Fears of over-zealous quake-strengthening target

Maurice Williamson: last-minute submissions surge

A Wellington inner-city lobby group is wary of zealous councils implementing their own earthquake-strengthening policies.   

Inner city residents and business association chairwoman Geraldine Murphy told NBR ONLINE some councils are keen to implement the 67% earthquake standard on quake-prone buildings.

She says in 2011 Hutt city council agreed on a revised draft policy which would require all quake-prone buildings in Lower Hutt to meet at least 67% of new building standards regardless of heritage status.

Wellington city council adheres to the 34% minimum standard required by the building code. However earthquake resilience manager Neville Brown says the council strongly recommends anyone undertaking strengthening work to target 67% of the new building standard.

“It’s not an enforceable position – it’s only a recommendation,” Mr Brown told NBR ONLINE.

“Once the ministry has done what it has to and policy changes are made, the council will probably commence a process to review our own quake prone policy again.”

But Ms Murphy says she just does not accept local authorities should be given the ability to set different standards.

"This would create so much uncertainty for building owners," she says.

The deadline has passed for submissions on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s quake-prone building policy.

The proposals, which follow on from last year’s royal commission inquiry into the Canterbury earthquakes, would require all buildings to be assessed within five years and, if quake prone, they would need to be strengthened or demolished within 10 years of assessment.

The ministry suggests keeping earthquake standards to 33%, meaning all buildings would need to be strengthened to 34% or demolished.

Building and construction minister Maurice Williamson says a last-minute surge saw 529 submissions, mostly from individuals.

However, 161 submissions came from councils, engineers, property owners, insurers and those interested in heritage buildings.

Mr Williamson says he had hoped to make policy decisions and changes by the middle of the year but is prepared to take longer if necessary.

He says a summary of the 529 submissions will be released only after policy changes are made by cabinet.

Another major concern

Ms Murphy says another major concern is whether any update to the building law will be linked to even stricter strengthening requirements.

If the standard keeps rising, it will simply create more uncertainty and added expense for building owners.

She says she has heard of one heritage building in Wellington which will cost $2 million to strengthen to the required 34% and $5 million to take it to two-thirds of new building standards.

“If the body corporate was required to strengthen it to 67%, they’ve told me they would simply wait until the building falls down and demolish it.

“I don’t think anyone is looking at the effect of making building owners spend their money on something based on the probability – which is quite low – that there could be a shake which impacts economic resilience in the city… It’s just ludicrous,” Ms Murphy says.

Financial incentives

“To give credit to Wellington city council, they’ve been doing a lot of work looking at financial incentives and assistance … the government’s been doing nothing. That’s a real concern – they’re not engaging with us,” Ms Murphy says.

The ministry held a number of public hearings across the country earlier this year to gauge public opinion before the submissions cut-off period.

Wellington property developer Ian Cassels says there needs to be incentives offered to building owners to strengthen.

“There are lots of disincentives in the system, including having to go through massive consultation periods before consent is even given."

He says costs are too high for many owners and there is no direct desire to make things as easy as possible.

Late last year, Prime Minister John Key conceded the royal commission’s report had “potentially wide-ranging ramifications for the entire country” and said building costs could rise if building regulations are toughened.

bcunningham@nbr.co.nz

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2 Comments & Questions

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Where engineering was thorough there was no loss of life at 34% of NBS in Christchurch quakes, above that should be motivated by public use (compulsory rating stickers on all commercial buildings) and insurer attitudes and excesses

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Bring in compulsory public display of a building's rating and eventually market forces will prevail - people won't enter or lease, EQP building, insurers won't cover. It is amaxing in California or Japan how technology update of base isolation, etc, has occurred since the insurance excess is more than the cost of the upgrade.

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