Residents forced to sell up and leave Christchurch's earthquake-wrecked red zones cannot expect to be told when their former homes will be demolished, the Government says.
The city's quake recovery reached a milestone yesterday when contractors moved in to begin demolishing the first 11 of between 5000 and 6000 homes deemed to be on quake-damaged land that is too costly to repair.
Owners of those red-zone homes can sell their land to the Government and have the option of selling their homes to the Government too or being paid out on their house insurance.
But as the demolitions began in the suburb of Bexley yesterday, a dispute arose over what those properties' former owners have the right to know.
Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel yesterday told TVNZ's Breakfast: "There are people who are only just finding out their homes are going to be demolished this week, and I think that's really not good enough.
"Some of those people have been out of their homes since September 2010 but nobody's bothered to tell them it's their house that's coming down.
"When the house is transferred to the Government it might just be a property, a house, to them, but to people they'll always be their homes."
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said he did not consider it reasonable to inform every former homeowner of the steps taken with the properties.
"With all due respect to them, I have got to say to them, 'What do they expect?' Once they have sold that house, their interest in that house has gone," he said.
"I think the broad indication that an area is going to be progressively demolished is about as good as can be achieved. In the end, these houses now belong to the taxpayers of New Zealand, who have outlaid quite a large amount of money to acquire them."
Mr Brownlee said there had been a street meeting, door-knocking and booklets to explain the demolitions to the affected neighbourhood. A lot of the former homeowners had moved away.
He called Ms Dalziel's comments a "beat-up".
"I guess this is a demonstration of the new bipartisan approach that the Labour Party wants to take."
Houses were first being stripped of reusable items before being knocked down, and the remaining materials being transported to waste collection points. Mr Brownlee said it was still unclear what would happen to the red-zone areas once the houses were cleared from them.
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority chief executive Roger Sutton agreed it was difficult to consult with former residents.
"Our priority has been to work with the existing local communities. We had a public meeting with the people still living in the area last Friday to talk to them about the issues.
"When it come to talking to the people that used to live there it is just very difficult. For a start we don't actually know when the work is going to begin," he told TV3's Firstline.
"On top of that we don't actually have the addresses or contact details of these people any longer."
Mr Sutton said the salvage of materials from the homes also delayed the demolition process.
"If you are going to start building a house out of recycled materials there is never going to be a better time because I think all those bits and pieces are going to go very cheaply because there is going to be a very big surplus."
He said it could be another three or four years before all the red zone homes are pulled down.
* Contractors have started demolishing houses in the red zone.
* 5000 to 6000 homes have been deemed to be on quake-damaged land that is too costly to repair.
* Owners of those homes are able to sell their land to the Government.
* They also have the option of selling their homes to the Government or being paid out on their house insurance.
* The fate of the red-zone areas once the houses are cleared from them is still unclear.