Seismic risk poses dilemma

Concerns have been raised the Dunedin City Council could face a legal threat if it knows - but does not disclose - information about earthquake-prone buildings in the city.

The fear was voiced by Cr Richard Thomson at yesterday's planning and regulatory committee meeting, as councillors considered whether to extend a deadline for seismic strength assessments in the city.

The council, in 2012, gave owners of pre-1976 non-residential buildings until July 1 this year to have their properties assessed and report results to the council.

The council intended to publish a register of results online, but so far just 14% of reports had been received, amounting to just 412 of the 2900 buildings covered by the council policy.

And, with continuing uncertainty over government plans for earthquake-prone buildings, councillors were yesterday asked to informally extend the deadline while delaying public access to the register for now.

However, that worried Cr Thomson, who questioned whether the council would be ''at some legal risk'' if, after a serious earthquake, it was found to have withheld information it held about earthquake-prone buildings in the city.

Instead, he suggested rewarding owners who had already returned completed reports, by publishing their results online, even if other owners were yet to comply with the policy.

Council acting urban design team leader Dr Glen Hazelton said he would need to seek advice on any potential legal threat arising from a delay releasing received results.

There was a distinction to be drawn between earthquake-prone and dangerous buildings, but withholding information ''would probably not be the best look in the public eye'', he said.

It was also possible the council could publish completed assessment results online in the meantime, but that would include those whose buildings were deemed earthquake-prone as well, he said.

The uncertainty prompted councillors to agree to leave the debate for the next full council meeting, on June 23, giving staff time for more research.

That was despite Cr Lee Vandervis questioning whether the council should be spending money on a legal opinion when the Government's approach to earthquake-prone buildings - which was likely to trump the council's - was expected next year.

Mayor Dave Cull clarified the July 1 deadline was for assessments, not improvements, ''so the risk doesn't change in terms of the [earthquake] damage''.

Dr Hazelton agreed, saying the proposal to publish assessment results was a council initiative not required by law.

Committee chairman Cr David Benson was among those to agree to the move, saying more information was needed to address Cr Thomson's ''perfectly valid'' question.

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