Something is Rotten in the State of Christchurch

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.

September 4 (1)

February 22 (1)

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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.

IMG_20110323_082559

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.

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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;

  1. 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
  2. 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.

76 Comments
  • I would be very unimpressed by these events.

    It makes me wonder what happens to all the cash, petty cash tins, laptops, jewellery, cameras, and interesting gear that demolition crews uncover?

    • Perks for the boys perhaps?

      • A Civil Defence spokesman said contracts often allowed salvage rights to the demolition companies, but Civil Defence had put in a clause to stop that happening since the February 22 quake.

        “Any demolition we are organising will have that clause – but if a demolition occurred before the February earthquake, then it would depend on the individual contract.”

        The Christchurch City Council website states: “Demolition contractors undertaking commercial or red zone demolitions are not allowed to salvage materials. Where possible, goods of value, such as business equipment, will be returned to the owner or tenant.”

    • This is discussing. I live just out of Christchurch and are a semi retired builder .And I with many of my friends have been ignored in our request to help rebuild the City we love Christchurch has become a Fiefdom

  • Sorry to hear about this going on, although not too surprised. In many cases I’d really like to see some materials salvaged and saved; not for the demolition companies bonus – but to be used in post-quake reconstruction. Some of the hardwoods are going to be very rare as we go forward… Thanks for writing this piece and giving us your first hand account.

  • Sounds bad. I imagine this is to do with bad management rather than policy, I hope so.

    About to listen to the RNZ item, I think its here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/canterbury-earthquake/71311/complaints-about-thefts-from-inside-quake-cordon

    link above did not work.

  • Oh my gosh. I am hearing so many similar stories. One of my friends had a business in the manchester courts and has no idea what happened to a hundred thousand dollars worth of gym gear. You can’t see any of it sticking out of the rubble and it was expensive and sturdy stuff.
    Of course stuff should be salvaged for recycling or re-use, but not for the benefit of the demolition companies…

  • Nicely written post Ben.

    Putting aside questions of petty theft of stock, cash and other valuables – I think it is essential that building owners can recover materials from their sites to incorporate into the rebuilds on the same sites. I think retaining this link between Christchurch’s past and future history is an essential part of the healing process both for business owners, and the city itself. For want of a little more time and care in this process we risk not just losing history but wiping it out as though it never existed. It seems astonishingly short sighted.

    Meanwhile I note with interest the sensitivity and patience the Police are giving to the process of reconnecting cars from within the cordon to their owners. I don’t believe that Christchurch businss and property owners have anything less of an emotional connection to their property.

  • That is disgusting and it tars every firm with the same brush sadly. This begs to be looked in to further. Not only this but the standards and powers that are being handed to any contractors on any aspects of rebuilding Christchurch.

    Sincere best wishes for the rebuild.

    S

  • Write (immediately) a complaint to the NZ Ombudsmans office.Many complaints have already been lodged with this person.Several outlined issues have clearly indicated a complete lack in understanding and also recogniton of the role (including related duties) of Civil Defence.Unfortunately this includes many People with Disabilities whom have experienced very serious and major tragic personal circumastances.Several complaints have also been referred to the NZ Human Rights Commission.

  • Even without the above tale of woe, I have had some concerns. I work with offenders (aka criminals), many of whom work in the demolition industry – indeed, it is an industry almost solely comprised of offenders great and small. This is great on one level – risk of re-offending tends to reduce with gainful employment. But, ahem, not wanting to lump all into one basket – oh to hell with it, if an opportunity presents itself, there’s no way they’re not going to take advantage of it!

  • Isn’t this called looting?
    Didn’t some poor sod collecting some porcelain get to see some bars and a court?
    Must be a different law for these bigger fish!

  • Is native timber actually being chipped? Or is that story only used in lies? I’d be horrified if it was true. Obviously, of course the demolition and salvage should be done by agreement. Wild West is right. A sad ending.

  • Last I heard about 5-6 years ago, one Chch demolition firm was owned by either the club itself or very close associates of a well-known Chch motorcycle club. I saw that company name on a protest sign in video footage of the demo that some business owners did last week.

  • maybe this time people wont be so eager to vote national or for bob parker….you get what you sow.

    • We can’t really blame either National or Bob Parker on this one – it’s a Civil Defence thing…

      • Civil Defense is a Government Ministry. The head of it is a National Govt. Minister – John Carter. Gerry Brownlee has been appointed as Earthquake Recovery minister. Bob Parker is the one who has many property developer friends in the area all with much to gain from the current situation. He and his friends also have unfettered access to the NO GO ZONE, unlike the rest of us common folk.

    • More incline to vote National and Key again based upon the current term in office. We would be in a much worse place with the current labour gaggle.

  • I whole heartedly agree with these comments and the article above. The demolition industry isnt exactly known for its compassionate side. Some buildings, of course would had to have been knocked down asap with little or no warning to the owners. But being a month since the quake struck is it not time to slowly open areas for owners to get their stock, with a decent amount of time to get their stock? Im wondering how much longer people will have to wait before the cbd opens again. Its the heart of christchurch, and without a functioning heart everything else is surely bound to go too

  • Having worked in the demolition industry for several years I can tell you I am pretty certain some buildings are being dmolished just for the demolition companies to loot the contents. This is turning into a multimillion dollar property theft the likes which we have only seen from finance companies and governments before. Let’s just say honesty is not a word used in the demolition industry often.

  • These people are criminals, while we honest caring people donate to the cause these parasites take what they can and profit from someone elses misery. may they rot in hell.

  • Steven Clift |

    Join conversations on the CBD and areas across Christchurch here: http://neighbours.cc

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  • hi there… i would be upset over this too.. i think that some things could be salvaged to help with rebuilding some things for the benefit of everyone but these people that are just taking it for them selves is just B.S!!!!! what kind of ppl are they??!!??

  • Mate,
    this is a total mess and I can only feel for you and Guy right now. Although the building had to come down, the way the whole CBD demolition and communication flow is being handled is beyond farcical. I am gutted and angry but really not sure who or how to direct my anger to. I’d really love to stick around Christchurch and make sure it’s populated with good people and creative business but right now it’s a challenging concept and I am not very confident that ‘we’ (and I say we very loosely) will all agree on what and how to rebuild.

    Hope you and your family are well Ben, would love to catch up for a beer or a coffee sometime.

  • Grrr!
    I thought the insurance company would want to claim anything salvagable…
    These demolition workers should be “released” from their contract with Civil Defense whilst these accusations are being looked into by the police.

  • What confuses me is that demo companies could easily charge a fair recovery fee and come out looking like heroes. Says a lot about the industry.

    • Tom – that’s the whole point, my understanding is that they ARE charging a fair fee to Civil Defence for the demolition – this is cream on the top I believe…

      • Sorry I meant a fair fee to the bussiness owners for storage, removal etc. Anyway the issue stinks Good luck with it. It seems to be the biggest issue people are talking about at the mo – we are all behind ya.

  • I can understand your frustration and anger. I have friends who own a demolition company, and they have personally lost two historic buildings. They have been feeling very frustrated about not being allowed, ever since the beginning on Feb 22, I believe, of working inside the cordon, telling me that the contracts are going to some bigger companies from up north. Sad really. The whole thing sucks.

  • Does anyone else here have trouble unsubscribing from these mailing lists?

    • This isn’t a mailing list. Commenters can tick a box that allows them to subscribe to future comments when they make a comment themselves, but that is very much opt it. I don’t use any of the email addresses that commenters fill in…

  • oh hell..
    My building is DIRECTLY across from you in the Albion Suites!I’m a jeweller-all my work is in the building-lifes collection of tools..So far nothing,nada,no idea of what is happening..
    Have registered 3 times on the Bus recovery site..If anyone sees a red leather Barcelona couch heading down Lichfield it’s mine!!

  • this is shit. and your building was awesome. sad to see it go. i’d put a lot of blame onto Bob Parker…
    he’s the one who over sees all this stuff.

  • Most demolition companies have salvage rights written into their contracts, its in the fine print

  • Earthquake Recovery Minister,Gerry Brownlee, names the Catholic Bascilica in Christchurch as one of four heritage buildings only to be retained. The rest, he says, can be bowled as they kill people.
    A hard line on Christchurch’s damaged heritage buildings is being taken by the Minister of Earthquake Recovery.

    The Minister, Gerry Brownlee, told a media briefing this afternoon that if he had his way, most of Christchurch’s heritage buildings would be bowled tomorrow.

    He says the old buildings killed people when they toppled during the earthquake and they can not remain.

    “While they are part of our past history, they have no place in our future history. As I’ve said repeatedly, heritage is both forward and back and from this point on, we decide what the heritage of this city will be,” he said.

    Mr Brownlee said he would like to see resources go into re-building the Christchurch Cathedral, the Catholic Basilica, the Provincial Chambers and the Arts Centre – “but that’s it”.

    let’s not forget who started this sh*t.

  • I think you will find that Civil Defence are completely out of their depth on this. They have no precedent for planning for this type of post-event action on this scale. The relativley modest damage from September showed that. They may be a bunch of well-intentioned, well-marshalled volunteers led by some untested (and it appears completely arrogant) full-timers and they may do a good job in the initial securing and emergency response to protect life etc. but once that is over and the demolition industry opportunists and wide-boys move in like sharks they are out of their league.

  • Well according to their website, business owners on Regent Street were given ‘half the day’ today to collect their business property and belongings. Everyone interviewed on the television news tonight maintained they had been given 1 hour maximum and wheelie bins to collect all they could…Its a war of public perception, propaganda and misinformation. Kinda like the guy from the Pentagon saying he knew nothing of targetted airstrikes on Gaddafi’s palace..yet broadcast on CNN were pictures of US Missile fragments all over the palace grounds…good luck Ben.

  • According to CIVIL DEFENSE’s website that is. Now someone needs to stop the lies and be held accountable if you ask me, and more and more it is looking like their are grounds for what in the US we would call “IMPEACHMENT” or a vote of NO CONFIDENCE in the Govt.

  • I don’t get it. Why is it ok to dump everything but not ok to save something. Theft is not good, but what’s wrong with taking something that’s going to be destroyed anyway? I don’t understand the logic behind not allowing salvaging. Can someone explain. Forgive my ignorance.

    • John, you raise a good point. In this case however they were allegedly intending to take materials that, should it have been an option, we wished to salvage. Civil Defence however deemed it an emergency demolition and hence salvage could not occur…

  • Thanks for your effort and use of contacts to keep ‘them’ honest and responsible Ben. Its reassuring to know people are motivated to pursue and maintain some integrity in the process at a time when others are feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable.

  • I wouldn’t blame the demo people. The law is an ass.

  • CD Website today has update (#124) indicating these concerns may be gaining some overdue attention.
    http://www.civildefence.govt.nz/

  • ian you mean like this? in case you havent figured out yet..the demolition is the CRIME.

    #CHCH #EQNZ Quake Update 124

    1000 hrs, 29 March 2011
    Demolitions
    The moratorium on demolition and deconstruction work has ceased. From today, specific, signed off work will continue. Civil Defence takes seriously any suggestion of criminal activity by demolition companies and contractors within the Red Zone and the protection of people’s property rights is paramount. Because of this, and due to information received from Police, Civil Defence has withdrawn access for two organisations.

  • Well ok Many thanks for your post, I don’t agree exactly with it but I agree with it on the most part and I wholeheartedly applaud your effort in putting it so clearly.

  • marie wilkins |

    I’m not a business owner, but am employed by a business. Having read and heard evermore disturbing things about the state of the CBD, and living in Christchurch, in my humble opinion, Gerry Brownlee needs to go. He is supposed to be helping you guys…the last thing I read, all “CBD property owners are selfish doomsayers who should be finding their own solutions, not asking the Government for a bailout”. This BEFORE he has met with CORE, a group representing roughly 170 – 180 business owners with property in the CBD…and just as the Government has ended the Business Subsidy. Like I said, not a business owner, in fact just a worker…but putting watering trees and celebrities before the people who are the heart of my city and whose businesses need immediate attention is short sighted and crazy. The last thing you need on top of demo workers possibly looting. Good luck with your business, I pay CCC rates and would prefer to pay them towards keeping this city alive with thriving businesses and work for many, than towards CERA right now…

  • Hi, Ben I’ve been round construction for a long time and sometime, not always this sort of element creeps in. Thanks Ben for highlighting an obvious problem, especially for people who are overly trusting or too stressed to care just now. Council needs to step up. Lyttelton Ports seems to be in on the act and I have included my response below to a blog they set-up. They have offered to take all the Christchurch rubble for the Ports extension, could it just be a free pass through all the red tape and $$$$$$$$$ of free materials. Hopefully Lyttelton Ports have the Kahoonas to add my blogged comments to their two positive comments. You obviously have a lot of followers so what do you and they think?

    Yea right?.. This would be giving away valuable resources that would be better used as compaction for foundation bases for the many building, roads, paths etc to be reinstated in the community. You may see rubble but in reality there is hundreds of thousands of tonnes of materials and a lot of it reusable. Thousands of cubic metres of timber can be at the very least used for temporary structures or formwork for concrete structures etc. Yes Lyttelton Port has an opportunity to extend their own operations, but would it not be better for these materials to be used for the communities benefit?

  • Reading these replies which which are all from business owners. We came to CHCH days after earthquake and have been risking our lives, 10hr days 6 days a week, near, above, or in(after strengthening) condemmed buildings for months. We know if there is a major aftershock we are in trouble unless we can get under crane/digger immediatly, but are willing to take risks as some of us were born in Canterbury, When paying $xxxxx thousand per day for cranes, trained riggers, excavators, dumping fees,fuel costs, demo companies have always atttempted to offset these costs by salvaging steel or timber. Lets get out of this town, leave the building owners to demolish their own condemed buildings, nice to have one person in coffee shop thank us for the work we are doing
    Some business owners ie in cashel mall have also thanked us for work, shame there is so much ill feeling elsewhere, would be interesting to know if the business owners who are most vocal have already doubled dipped, ie claimed insurance,
    guess this won’t be published

    • Yes, it will be published. FWIW, the companies that demoed our building were paid handsomely by Civil Defence, also FWIW I’m a trained Paramedic and Firefighter and spent many hours in the hours and days following the quake within the red zone helping people, so to suggest I was sitting in a cafe sipping lattes while you all put yourselves at risk is a little wrong my friend.

    • arent you paid for your job demo worker? i doubt it is you that is paying for the use of the digger so what are you actually talking about?

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  • Dude! i totally hear ya. I used to live in the city (the corner of madras and gloucester street to be exact) me and my flatmate were denied entry to our house until mid may, and when we were we were only allowed one trailer and an hour to empty and entire flat and business. A few months later we were informed that our building was unsafe and was to be demolished, with a whooole lotta stuff in there still. one day i went down to say goodbye and was told by an onlooker that he infact owned the building next to our and knew the owner of our building, and did we know, that the owner of our building was paying for it to be demolished. it was fine, it was just convenient for it to go. the whole system is fucked and its apparent without money you cant get anywhere.

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  • Christchurch is bad dude. Christchurch is rotten now.
    I can not wait to be rid of my property here and never come back.

  • Timber, timber every where. Take a look at Southern Demolitions premises. Just full of the stuff stacked outside rotting away. All from chch buildings knocked and gone and sam Hunt didn’t even get to have a say.

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