Quake work needs 'flexible' approach

Martin McPherson
Martin McPherson
Central Otago district property owners cannot afford the cost of seismic assessments on their buildings, the Central Otago District Council will tell the Government.

''The bottom line is that for rural communities such as ours, this is completely unaffordable. If implemented, the shock of this will be as devastating to us as the earthquake was to Christchurch,'' Cr Martin McPherson said.

The proposed national earthquake-prone building policy would mean local authorities would be required to get seismic capacity assessments on all non-residential and multi-unit, multistoreyed residential buildings, within five years of the policy taking effect.

Building owners would then have a year to submit strengthening or demolition plans and 10 years to carry them out.

Council chief executive Phil Melhopt recently told the Vincent Community Board that Central Otago ratepayers would foot the bill of about $2 million for seismic assessments and it would cost property owners about $52 million for strengthening work.

At its meeting yesterday, the council signed off on a submission which said it opposed making it a requirement for councils to be responsible for undertaking the assessments.

It said the cost of the assessments should be funded by the building owners, not the ratepayers, as ''councils may have to significantly increase staff levels or have the work completed under contract, the additional costs of which may result in rate increases''.

Council planning and environment manager Louise van der Voort said if council staff were to do the assessments and then the building failed in an earthquake and someone was injured, that could fall back on council.

''What we are suggesting [to the Government] is that a suitably qualified professional do the work because they are qualified and can carry the risk,'' she said.

The submission said the council did not have the capacity to complete the assessment work within the five-year period as there were potentially 1600 buildings in the district that would need to be assessed. It also disagreed with demolition after 10 years and instead suggested a more flexible approach should be taken to making each building safe and/or enable alternative use.

''In rural New Zealand where low economic returns are unlikely to warrant building strengthening, potentially there may be whole streets demolished.

''This would adversely impact economically, environmentally and socially on town centres and their communities,'' the submission said. It could also result in the loss of heritage.

''We consider a more flexible approach is necessary in order to meet the objective of reducing the risk, while enabling the continued survival of small communities.''

Councillors agreed they would front up to central government in person if they got a chance, to put weight behind their submission.

Mr Melhopt's figures came from a report by infrastructure consultancy firm Rationale, commissioned by the majority of local authorities in the lower South Island, to look at the economic impact of the new policy.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean issued a statement which labelled the figures as ''mischievous'' and said they could not be considered accurate without proper structural engineers' assessments. At the meeting yesterday, Cr John Lane criticised Mrs Dean's comments, calling them unhelpful, and invited her to front up to council to answer their questions.

Submissions on the proposal are open until March 8.

- sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz