancelled because of the earthquake.

Mr Key said that the swarm of aftershocks last night in Christchurch had been a factor in his decision to call off the trip.

"I've decided on balance it wouldn't be prudent for me to leave.

"I'd rather stay here and be in New Zealand," he told reporters at Parliament.

The trip would have been Mr Key's first chance to talk at length with David Cameron since he became prime minister after Britain's election in May.

He would have unveiled a statue in memory of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park in London and spent the weekend with the Queen at Balmoral Castle.

Mr Key was also going to Paris for meetings with President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Mr Key said that Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street and the Elysee Palace would be contacted today and "I'm sure they will fully understand".

Mr Key said he hoped to announce some subsidised work programmes this afternoon.

His officials had consulted Australia's Victoria state government about schemes it had put in place after last year's devastating bush fires.

Mr Key said he was concerned about employees of small businesses who would no longer be getting wages because their places of work had been destroyed.

"The waitress working at one of the bars in Christchurch which has closed as a result of the earthquake through no fault of her own, can't go to work, and has to meet her obligations, well it's a little unfair if she can't be paid."

It would be temporary payment but details had yet to be fleshed out.

One of the issues the Government was looking at was how to speed up the RMA consenting process for repairs and rebuilding.

"I think there is some good work we will have to do there but we are going to have to break down some walls that will operate between private insurance companies, EQC [the Earthquake Commission], the councils that give those consents."

"I would have thought that for some of the smaller jobs for instance, it might have been quite possible we can allow approved builders to go out and complete that work and retrospectively get the RMA and building consents."

That was one of the discussion points he and other ministers would have when they met the three Canterbury mayors and CEOs this afternoon.

He said he received a call from Labour leader Phil Goff this morning to say he would like to accompany the Prime Minister on the tour of the welfare centres tonight.

Mr Key said he offered Mr Goff a seat on the Air Force plane he was taking to Christchurch and asked him to join him at the mayoral meeting so that he could have the best of information that was available.

Mr Key said he felt safe travelling to Christchurch this afternoon despite the aftershocks.

"There's a job to be done and I'm going to go down there and be part of it," he said.

Mr Key said his thoughts at the moment were more with the people than the economic cost.

"In the end we are a strong country and we will get through it. At the worst of times you see the very best of New Zealand and we are seeing the very best of New Zealand on display and family and friends get out there and help out their loved ones."

Mr Key said that given that there had been well over 100 aftershocks he could understand the fear and trauma that people were feeling and that the Government would have to provide counselling services for a quite a long period of time.

There are questions over whether some schools will reopen tomorrow.

Mr Key said that at least five schools had major structural damage and could be closed for longer and that 21 schools needed inspection.

"There will, without doubt, be further disruptions - not to every school in the Canterbury area - but certainly for some."

A nzherald.co.nz poll this morning found some 64 per cent of 1834 respondents did not think Mr Key should cancel the trip.

- NZHERALD STAFF and NZPA