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A government proposal to check nearly 200,000 buildings
in New Zealand for earthquake risk could drive up costs and
mean Dunedin heritage buildings are abandoned, the Otago
Chamber of Commerce fears.
Chamber chief executive John Christie issued the blunt
warning yesterday, hours after the Government responded to a
royal commission investigation into earthquake damage-prone
buildings following the Canterbury earthquakes.
The Government proposal - released in a consultation paper -
would require all non-residential buildings and high-rise,
multi-unit apartments in New Zealand to be assessed for
earthquake risks within five years.
The results of the assessments would be made public.
Any buildings found to be at risk of collapse would have to
be strengthened - to 33% of building code requirements - or
demolished within 15 years.
That would affect about 193,000 buildings throughout the
country, of which about 15,000 to 25,000 were estimated to be
at risk of collapse in a moderate-sized tremor.
Mr Christie told the Otago Daily Times the proposal
would send ''worrying signals'' through Dunedin, which had
one of the country's largest stocks of old heritage
buildings, but not the economic growth to help fund
improvements. The 15-year time frame would be ''reasonably
short'' for building owners.
''That will be a time frame I think would be difficult for a
lot of building owners to comply with.
''We have got some pretty difficult issues we are going to
have to face,'' he said.
Already, one heritage building, the Dunedin Courthouse, had
been all but abandoned because of earthquake risk, and the
Ministry of Justice could give no assurance of a return.
More problems could follow as the owners of Dunedin buildings
abandoned or demolished their properties rather than meet the
cost of upgrades, Mr Christie feared.
''I think that's potentially a position we could find
ourselves in. I'm fearful we are seeing a lot of knee-jerk
reaction ... we have to be careful.
''Common sense can be lost in some of these debates,'' he
Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said
the recommendations in the report could have significant
economic consequences for building owners. But he stressed
the Government's proposals would strike a balance between
increasing safety and managing the economic pressures of
strengthening and removing vulnerable buildings.
Property owners who upgraded buildings would also benefit
from higher property values and rent, and lower insurance
Dunedin City Council heritage planner Dr Glen Hazelton said
the Government's proposals were ''pretty much in line'' with
the council's existing policy.
That policy required owners whose buildings were found to be
less than 34% of code requirements to upgrade.
Owners had between 15 and 34 years to do so, depending on the
state of their building, meaning some would face shorter
timeframes under the Government's proposals than they had
expected, but not extra costs, he said.
The most earthquake damage-prone buildings had faced the
shortest timeframes anyway under the council's policy, he
The council had warned owners of the possibility timeframes
would be reduced from 34 years, Dr Hazelton said.
The council's own buildings - including the likes of the Town
Hall, Municipal Chambers and Railway Station - were already
having their earthquake strength tested, council city
property manager Robert Clark said.
That work began early this year and up to 30 written reports
on individual buildings were expected by mid-next year, he
Some, such as the Municipal Chambers, had already been
strengthened, while others, like the Railway Station, were
considered to be of sturdy construction, but were being
checked, he said.
Results were yet to be made public, but buildings appeared to
be ''measuring up at the moment'', reaching 66% of the
building code or even better, he said. The council already
faced extra costs, having initiated its own checks, but it
was ''appropriate'' to do so and ensure the health and safety
of staff and the public. He expected the checks would meet
the requirements of the Government proposals, although
detailed information was yet to be received.
Mr Clark doubted buildings would need to be abandoned or
The Government had adopted many of the Royal Commission's
recommendations, but opted for longer timeframes and lower
minimum standards than the report proposed.
Making the timeframes too short or ramping up the minimum
earthquake-proofing standards would lead to ''catastrophic''
increases in costs to property owners, Mr Williamson said.
The commission recommended that earthquake damage-prone
buildings should be strengthened to 50% of the building code
- up from the current threshold of 33% - but the Government
proposed leaving it at 33%.
Increasing the threshold to just 34% would cost $700 million
more over 15 years, he said.
- Additional reporting The New Zealand Herald