Bob Potter of Addison Road wrote to The Whistler about his daughter Adele…
Six years ago my daughter Adele and her family left her old house, Rowan Cottage near Brighton Station, and moved to Christchurch, New Zealand – and she has just spent a fearful year following the massive earthquake that destroyed the city centre and the thousands of ‘aftershocks’ that occur on a daily basis, several times most days, in the 4s and 5s on the Richter scale. Recently, the Christchurch inhabitants celebrated the first anniversary of the initial quake and the whole city has been remembering the event; the 185 who died and the massive damage done to most people’s homes.
We received a letter from Adele, where she scribbled a few notes, telling us her ‘instinctive’ opinion as to how Our Brighton would have been affected if we’d been the victims rather than the New Zealanders – and although her comments were essentially a few paragraphs in a longer, personal message (she had no idea of writing an article!), it occurred to me that her four or five paragraphs, comparing the two cities, would read quite well as a very short article considering the aftermath of that event. That she was born and lived in Brighton all her life before she emigrated, and still very much sees herself as a ‘Brightonian’, oozes from her comments – even though she has only just been accepted as a New Zealand citizen!
If Christchurch had been Brighton & Hove
If I could cut out the red heart of Christchurch city and somehow copy and paste it on to Brighton and Hove what would it look like? Hove, actually, would pretty much be fine; life would continue as normal and there would not be much obvious evidence of a quake, except for the odd fallen-down cluster of shops minus their chimneys. The border line, I imagine, would be the Seven Dials area, still largely OK, my Beckenham – designated as a ‘Green area’. In a ‘Green’ area, our home has already had a new roof, new ceilings, all internal walls re-plastered, new external drains and repainting – all at Government expense! Some of the shops would have gone – the supermarket, chemist and post office and several others – though ‘everyday life’ here goes on but every home will have needed some repairs and be ‘somewhere along’ that refurbishment process.
The central ‘red zone’, the cordoned off heart of the city, I imagine, would run from Western Road (say Waitrose area) to Churchill Square, including the Clock Tower, the whole of North Street down to the Royal Pavilion, the Museums and the swimming pool. The Lanes and trendy shopping streets down from Brighton station would all be destroyed; Queen’s Road a ‘no go’ area. The Stein area would now be a bulldozed open space – this expanse of flat land would stretch up through London Road and the Level to Preston Park. St James Street would be half OK with empty gaps, like pulled teeth, but there would now be creative entertainment happening in all the gaps!
However, Christchurch is not just a city with a broken heart, it is also one with deserted and silted eastern suburbs (liquefaction) and precarious hillsides. So how would these fit into my home town? Perhaps Moulsecoomb and surrounds, stretching to Falmer, would now be deserted, together with large parts of Patcham. In Elm Grove and Five Ways many houses would be severely damaged and, as a result, no longer lived in. These areas would be ‘zoned white’ – as the hill itself would be considered potentially unstable.
Have I made it too big or not big enough, I really couldn’t tell. Although the largest city and capital of the South Island, the population of Christchurch is probably about 300,000 (while Brighton & Hove’s is circa 400,000), expanse comparison is not easy. For size comparison, the central cordoned off ‘red zone’ of Christchurch, which is just the city centre, makes a rectangle of size 1.5 km x 2.5 km. But this is just the cordoned bit – the damaged and destroyed buildings stretch far beyond those fences. The suburbs of Bexley, Darlington, Avonside, Parklands, and Shirley now contain huge swathes of silted and saturated land; many of these areas have been, to some degree, written off. The hill suburbs of Huntsbury Heathcote, Redcliffs, Mt Pleasant and St Andrews have many white zone areas – and I haven’t even begun to think what part of Brighton might represent Lytelton or Sumner.