March 25, 2011
I thought it time to write another update in my infrequent Christchurch Earthquake category (see more here). This one is unfortunately a tale of woe.
Last week, while I was in the US, my business partner sent me an email to tell me that our building in Lichfield Street was bring demolished – he handily sent me a photo, snapped from just outside the cordon. Included is a post September and post February pic, there is no argument that the building was in need of demolition.
Now, despite the strong assertions of the Civil Defence controller, Steve Brazier that Civil Defence was doing everything possible to contact building owners prior to demolition, we had zero contact. This despite the fact that we had registered with the earthquake recovery website, the name of the company we own (and that in turn owns the building) is on the certificate of title and that a 30 second companies office search would have given them our names and contact details. So, unless we had coincidentally been in the area, we would have zero knowledge that our building was being demolished. As an emergency worker myself, I understand that in the week following the disaster some things had to happen very much off the cuff. But now, a month on from the event, there is no excuse for such tardy communications. It’s not the Wild West out here.
Not good – But alas it gets worse.
Upon my return from the US, I managed to snap some pictures of the demolition site. In the first one you can see diggers from several companies doing a great job of clearing the site.
The next picture however tells a sorrier tale – it appears that the operators had cherry-picked some particularly special pieces of timber and piled them carefully away from all the demolition debris. While we don’t know for sure that the intention was to make away with the good, the evidence is fairly compelling that this was in fact the plan. For the record this pile has some pretty amazing Australian hardwood beams, and a bunch of native timber as well – attractive items to a salvage company.
Now I need to point out that we really don’t care about a few thousand dollars worth of timber – the insurance payout for the building is going to be several million dollars – a few wooden beams are neither here nor there. But what really annoyed us was the fact that the Civil Defence controller had gone on record stating emphatically that there was a robust accreditation system for demolition companies, and that no salvage of materials would take place. The assertion seemed to fall down, at least in our case.
Suitably up in arms, we decided to do some investigative work. My business partner, pretending ignorance, managed to contact the overseer of all the demolitions in our area of town. This employee would appear to be a Civil Defence appointment, charged with overseeing the demolition activities. When asked whether any salvage had occurred from our building, said employee emphatically denied that anything had been saved and that all material had been chipped and sent to landfill. At the same time my eagle eyed business partner managed to spy what suspiciously looked like our materials semi-hidden from view near the demolition site.
Our backs suitably up, I contacted both Civil Defence and the Christchurch City Council who both advised there was little they could do and to contact the Police. I did so and was told that the Police in Christchurch were under-resourced and would be unlikely to investigate the incident. Later that evening I was contacted by the local Police officer in the rural area that I live – since my address was on the complaint form he would be dealing with it. Despite taking a statement he was realistic in telling me that there was little chance of a positive outcome for us.
I also made contact with one of the demolition companies who had been working on site who told me that we should be happy that we got a free demo job and that all materials had been chipped and sent to landfill – he too was adamant that nothing remained. Stranger and stranger it seems…
Leveraging my media connections, the story was run by The National Business Review which in turn led to me being interviewed on Radio New Zealand the next morning (listen here). All this attention seemed to miraculously change the situation. My business partner managed to corner the overseer who, just 24 hours earlier, had told him that no materials were salvaged (bear in mind that this overseer sits in an office roughly 20 metres and in clear line of site to our building). He said that in fact some materials had been recovered and they would be dropped off on our site – where they had gone in the interim, and how he had managed to not see a massive stack of timber is a mystery that only he can answer.
As I said, the materials themselves are neither here nor there (although it would be nice to be able to repurpose some of the historical materials from the site into the new building that we create on site). What is of issue however is a double whammy to building and business owners that simply must not be ignored;
- Under the auspices of a national emergency, business and building owners are being refused entry to locations, regardless of the actual danger. This means they are unable to assess the state of buildings or businesses, and are unable to have any oversight over emergency demolitions should they need to occur
- Civil Defence has accredited demolition companies, not generally known for their ethical behaviour, and for the main part given them carte blanche within the city. There seems to be, despite Civil Defence assertions to the contrary, very little oversight of what happens at specific demolition sights
There is a Wild West mentality that sees a few people with inordinate amounts of power run roughshod over the property and due process rights of business people. While I understand that in an emergency situation, sometimes things occur that are less than ideal, we have now entered a new phases and there is no justification for this sort of behaviour.