Sue Wells – The New Canterbury Tales

April 7, 2011

New city planning, insurance questions, and the white worms of Beckford Rd #eqnz

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sue Wells @ 9:54 pm

I should have slept like a log last night, after a big run and some hard earned pinot. (No sleeping pills btw – in response to your kind comments I wish to clarify that my ‘little blue pills’ memo should have mentioned they’re used at most twice a fortnight.) Instead I found myself awake. Discovered today there was a decent aftershock, which I didn’t feel, but clearly it was strong enough to disrupt my rem sleep. Bonus – got an extra couple of hours in the day. Tonight I will endeavour to feed them back into the sleep cycle.

Rode to the South Library for our council discussion, into a chilly head wind. I love riding my bike through the asphalt dunes of Opawa. Every day, they change shape. The swellings on Beckford Road outside New World make me wonder if large white worms are going to break through the carriage way. The ground is still moving. On the hills, it’s heading slowly for the river. By the river, it’s extruding all over the place. It might seem an appalling thing to say, but there’s a part of me which is absolutely fascinated by the changes. As I heard a teenage cyclist say to his riding companion today, “It changes every day!” He went on to say “It’s so annoying.” I agree with the first part. I find the second part more intriguing than irritating. I’ve learnt to ride this wave, not fight it. I’m a quake surfer. It’s the easiest way through the constant change. Don’t fight it. Let it go. You can’t change what the earth does. I’ve surrendered, Gaia. I know who the boss it – and it sure isn’t me.

I think Gaia would approve of our Council discussion today on the planning process for the Central City and our badly damaged suburban townships. Without going into details, I think it’s important to  tell you that your Council is utterly committed to ensuring that it’s done through an active, interactive, engaged community process. There will be some key dates that we will release just as soon as we have the timelines confirmed through the legislation. You can expect to be having a big talk with your elected members (not just your councillors) in the next few weeks about your aspirations for the CBD and suburbs- and we will be listening.

It won’t hurt to start those talks now. Have them with your friends, with your neighbours, with your family, with your school or work or church. Focus your thinking on the future of your city. What do you want our new city to feel like? What do your children want? What makes Christchurch your home town? What do you want to have happen in the future?

We won’t be planning for a rebuild that takes place in the next year and then it’s done. This is a big adventure together. We’re going to be looking for a clear and gripping future focussed vision for our city that will be able to be implemented by developers, investors, institutions, you and me. That word “we” is central to of all your council’s discussions at the moment – and “we” means everyone in our community.

As a thoroughly unobjective observer, the council is performing as well as I have ever seen it. Your elected members (and within that I include our community board members) have stepped up to our common challenge. We’re pulling together not as a frightened mob, but rather as a very diverse group of passionate Cantabrians with one shared goal of recovery. We each bring a different perspective and different life experiences to the table, and we are listening to each other with respect and courtesy. It really is magical, this part of the transformation. No politics – lashings of common sense and good humour – come along to one of our public meetings and I would be disappointed if you leave thinking we aren’t doing the best job we possibly can.

And then I rode home. How can you have a headwind on both legs of the journey without the direction changing? I love that about Christchurch. Even her weather has its own mischievous sense of humour.

Home to my beloved “Wifey”, also known as Karen, my intermittent cleaner and helper-outer. She was doing her best to cut through the debris in my house. I was doing pretty well until the pull out pantry collapsed (ok, the books are still on the floor in the lounge because of the failed shelving too.) Now there is stuff everywhere. She has been diligently cleaning around it, on instructions from her dopey client. Too busy having a life to sweat the small stuff.

Karen is an organiser. My mind is organised. My house – oh dear. She and I were talking today and I think there is a business for her. She’s been helping people fill in their EQC and insurance claims, and managing the process for them. If you want her details – let me know. I can vouch for her acumen and I love the entrepreneurial bent that I’m seeing in so many people around me. It’s great  -she can take the load off and we each do the things we are really good at doing.

We gossiped together for a while, about life and love and men and kids (and soldiers of course, hope will always spring eternal!) And then we were talking about people who had lost people. Wifey started telling me about how her son was coping with the loss of his school friend. A day shy of his 15th birthday, that very young man was going into town to get his present. An only child, riding the bus alone. It was a week before his name came out. Wifey’s boy refused to accept that he was missing. “He’ll turn up. He’ll be fine. I like him. He’s really nice.”

So you find yourself holding each other in the kitchen, shedding sudden tears at the miserable injustice of it all, trying not to think about what that only child’s poor Mum and Dad must be going through. Wifey’s going to get in touch with them, even though she doesn’t know them really. You see, it’s six weeks now. That means the flowers have stopped. The cards have stopped. The pain is only just beginning for so many people. Now is when we need to start stepping up, those of us whose lives are relatively intact, keeping close by those who have lost loved ones. It’s when our strength and support starts to be needed most.

Off she went for a haircut. I lit the fire when she left. Made the soup de jour. (Country chicken, extra vegetables and barley.) It was ready by the time Steve from Cabinet Craft (he makes great kitchens) arrived to sort out my pantry. His ten minute measure turned into an hour. We talked about business, my phone rang with a variety of unrelated things I needed to make decisions on (and did). We chatted about his daughter’s experience with Sam’s Student Army (talked to Sam today too – community consultation done efficiently, using our networking skills). He left with a new project or two or three to do for me – I’m not sitting around waiting for EQC to make my house beautiful again. I’ll just look at things other than the cracks. I’ll look at the stuff that matters.

I was dressing hurriedly for tonight’s meeting with Chapman Tripp and the phone was still going, Gwyneth coming to the door to sort out an alternative power supply when the kids went off for their flu jab. Under 18s get it free this year. We cannot afford to get ill this winter. If you haven’t had your shots and you can please do.

So then to tonight’s meeting. Chapman Tripp – you are rock star lawyers. Jo Appleyard invited me to attend a briefing they were hosting for their clients on insurance issues relating to the earthquake. It was just excellent. Great speakers, intelligent topics. Much of it was familiar to me with my little bit of an insurance background (and Dad’s very extensive one which meant I have always had a pretty good grasp of the beast). Being something of a bush lawyer I found that part of the discussion fascinating at an academic level, and regrettably unsurprising from the perspective of one of the 300,000 claimants.

Here are a couple of points from it.

– underwriters are people too. They are under hellish pressure, more than any of us can imagine. Please try to be kind and efficient when you deal with them. You’re incredibly stressed. So is every one of the many people they deal with, and they have had even less rest than most of us.

– Katrina caselaw from 2005 has changed the insurance world. The fine print isn’t your friend. “But for….” is the new world order, and it is going to mean people who think they have cover, particularly around Business Interruption insurance, may well not.

I did feel a little disheartened. It became apparent that there has never been a better time to be a lawyer. I hope the government can cut through the arguments with insurers and reinsurers quickly enough that the inevitable disputes don’t develop a life of their own. There would be no crueller industry to develop than milking the misery of the insured. It will do the insurance industry no favours if that occurs. The rumblings around the government support for AMI (round of applause) and the failure of Western Pacific (do I have that name right? Earthquake brain!) point to the start of a nasty battle. I hope the media doesn’t try to make the insurance industry the scapegoat for the earthquake. As one underwriter was quoted as saying “The earthquake is not my fault.”

It was a great evening. Nice to socialise with other business people (Jo’s point was well made about the dearth of establishments – expect more of this kind of “semi-social networking”) it was informative, and really good fun. It also gave me the chance to follow up on two constitutent enquiries which I thought I had right but wanted confirmation on. Free legal opinions – yay! The converse held true too. I added a new issue to my list of “things to ask the civil defence national controller” at tomorrow morning’s All Elected Members briefing. He must be getting sick of me. Maybe that’s why they rotate. 🙂

It was a bit spooky tonight, I must admit. The venue Chapman Tripp chose was the International Antarctic Centre. The last time I was there, I spent the evening feeling beautiful in my new dress from Annah Stretton, my lovely shoes from Heels on High. I sat at a table with Fiona Cooper and her husband, being the “other Sue” escort for our CEO whose wife couldn’t be with him. We spent a lot of time laughing about the inevitable speculation that would cause in gossipy Christchurch, chuckling when Frankie Stevens introduced Jim Bolger as John Key, marvelling at the fact we were in the company of half a dozen US senators and the number 3 from US Homeland Security. It was a stunningly lovely, never to be forgotten, fully catered haute cuisine black tie VIP night.

It was about six weeks ago. It was a mild Monday evening.

It was the 21st of February 2011.






  1. – keep warm cold night ahead snow on the hills mean frosts
    – insurance will not be eassy because re insurance will be difficult for them to deal with either lyods, swiss,munchen or bahamas Re. they are there for money?

    Comment by Dave — April 7, 2011 @ 10:16 pm | Reply

    • Have log burner and dog, soup and coffee. Need to break out the hottie tonight I think! (perished cover and all.)
      Insurance will be the trick. Another comment was that intelligent negotiation heading for a win-win could result in good outcomes. 🙂

      Comment by Sue Wells — April 7, 2011 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

  2. I saw one of the most callous bits of commentary I’ve read for a long time a few weeks back (can’t remember whether it was before or after Japan) – basically the American reinsurance industry saying that insurance profitability had been languishing since the lack of damaging hurricanes since Katrina had meant premiums were being discounted – disasters like Christchurch were welcomed because they would push premiums up into the “profit zone” again!

    Comment by Richard Grevers — April 8, 2011 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

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