Reports on quake risk slow to get to council

Glen Hazelton
Glen Hazelton
Some property owners in Dunedin are holding off supplying the city council with details on how their buildings would stand up to a significant earthquake.

More than 2000 building owners have not submitted information requested by the Dunedin City Council nearly two years ago.

The council wrote to the owners of pre-1976 buildings - other than single dwelling residences - in mid-2012, requiring them to have their buildings inspected for seismic capacity.

They were asked to supply an initial assessment, at their own cost, to the council by this July.

The building's status is to be entered into a register, added to land information memorandums (LIMs) and council files and ultimately made public.

As of this week, 2470 building owners were yet to supply the required information, council heritage policy planner Dr Glen Hazelton said.

It had received 305 responses since July 2012. Of those, 38 buildings were reported likely (according to the initial assessment) to be earthquake-prone and five were confirmed to be earthquake-prone.

Four of the latter, belonging to Speight's, had already been upgraded.

The council already had building strength information about several hundred of Dunedin's pre-1976 buildings, the owners of which were not sent letters.

The council had yet to send letters to some multiple-unit residences in the city's suburbs.

However, the information outstanding represented the bulk of the city's pre-1976 (non single-dwelling) buildings, Dr Hazelton said.

He was not surprised by the delays. While some building owners probably had concerns about the information being made public, he was aware of several owners with multiple buildings who expected to submit all their assessments soon.

He had also been informed by several engineers they were working through long waiting lists for assessments. As a result, he was intending to seek from councillors an extension on the deadline.

Anyone who did not submit the required information by deadline would have their building recorded as likely to be earthquake-prone and a deadline for upgrade applied. The exercise is a part of the council's updated policy on dangerous, insanitary and earthquake-prone buildings, under which an owner is given between 15 and 30 years - the less their strength, the shorter the time frame - to upgrade to at least 34% of the new building standard if a building's strength is found to be less than that.

The council previously had a passive policy, but adopted a more proactive approach in 2011 in anticipation of legislative changes to the national system for managing earthquake-prone buildings, following the Christchurch earthquakes.

Dr Hazelton said several other councils had elected to stay with a passive policy until new earthquake-prone buildings legislation, now working its way through Parliament, was passed.

The Earthquake Prone Buildings Bill proposes giving councils five years to make assessments on buildings in their areas, though it is unclear on who pays for assessments, and owners up to 20 years, including the assessment period, to make the building no longer earthquake-prone. It also proposes all buildings built before 2005 be assessed.

Dr Hazelton said out of fairness, details of which Dunedin buildings were earthquake-prone would not be released until information on all the buildings was in.


Futile exercise

What a futile exercise this is. How on earth are you supposed to inspect and quantify the quake-prone status of a building? What if your building withstands the earthquake only to be destroyed by the hill behind it coming down or the private single level dwellings above it coming down the hill, or the ground opening resulting in the structure collapsing?

And a statement like giving owners up to 20 years, including the assessment period, to make the
building no longer earthquake-prone - to what extent? If your dwelling is considered to fit this standard will insurance costs reduce considerably? And who will stand behind any type of classifiction recognising this absolutely reckless level of false security, leading people living in a building rated as "no longer earthquake prone" to stay inside thinking she'll be right, the DCC has said our house won't collapse.

Nothing will ever be no-longer earthquake prone. Just look at the Japanese earthquake in 2011 - a 10 on the richter scale. A lot of buildings withstood the initial tremor, only to be destroyed by the tsunami.  If we consider the Canterbury earthquakes your structure may survive the initial shake only to succumb to continual ground-shaking through large aftershocks or a further quake.

This is  throwing common sense out the window. You cannot ever defy the continual evolution of the planet we inhabit. [Abridged]


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