The media love a disaster, although in fairness they probably only reflect the public’s fascination with catastrophic events. However, once it is over, they quickly move on to whatever else they think should be in the news.
There are exceptions: Grenfell Tower has understandably rarely been out of the news since the disaster in 2017 given the largescale loss of life and looks set to continue for some time to come with controversy about the proposed demolition set to start in May 2022. September 11th is the other obvious example, although now we have gone through the 20th anniversary, coupled with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and with the World Trade Center rebuilt to include the Ground Zero Memorial Gardens, perhaps that will lessen in future.
But generally, whilst there may be the occasional ‘how are they doing’ or a lookback a year or so later or at a ‘big’ anniversary, the media seems to go quiet.
So, I was interested to see an online update on the rebuilding of Notre Dame. Devastated by fire in April 2019, the French Government resisted calls from some quarters for a more modern design, deciding to restore the building as it was prior to the fire and hope to complete the restoration in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024. However, whilst 5 years may seem like a long time, many say that it is an unrealistic timescale, and it could be as long as 15 or 20 years.
Making the building safe took time and was complicated as the debris included scaffolding from an ongoing restoration project at the time of the fire and they then faced a 3-month delay because of the pandemic.
There is still a hole on top of the church while a replica of the famous spire is built using more than 1,000 oak trees, some over 200 years old, donated from public and private forests from all over France (imagine the fuss if that happened here). The trees had to be felled in the Spring before the growing season and then have to be stored for 12 to 18 months to prepare them for the reconstruction phase, which it is hoped will start in late 2022.
Being state owned, Notre Dame was not insured but it does highlight how long it can take to rebuild a property, particularly historic buildings.
Insurers often get blamed for delaying claims and whilst criticism can certainly be justified in some circumstances, generally, it is in their interest to have the work done as soon as possible because there is normally some sort of consequential loss cover in force. With residential properties it will be the cost of alternative accommodation and with commercial properties, a business interruption cover in the form of loss of rent, profit or revenue. So called ‘delays’ are often simply a reflection of how long the process of rebuilding takes. Even with modern buildings there is making safe, possibly forensic examinations and debris removal before surveyors and architects become involved. There are often planning or building regulation issues and then the rebuild itself. With flooding it is often overlooked that it can take a long while for a property to dry out before repair work can commence.
Locally we perhaps have one of the longer running ‘rebuilds’ with Brighton’s West Pier. Closed in 1975, there were then numerous ‘grand plans’ for its redevelopment, but over the years it gradually deteriorated prior to being partly destroyed by storms in 2002 and finished off by a couple of fires in 2003. Ironically there now seems little chance of a rebuild as the remaining steelwork has become an iconic structure in its own right.