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Prophets to honour after the Christchurch inquiry?

  • March 2nd, 2011

Victoria's Prof Euan Smith called in  NBR 6 months ago for the demolition of all unreinforced masonry buildings. Sadly he did not know just how urgent his call should be. He said they should all come down within 10 years. Victoria University can be proud. But Wellingtonians should fear his theory that the South Island earthquake tension will migrate northward. We should feel in advance for those who will be killed by masonry falling from both sides of narrow Cuba St, with no room to flee. Other preservation precincts in Wellington will kill too if Prof Smith is right.

Hopefully the Christchurch inquiry will not confine itself to hunting for the poor professionals whose good faith calculations have proved unequal to the world as it is.

You'll have heard the accusatory tone in the interviews when engineers and others are asked why buildings were allowed to be occupied though under-code. Those questioned jump hoops to avoid the feared follow-up – "how can you put money concerns above human life and safety". Those putting the questions seem to think it self evident that money shortage is an illegitimate excuse. Yet nearly all safety issues are matters of resource priorities. We could avoid as many road deaths per year as the Christchurch quake toll, for example, if all drunk drivers were closely supervised or given free taxi chits. 

Resource choices are made every day that condemn some to die. Who's been mourning the heart patient deaths because of a government hostility to private sector contracts for prompt treatment.

The real suspicious interview aggression should be directed at those who have put their personal  preferences for the known and the familiar above the right of their felllow citizens to replace their own buildings.  The inquiry should build a register of those whose "heritage" political action has prevented the routine updating and replacement of so much of our cities. Many of those who've died in Christchurch are paying the price  of the heritage fanciers' willingness to put their fashionable aesthetics  ahead of the safety and the  lives of the rest of us. 

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