CHRISTCHURCH - Quakes and the vote

1:00 pm on 13 August 2014

Christchurch could be described as a tale of two electoral cities as progress in rebuilding the city after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes stands to influence voters.

The city is still very much a work in progress after the devastating earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011 and their numerous aftershocks, with the rebuild likely to take up to 20 years. The latest official estimate of quake recovery costs to the taxpayer is $15.4 billion, but this may go higher.

The Bridge of Remembrance in the centre of Christchurch.

The Bridge of Remembrance in the centre of Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

An abandoned building in the city, awaiting demolition.

An abandoned building in the city, awaiting demolition. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Buildings in the central city are still being demolished, others remain derelict, vast tracts of land are standing empty though many have been grassed over and some fenced off. Cranes work on new buildings, but it is hardly the city of cranes that was projected to dominate the skyline.

300414. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Christchurch

Christchurch centre. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

New Regent Street in Christchurch.

New Regent Street in Christchurch is open for business, but remains quiet. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

But just a few blocks from the CBD, Victoria Street is a thriving business and entertainment area. Further on, along Lincoln Road and out to the suburbs, there is more activity. In Rolleston, known as the "city of the future'', people are building or have already moved into their new homes. Their lives are moving on, and they are positive about the future.

Rolleston Town. Faringdon. Sold site

New sections in Rolleston Town, Faringdon, outside Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

230414. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Christchurch. Rolleston Town. Faringdon

New homes in Rolleston Town. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

In the east of the city, it is a different story. Red zone houses are abandoned, and thousands of homeowners are in a holding pattern, waiting for a decision on whether their home will be rebuilt or repaired. Businesses, too, are having to adapt, especially those in the path of the "Green Zone'', which will have to move to make way for a new green belt set to frame the new city centre.

230414. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Christchurch. Red Zone houses.

In the Red Zone. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Liquefaction in the Christchurch red zone.

Signs of liquefaction in the Red Zone. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Dealing with the aftermath of the earthquakes, the uncertainty about what would happen to homes, schools, businesses and jobs has taken a toll over the three years.

The fourth Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) Wellbeing Survey showed levels of stress remain high with one in five or around 22 percent saying they have experienced stress "always or most of the time" in the previous year. The main causes were living in a damaged environment, transport pressures and dealing with repair and rebuild issues, all factors which will influence voters when they are deciding how responsible the government has been for their quality of life.

230414. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Christchurch Road closed sign. Rock fall hazard. Summit Road

The Summit Road had been closed due to rock falls but has since reopened. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

In the last election there was more of a sense of "we're all in this together" as people reeled from the shock of what had happened just eight months earlier. Three years on, some are overwhelmed with a sense of frustration.

Transport pressures and the affordability and availability of low-cost rental housing are having a flow-on effect as many residents feel the city is undergoing a housing crisis.

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) report released in July shows the average weekly rent in greater Christchurch including Selwyn and Waimakariri, was $431 at the end of April - about 13 per cent up on the previous year.

This was just $20 a week or 4 percent less than Auckland's average weekly rent of $451 and Christchurch rents were expected to reach Auckland levels by the end of the year.

But for some there was little to complain about. Business was booming, the unemployment rate in greater Christchurch had fallen to 3.3 percent, well below the national average of 6.2 percent. The median gross weekly household income had risen by 16.6 percent in the five years to 2013 in greater Christchurch, compared with 8.1 percent nationally. This rebuild was driving the economic growth of the region.

170414. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Christchurch. Buildtech sign

The rebuild has lowered unemployment to well below the national average. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

A new mayor and largely new council had created more of a united front, but there continued to be tension over the rebuild's direction and the priorities of the anchor projects, the big-ticket items that the Government and the Christchurch City Council had committed to in the Blueprint Plan.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel. Photo: RNZ

In July the council released the Cameron Report, a financial audit of its assets, recommending that $400 million in assets be sold to cover the almost $900 million "black hole" in the council's books. A review of the council and government cost-sharing agreement on the funding of the rebuild is also due later this year. The Government signed a cost-sharing agreement with the council, in June 2013, to pay $1.8 billion of the total $3.1 billion reconstruction bill for horizontal infrastructure such as road, water, wastewater and power networks leaving the council with a $1.37 billion bill.

230414. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Christchurch. Old AMI stadium

The old AMI stadium. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Local government politics would usually have little bearing on a parliamentary election, but these are extraordinary times in Christchurch. It would be hard for voters to avoid being influenced by the last government's management of its relationship with the council and whether the degree of financial pressure on the local authority has been too much. Some voters will question the logic of prioritising the building of a $500 million covered stadium when so many are still living in quake-damaged homes.

There is also a sense of powerlessness for some. CERA's emergency powers have put democracy on hold forcing many decisions onto the government.

Many parents' anger at the handling of school closures in 2013 might be a distant memory, but Christchurch voters will certainly be influenced by the degree to which they have benefited from the rebuild or whether they are still waiting to have their homes repaired or rebuilt.

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