Over the last few days, the earthquake has slipped a little in media standing. It’s still top of the program, but we might get a couple of stories. By next weekend, it probably wont register at all. Almost conversely, with every day the problems for central Christchurch seem to get greater, not lesser. The cordon may have been lifted, but a huge number of streets, or parts of streets, are still closed. Many of them will be for weeks and months. I talked to a landlord a few days ago, who said it was going to take 3 months just to replace the windows on one, 6-storey office block. That’s just the windows. I am still not able to stay in my house, though the building itself is fine. We still don’t have power, 8 days later. It seems to be because of the number of buildings close by that will be knocked down – I guess it’s just easier to keep us out until that is done. Despite all the nice statements that the council and mayor make, inner city living is not very high on local government’s agenda.
Last week was largely a write-off for many people, no school for the kids, only essential hospital services, tradespeople trying their hardest to get everything up and ready. Monday the 13th will be different. People are trying to start the new week, to return to normality. Many people are going to realise just how long it will be before things return to anything like normal. Many businesses are trying to find office space that they can relocate to in the short term – although the worry may be that some central city businesses will never come back. The Alliance Francais, which teaches French to children and adults, as well as organising cultural and social events for Francophones in Christchurch, has it’s premises on Hereford St, not far from the Manchester Courts building. It is unable to open for teaching whilst the Manchester Courts building remains unresolved, so they are having to look for somewhere else to teach classes. They don’t know how long they will be unable to go back to their building.
There are up to 80 other businesses that are in the same situation, just because they are close to Manchester Courts. It is a terrible situation, as there is so much uncertainty. On the one hand, we need these businesses to be able to get back and open again, as soon as possible, with as little disruption as possible. On the other, I want to think that whatever can be done to try and save the Manchester Courts building is being looked into. I want all options to be exhausted: demolition should be an absolute last resort. I think that in the scheme of things, the Alliance Francais and other local businesses having to move for a couple of weeks is relatively minor.
However, as this sort of situation is likely to be being played out all over the city right now, I wonder whether there is a role for the government to play. No-one wants decisions to be rushed through, but there is understandable pressure from business owners to have those decisions made as quickly as possible. The government (and I think it has to be government – council simply doesn’t have the money) should step in and reassure small businesses that they will be covered, so that they don’t feel they have to rush back to work at a speed which jeopardises the future of our city. The Ministry of Social Development’s wage assistance scheme goes some way to easing the strain, but won’t be enough to stop small business owners worrying about loss of earnings, rent, replacing stock, loss of custom, all sorts of things.
While the rebuild and recovery of Christchurch needs to proceed quickly, that doesn’t mean that we should be rushing into bad decisions – as we may be living with these bad decisions for the rest of our lives.