Earthquake policy needs input

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson addresses a Dunedin audience last night on national earthquake-prone building policy. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson addresses a Dunedin audience last night on national earthquake-prone building policy. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
No decisions have been made on a new earthquake-prone building policy system because the Government needs more information from those who would be affected, a Dunedin audience has been told.

The Government's proposals for changing the system are open for public consultation and the fifth in a series of public meetings across the country was held in Dunedin last night.

The proposed policy would require local authorities to carry out seismic assessments on potentially earthquake-prone buildings within five years of the regulations taking effect.

Owners of buildings deemed earthquake-prone would then have 10 years to strengthen or demolish them.

Under existing individual local body regulations, the process would take 28 years, on average.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson told the 50 people at last night's meeting the Government was still trying to find the right balance between safety and cost.

He emphasised several times no decisions had been made. The Government wanted to understand the situation around the country, and needed localised submissions to achieve that.

''I don't want to go flying off the lunatic end of the spectrum,'' Mr Williamson said.

Audience members told the panel of central and local government and property development specialists they had concerns about the proposed policy, mainly concerning risk, costs and timeframes.

Many, such as Dunedin property developer Tony Clear, and Phil Hope, chairman of the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust, which owns 16 whitestone buildings, said they agreed with the proposed requirement to strengthen to 33% of code, but were concerned the timeframes were too short, making upgrades unaffordable for many building owners.

With strengthening costs of about $400sq m, that might mean rent increases of up to 25% for tenants, Mr Clear said, adding that was untenable.

A spokeswoman from the University of Otago, which was half-way through an expensive and expert-heavy, detailed assessment of its potentially earthquake-prone buildings, was concerned councils could not afford, nor had the expertise, to undertake assessments.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Canterbury recovery programme director David Kelly said if it went that way, the details of how councils would pay for and go about assessments would be something decided as the policy was worked through.

Others who attended were also concerned about how risk was assessed, how engineering assessments were standardised, that disability access remained a requirement in upgrades, and what incentives could be given to building owners. Mr Kelly encouraged people to make their submissions by March 8.

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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