Govt claims come under fire

Maurice Williamson.
Maurice Williamson.
The Waitaki District Council hit back yesterday at Government claims of ''scaremongering'' over a report on the cost of meeting its proposed earthquake-prone buildings policy.

Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton defended the report by 10 southern councils, which estimated it could cost up to $1.8 billion to assess and strengthen 7440 buildings in the South. He said Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson's comments were ''very disappointing''.

''This work [the report] should have been done by Government, but we had to do it,'' he said.

Council chief executive Michael Ross said the report was ''considered, careful and in the spirit of consultation to help Government''.

Mr Williamson said the 10 councils south of Timaru were ''punching at fog'' and they had ''spent money on a piece of work that wasn't even needed''.

Mr Familton was hoping the Government would be flexible over the policy, giving people, particularly in rural areas, local choices.

''Some strengthening does need to be done but it needs to be affordable or our business people and communities will not cope financially.''

Mr Familton warned having to upgrade buildings - particularly in rural areas with low commercial returns - could cause business failures.

Mr Ross said the report was to help the Government understand the implications to rural and provincial New Zealand. Data in the Government's policy was used to arrive at the figures.

Southern councils wanted to understand the implications because the South had a disproportionate number of old buildings. For example, 33% of pre-1935 buildings were in the southern South Island.

A draft submission the council will present on the Government's proposed policy said the cost to the Waitaki district could be more than $180 million to assess and strengthen its buildings.

The submission, still to be finalised, said the Government policy was likely to affect services as businesses in economic and marginally economic buildings were forced to close or relocate.

This would affect jobs and businesses in communities with limited or low levels of economic growth.

Cr Peter Garvan questioned whether there was an issue outside major seismic areas, where there was ''not a problem to solve''. While deaths in the Christchurch quake were tragic, deaths from New Zealand earthquakes had averaged 3.2 a year since 1843, less than those from drownings or quad bikes.

The Government's policy said: ''... the financial costs are often large relative to the benefits, which are small on an annualised basis and may not be realised for many years (if at all).''