Kaikoura District in danger of implosion

Kaikoura District is struggling to stay afloat. As the new decade begins, New Zealand smallest district in terms of rate payer base is facing rate increases of up to 50% in the current council term, or about 16-17% per annum.

This problem is not new, and nor are the calls for amalgamating with Marlborough District Council. In October 2019 a report came out that said if Kaikoura District Council maintained its current funding model it would run the real risk of imploding within a matter of years.

It is true that Kaikoura District Council has some huge – and largely unresolvable – matters not necessarily of its making. The earthquake of 14 November 2016 caused $2 billion in damage around the district, most of it being to State Highway 1, the railway line, council infrastructure such as the water supply, community amenities. There was also widespread damage to private premises.

The natural effects of such a large earthquake also made themselves known. the harbour and South Bay marina were effectively left high and dry within a couple of minutes as hundreds of square kilometres of sea floor was uplifted from Cloudy Bay near Blenheim as far south as Oaro. Paua beds were left high and dry as well, causing a large amount of paua to go to waste.

And there were the inevitable economic effects. On top of the repair bill, which the then Government said it would foot since it involved infrastructure of national importance, there was several billion dollars in lost revenue. The closure of the road and railway by a combination of rock falls, displacement by rupturing faults and uplift virtually crippled Kaikoura. Even when the road and railway reopened, constant closures have afflicted them both. Ongoing repairs are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Also affected was Kaikoura’s world famous Whale Watch operation, which takes tourists out on boats to see sperm whales taking advantage of a deep sea canyon that comes in to within a few kilometres of the coast.

As Kaikoura has struggled back to its feet its District Council has faced some tough economic decisions. It cannot afford to just lump rate rise upon rate rise simply because it suits. Aside from locals having limited finances, the population in a District that extends from Oaro to Kekerengu in the north and is dominated by Kaikoura with little communities dotted along the coast, is a tiny 4,030.

Faced with these huge hurdles, no one should be too surprised that there are suggestions it should amalgamate with the Marlborough District Council. Historically this is a logical suggestion as the coastal communities north of the Clarence River typically identify with, Marlborough rather than Canterbury. They might have amalgamated earlier with Hurunui District Council, to the south, but for the rejection of the proposal by the Local Government Authority in 2009.

Rather than saddle Kaikoura with rate rises that might push the local rate payer base into an untenable position, I support investigating whether K.D.C. can actually change its funding model. If it cannot, the Council should approach the L.G.A. and ask for permission to hold a referendum on merging. At the end of the day, things are coming to a financial head that no one really wants, but the risk of implosion if the Council cannot change is very real.

South Island being short changed by Government

“Everybody south of the Bombay Hills” is a common reference to everyone not living in Auckland. It is generally used in the context of political commentary on Government decisions where New Zealanders not living in Auckland are likely to come distant second in Government funding or policy announcements.

The recent announcement by Minister of Transport Phil Twyford that billions of dollars are to be spent on Auckland and other North Island transport projects was a rude jolt for many in the South Island. Whilst an announcement on funding for the Southern Motorway was made for Christchurch, there was precious little else for the South Island to be happy with. It broke a promise that Labour made to spend $100 million on trains for Christchurch. It ignored the West Coast, Otago, Nelson, Marlborough and Southland completely.

But worst of all it sent a message to people south of Cook Strait that they are not important.

Yet people wonder why the South Island is getting so frustrated. Much of the power that is generated in the South Island goes to the North Island This has been the case for years and I am assured by a friend in the know that the Police keep a permanent watch on the Cook Strait cable to make sure no one interferes with it.

I am not so surprised by the resentment. It has been around for years and at times has gotten strong enough as to give rise to small political parties that have the vision of separating the South Island or at least making much more effort to include South Island interests on the Government agenda. It has given rise to internet based groups that have – among other things looked at alternative flag designs for the South Island.

Richard Prosser, former New Zealand First list Member of Parliament might have seemed a lone wolf in the mist when he advocated for South Island separatism before entering Parliament. However he was not the first. Nor the last. In 1999 the South Island Party stood at the General Election and got 2,622 votes. Not many, but the fact that it became a verified party with 500+ paying members suggests that such sentiment is capable of becoming more organized. The South Island Party disbanded and another party that replaced it never got enough paying members to be verified as a legitimate party.

Still, one cannot help but wonder what it would take for South Island nationalism to start creeping back into the fringes of New Zealand politics. How many more policy and budget announcements that short change the 1.1 million New Zealanders south of Cook Strait could be tolerated?

The answer might not be as many as people think.

The urgent case for accelerating Wellington’s quake readiness

After the Christchurch earthquake. What we did not recognize in that sequence was that just because a seismic event one order of magnitude lower than that of the original large event had not happened did not mean it could not happen – we would just take most of six months to find out.

The sequences of aftershocks certainly kept reminding people that the sequence would take some time to ride out, with notable aftershocks on 04, 13 and 19 October 2010. All of these caused brief power outages throughout the central business district, liquefaction and an end to trading at numerous small businesses in older buildings. An aftershock on Boxing Day 2010 permanently closed the Whitcoulls bookshop building in Cashel Mall, and it was not hard to see why with extensive cracks in the facade. The same aftershock should have forced the evacuation of the C.T.V. building, but did not – with dreadful consequences.

Wellington and Kaikoura are experiencing a similar pattern now. The initial burst of magnitude 6 aftershocks has gone quiet. Like Christchurch during its earthquake sequence, Wellington and Kaikoura have not quickly had an aftershock an order of magnitude lower than the original magnitude 7.8 event. Due to a logarithmic increase in energy release for every whole order of magnitude a magnitude 5.0 is about 32 times more powerful than a magnitude 4.0 at the same location and depth; a magnitude 6.0 is about 32 times more powerful than a magnitude 5.0 at the same location and depth and so on. Thus the absence of an aftershock in the magnitude 6.8-7.0 range means that quite substantial energy is being locked up in the sequence. Because of the large area affected by the original earthquake, it is impossible to know where such an event could occur.

Only time will tell how this aftershock sequence plays out.

Wellington and Kaikoura need to keep this in mind as they move forward from 14 November 2016. Both places need to remember there is no substitute for everyone getting out safely from a building after an earthquake. With that in mind there are going to be some painful arguments over whether to pull down high risk buildings that might look beautiful but are structurally unsound. Politicians will debate the costs of earthquake strengthening, not wanting to put the tenants under undue financial pressure or pass on to ratepayers. Councils and the Government have a duty of care to their taxpayers/ratepayers, visitors and anyone else in their jurisdiction on the day of a major disaster. By shirking their responsibilities they can be exposing themselves and thus their rate/taxpayer base by default to potentially massive litigation and/or criminal proceedings.

That is not okay.

Wellington City Council has started a programme of identifying at risk buildings. Depending on how earthquake prone they are, the W.C.C. is assigning the landlords 10, 15 or 20 year deadlines to bring their assets up to an acceptable standard. The 10 year deadlines are for the most at risk buildings, some of which are now probably closed indefinitely or have owners scrambling for indepth assessments so they can determine how they proceed. The recent and ongoing seismic activity will also hopefully have jolted owners of buildings in the other two categories to bring forward their planned assessments.

And if anyone is still in doubt, this piece of advice from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is worth remembering:

“Buildings with less than one-third of the strength of a new building have about 10 to 20 times the risk of serious damage or collapse when compared to a new building.” mbie.govt.nz