Problems with quake inspections

Glen Hazelton.
Glen Hazelton.
The number of assessments outstanding, a shortage of structural engineers and continued uncertainty about the Government's plans for earthquake-prone buildings has led the Dunedin City Council to consider extending its deadline for building assessments.

In 2012 the council required, under its new earthquake-prone buildings policy, all owners of pre-1976 non-residential Dunedin buildings to have their properties assessed for seismic strength and report the results to the council by July 1 this year.

The intention was to make the buildings' status available on a register on the council's website.

But with the deadline looming, the council has received assessments for only 412, or 14%, of the 2900 buildings in the category.

Acting urban design team leader Dr Glen Hazelton said there were several reasons for that, including the large number that needed assessing and a shortage of engineers to do the work and long waiting lists for them.

The continuing uncertainty over whether the Government would make councils responsible for doing the assessments, was also leading many building owners to delay them.

Given those factors and issues that had arisen since, such as the effect the information might have on insurance, building values and ability to borrow, it would be ''overly punitive'' to label buildings as ''possibly earthquake-prone'', as was to be the case under the council's policy if owners had not filed assessments by July 1, he said.

There were also other concerns.

''Strong media interest and the tendency to oversimplify and scaremonger the risks, means the recategorisation could have negative, unwarranted impacts on the perception of public safety in the city and encourage or legitimise the demolition of buildings that are either not earthquake-prone, or those that could feasibly be strengthened.''

The options were to carry on as the policy stood, formally consult on extending the timeframe, which could lead to a policy review, or informally extend the timeframe.

The latter would give people more time to do the assessments without the associated risks related to insurance etc, and recognised the potential for Government changes to be made in the next short while, which would likely require a policy review at that time anyway.

However, it would would be non-implementation of a policy, which was not good practice.

With regards to the register, councillors could put a searchable register online by July 1 or delay website access until a national register was developed (the information can be accessed in LIMs or by request).

None of the options was ''really ideal'', Dr Hazelton said.

However, the particular difficulties created by the present situation made an informal extension likely the most pragmatic approach for the time being.

It would mean the policy could continue to be implemented without requiring more resources, when it was likely to require review in the coming year to 18 months anyway.

He also recommended website access to the register be delayed or the building status remain ''awaiting confirmation of status'', which was less risky. Councillors will consider the options today.

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