The Dunedin City Council could face a $5.6 million bill if it
is forced to inspect thousands of city buildings as part of a
nationwide drive to identify earthquake-prone structures.
And, if blanket new rules are adopted, more building owners
could follow the Bell Tea factory and quit the city, rather
than pay substantial sums to upgrade their buildings, council
The comments came in a council submission on the Government's
Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill 2013.
The Bill would give councils five years to assess nearly
200,000 buildings, including all non-residential and
high-rise, multi-unit apartment buildings, for earthquake
Owners of earthquake-prone buildings would then get another
15 years to upgrade to at least 34% of building code
requirements, at an expected cost of about $1.7 billion.
In Dunedin, that would mean the council was responsible for
inspecting more than 4200 buildings, at a total cost of about
$5.6 million over five years, council heritage policy planner
Dr Glen Hazelton said in a report.
The report, detailing the proposed new rules and the
council's submission in response to them, would be considered
at today's council planning and regulatory committee meeting.
The change would also switch the responsibility for - and
cost of - building assessments from private building owners
to the city council and ratepayers, the submission said.
The council's existing earthquake-prone building policy gave
owners until July 1 next year to provide the council with
initial assessments at their own cost.
However, some building owners were already scrapping plans to
pay for their own assessments, in anticipation of a change in
policy by the Government, the submission warned.
''The result has been to discourage building owners from
becoming more aware of the risks their buildings present and
from planning to mitigate these risks.
''This will actually reduce the city's preparedness for a
seismic event and slow existing progress.''
The council's share of costs would come, in part, from a
requirement to inspect all buildings built before March 31,
2005, despite those built after 1976 being deemed ''very
unlikely'' to be earthquake-prone, the submission said.
The Bill also needed to be ''absolutely explicit'' earthquake
strengthening would not also trigger the need to upgrade fire
systems and access arrangements in buildings, it said.
Otherwise, Dunedin could see more decisions like that made by
the Bell Tea and Coffee Co, which last month announced it
would relocate to Auckland rather than pay to upgrade its
The company had faced a bill for seismic strengthening of
about $100,000, but - under existing regulations - that
triggered a requirement for another $900,000 in fire and
access improvements at the same time, the submission said.
The company's move was a blow to Dunedin's economy, and was
''exactly the type of problem'' councils in the South were
worried about, but it might not be the only one, it said.
The new rules - if unchanged - would lead to more ageing
buildings being demolished, rather than upgraded, and a
regional approach was needed, it said.
Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie,
speaking last year, had already criticised the new
''one-size-fits-all'' approach, which would force owners in
the South to meet the same requirements as in Auckland
without the same economic incentives to reinvest.
That was despite the city being in one of the lowest-risk
earthquake zones in the country, he said.
At the same time, less responsible building owners, as well
as churches and others in the non-profit sector, would be
unwilling or unable to meet the costs, leading to more
''demolition by neglect'', he believed.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull warned last year the new rules could
spell the end for some buildings, including heritage
buildings, and businesses.
''It could be a death sentence for some buildings and even
some businesses,'' he said.