Address by Hon. Nicky Wagner


The New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering

Address their the Annual conference in Auckland

Saturday 22 March 2014.

Hon Nicky Wagner (MP for Christchurch Central)

As the MP for Christchurch Central, & someone who lives within the four avenues of Christchurch  in what is left of the CBD- in the last three years I have learned too much about earthquakes, seismic activity and how buildings react.

After 12,000 or so earthquakes, every Cantabrian has their own calibration system- the rattling of the kitchen window put it over a four, things fall off the wall at a 5, – we used to place bets before we checked geonet.

We became quite pragmatic about the aftershocks- especially if they came during the night- I’d tense up for a few seconds until felt the acceleration decrease and then roll over back to sleep- we don’t bother to wake up for anything less than a 5.5

We talk about that time quite glibly but there is no doubt it changed the lives of every Cantabrian – we all lost someone, some places and some things. People often ask me how are Christchurch people getting on? And there is no- one answer.

These days I tend to explain it by referencing Elizabeth Kuber Ross- the Swiss American Psychiatrist you may know of her work on Death & Dying. She identified the five stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

In Canterbury we are still all grieving and depending on your individual experience during the earthquakes we are somewhere along the stages of grief. If you lost your child or any loved one you may never recover fully, you might be still full of anger about the damage or loss of your home, you might be and many are bargaining with the insurance companies, some are just exhausted and depressed, but everyday more and more are coming through the process, accepting the outcomes and now actually beginning to see the opportunities for them, for the community and for the city of Christchurch in the rebuild.

For engineers Christchurch is an exciting place which an enormous amount of the recovery work underway and some really inspiring engineering solutions.

My father was a Civil and Structural engineer a graduate of Canterbury Engineering school – which I note has just been rated the 19th best engineering school in the world – beating Stanford, Oxford, Cornell and 2978 other universities. Anyone from Canterbury – take a bow.

As a child, my dad dragged me around the city, and the country looking at roads, bridges and buildings so I have a bit of an inkling into what excites engineers. He would have loved to be around to see what happened to his buildings and to be part of the rebuild. I am sure it is inspiring for every young person beginning an engineering career.

Of course the scale of re- development in Christchurch is unprecedented. We have demolished 1800 buildings in the CBD alone.   And that process has been fascinating in itself.  I live in the CBD and for weeks, months, years went to sleep and woke up to the noise of demolition. Actually, it’s still the same but the noise is repairs and rebuilding.  And I am happy to live with that!!!
And with the Blueprint we now have a realistic vision of what Christchurch will become and we have a clear plan for doing this.
The rebuild is now all go, the recovery is moving forward at pace and everyday new ideas, new projects, and new initiatives get the green light.

I note the theme of your conference is ‘towards integrated seismic design’.  You’ve got a test bed right here in Christchurch I hope you are able to keep up with everything that is happening in the city.

For example – Foundations– There has been an enormous amount of research undertaken and we now have new housing foundation designs. The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment has undertaken trials to test new foundations and published guidance on three types of foundations: deep piles; site ground improvement; and surface structures such as the raft foundations. The decision on the most appropriate foundation to use is, of course, one that you in your engineering roles make.

Demolition. The way that demolitions have been undertaken is another area where both the Crown and engineers have worked together. One example is in the Port Hills, where the unstable cliffs led to the use of remote controlled vehicles or drones that can assess properties that are too dangerous or difficult for people. In addition, the Crown and engineers are experimenting with ways that residential red zone properties can be demolished in a safer, more efficient and effective way.

Earthquake Prone Buildings. The current system for managing earthquake-prone buildings was highlighted by the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission and has led to a new system where local authorities are required to undertake regular seismic capacity assessments of non-residential and multi-storey residential buildings, and provides for a national register on earthquake-prone buildings. You may be aware that the government has just last week introduced the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill. I chair the Local Govt and Environment Select Committee which has called for submissions, and they are still open, and I hope that some of you might be presenting to us.

Building standards and codes have been under the spotlight as a result and have led to some innovative thinking around the rebuilding of homes, the rebuild of the new central business district in Christchurch, a new transport system and the huge work programme underway by the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild team (SCIRT). Remember the magnitude of infrastructure damage requires repairs to 1,320km of roads, 659km of sewer and 69km of water mains.

Those SCIRT people are stars – just last night I went to a local resident’s group award presentation. And SCIRT was thanked for their thoughtful communication, attention to detail, friendliness and courtesy. Not bad when you consider that nearly every road in our neighbourhood has been, is, or will be dug up. And we have to navigate that every day.
I can’t speak highly enough of them myself. They have just repaired my street. The street was shut for 6 weeks and we couldn’t get into our houses or garages. They very thoughtfully did it in two tranches so only one end of the street was affected at each time. Except that I live in the middle of the street and got it from both ends. But the friendly way they greeted me every morning and I walked down the street with my bags and briefcases made it all worthwhile. We reckon all the SCIRT people have been sent to charm school.

Heritage Buildings. Losing so many old and beautiful buildings has caused a lot of grief for many of us. I used to live in Cranmer Square in the central city and the two heritage houses that we restored. One a 1890’s unreinforced brick terrace house, and the other a 1937 Lloyd Wright double brick house have both been demolished. But more importantly Cranmer Courts the old Normal School at one end of the square and the original Girls high School at the other end of the square are both gone. However, the most significant heritage buildings in the city the cluster of Neo Gothic buildings of the Arts Centre, the Museum and Christ’s College have all survived. Those with significant earthquake strengthening, such as the school, have already been repaired and the repair and restoration of the arts centre that had some but not sufficient strengthening is underway. It will be a 5-7 yr and $400m project

Having a good understanding of how natural disasters affect heritage buildings and places is important.. We currently have a Bill before the House that includes provisions to future-proof archaeological consenting in the event of natural disasters. The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Bill will simplify and streamline this process. In particular, it will establish a separate emergency archaeological consent system that can be used in the event of a natural disaster.

The Bill will, when passed, give Heritage New Zealand the discretion to reduce the documentation required for applications, and will shorten time frames both for decision making and for appeals. It will ensure that we can continue to recognize, protect and record our heritage, in a practical way. We consider that heritage recovery is important after a natural disaster, but it should not be a roadblock to recovery.

Recovery brings its own unique issues and complex challenges. The solutions are ones we all have a role in whether we are politicians or engineers.

We know that, in general, in terms of protecting human life the majority of the building stock in this city performed very well. In reality only two failed – but failed spectacularly – 115 people were killed in the CTV building and 17 in the PGC building- other deaths were mostly from falling masonry. But the buildings themselves have not survived so well. 1800 demolished in the CBD and over 20,000 houses. This reflects a theme in all disaster management – we are getting better at protecting people but we are not so good at protecting our built environment and the costs to infrastructure are continuing to rise. And that’s a challenge for engineers.

In retrospect, we understand that there were a series of reasons that those buildings failed and we need to avoid these things happening again. While we need well-designed, sustainable and affordable development, we also need strong leadership to ensure that buildings are safe. So my challenge to you here today is that leadership is not just Government’s role but it also needs to come from professions such as yours. It is important that we hear from you as a profession. We want to hear what you think.

The lessons we have learned over the last three years are that we need stronger building codes, greater awareness of the ground under our feet and building structures that cope with the type of movement experienced in the events we have had here. And we are also interested in new ideas, building products and techniques to create more environmentally friendly, sustainable buildings.

Three years on we now have certainty around the rebuild. Economic, employment and other indicators are all pointing upwards on the back of a massive amount of construction and development work on both public and private sector projects. Nine of the 16 anchor projects in the CBD will be starting construction over the next 12 months. You will see increased opportunities in a bigger and a much more prosperous Christchurch with great amenities and life style.

We have redesigned this city with the future firmly in mind. Looking forward 20 years we will have a ‘complete city’ where businesses know that the infrastructure is in place to ensure success.

The earthquakes have shaken up our thinking; we are more open to innovation. We can see it in the new buildings and those under repair, the emphasis here being on low rise, safety and simple styles. In the Christchurch Art gallery they are using a base isolation system to protect the building and collections from future shocks. The  Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus Centre in the city centre has established an hub that already holds progressive companies attracting new ideas and high-tech resources that create new jobs and capital. And the University of Canterbury’s expanded and modernised new Engineering, Science and Innovation Centres will bring more students to Canterbury and generate more research. All of these technological advances will bring in an increase in intellectual capital, hi-tech exports and economic growth.

The great Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 -2011- have changed everything in our city, but they have also opened the door to rebuilding a new, stronger, safer, people friendly and sustainable city and that is an exciting opportunity for the people of Christchurch and every engineer in the country who wants to be part of it.


Thank you.