Earthquake recovery - getting it right this time around

Earthquake recovery - getting it right this time around

In late 2014, as the new chair of the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors (Canterbury branch), Shane Dixon established a Working Group to engage with Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), to try and establish a legally defensible solution for defining earthquake affected property boundaries. In his article below, Shane offers some advice for Central Government for its recovery efforts following last month’s massive earthquake and aftershocks affecting the upper South Island and Wellington.

For a period immediately following the major Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, there was uncertainty around how property boundaries had been affected. Understandably, time was needed to gather data and build a picture of how boundaries had been affected by the earthquakes. In the meantime, and for close to six years after the major Canterbury earthquakes, the accurate siting of rebuilt homes and infrastructure relative to property boundaries in Canterbury was largely founded on the goodwill and ‘can-do’ attitude of New Zealand surveyors. In order to keep the rebuild moving, surveyors got on with developing their own approaches for redefining earthquake affected property boundaries.

Increasingly though, LINZ (the Central Government agency responsible for the integrity of the New Zealand property boundary network) was suggesting the approach most commonly adopted by Canterbury surveyors may be in conflict with New Zealand legislation, but even they were not sure. It seemed the legal precedents for how property boundaries affected by earthquakes should be dealt with, was very uncertain.

In late 2014, as the new Chairman of the NZIS (Canterbury branch), I established a Working Group to engage with LINZ and try to establish a legally defensible solution for defining earthquake affected property boundaries.

However, after an initial meeting with LINZ in late 2014, our Working Group was left completely in the dark. Then, in February 2015, a new Guidance was released.

The February 2015 Guidance essentially ignored any physical affects/movements generated by the earthquakes and required property boundaries to be redefined based on a mathematical model of where they were before the earthquakes. As land movement in excess of one to two metres had been observed in many populated parts of Canterbury (in particular Christchurch), this approach would have resulted in many fences, garages, driveways, homes and other property previously sited on or near property boundaries before the earthquakes, now left straddling property boundaries or wholly sitting in neighbouring properties.

The Guidance was widely rejected by surveyors and others and within days it was withdrawn by Government. This left surveyors and property owners back where they had been for the past five years – working in a legally very uncertain space!

Following the withdrawal of the February Guidance, LINZ re-engaged with our Working Group and collaborated more closely on the development of legislation to deal with earthquake affected boundaries. This included listening to our advice and technical solutions, which were largely adopted in the Canterbury Property Boundaries and Related Matters Bill which came into force in August 2016.

However, as surveyors, we were left questioning why it took so long for Central Government to respond to the property boundary uncertainties and why they were so reluctant to more fully engage with the experts on the ground in Canterbury.

The key lessons that Central Government must take into this new recovery effort affecting the upper South Island and Wellington (an area collectively far more vast and populated than Canterbury) is to be significantly more timely with their response and to work openly and in a genuinely connected manner with local communities and experts.


This thought leadership article by Shane Dixon, survey manager in our Christchurch office, is intended to provide you with insights and relevant information on a solution for defining earthquake affected property boundaries. Our thought leadership articles on topical and specialist issues are designed to present the key points in an easy to digest and interesting manner.

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