I have a unique story of my own to tell as the Mayor of the City, who at the time was the MP for the vast swathe of what became the residential red zone and is now the Otakaro Avon River Corridor, and who had the lived experience of being red zoned, while offering support to hundreds if not thousands of constituents, who like me struggled to come to terms with the enormity of what was described as a voluntary offer yet proved to be the government’s imposition of what can only be described in today’s terms as ‘unmanaged retreat’.
If I were to record my Red Zone Stories, the ones I would tell today, would be different to the ones I would have told back then.
Before the red zoning I would have recorded my love of Bexley - the hidden gem as we called it - we were the people who truly knew the value of the wetlands and all that it meant to us to live so close to nature in all its glory; to those of us who attended regular plantings there; to those of us who were the amateur photographers who enjoyed the bird life - the treasured memories of the pukekos, the herons, the kingfishers captured back then, so precious now; to those of us who saw the benefits the wetlands offered the school children who while learning to care for their environment were learning their skills outside the classroom - to those of us who knew many of our neighbours before the early hours of Sept 4 2010 - the wake-up call that changed our lives forever.
This app provides us with a place where we can share these treasured memories.
Other memories, the stories I would tell now, as the local MP I found out a whole 10 minutes before the public announcement, that my home was in one of the areas that would be red zoned. I also learned about the areas that were still up in the air; I knew instantly what more uncertainty would mean for them. I can recall the Brooklands residents who found out they were red zoned when they switched on the radio, or called into the dairy, whose owner had dissolved into tears when the journalist came in to find out what she thought about the decision.
I worked through all the issues with people who would come to my office and break down:
The woman we had helped get her rating valuation reduced as she thought it was too high. How could we even have guessed that her rating valuation would be used three years later for a purpose other than for what it was intended.
The home owners who were not insured - the reasons had nothing to do with a deliberate hard-nosed decision to self-insure - the callous and cruel reason given by the government to offer them insufficient money to move on.
There were those who were struggling with their insurers who were saying they could rebuild our damaged houses in the red zone, affecting what they would offer for our houses. ‘No one would be worse off’ became the reluctant concession that there were winners and losers.
As an MP I used my my own example as a means of making the case for countless of others, whose choices were limited by the rating valuations - I had been making the case for land swaps, so communities could rebuild together - the response was to attack me personally in Parliament - saying I wanted more for my land than it was worth. I was publicly humiliated by a Minister that had no feelings for the position I was describing not for myself but for others. It was hard for many of my constituents to accept a time limited offer when under duress that gave them insufficient money to buy land to rebuild one.
The truth is though after several months of living in Bexley as part of the red zone, as neighbours started to leave and the roads became even worse than they were after the quakes, I couldn’t wait to go. My reason for wanting to live there recorded in the stories of the red zone as distant memories.
What gives me hope today is the thought of all the uses that this area could offer right now, for trialling new technologies and bringing high paid jobs into this area, which would help New Brighton as the destination it is on the Otakaro Avon River Corridor that creates the journey from the city to the sea.
And one day I know Bexley will return to the state that nature intended, before the decision was made to drain the land and build a community that for more than a decade I was proud to call home.
Congratulations and thank you for letting us all share our stories.