$10b quake upgrade a waste: economist

A $10 billion national seismic building upgrade will save only seven lives during almost a century yet destroy much of the country's heritage, an economist says.

Ian Harrison of Wellington's Tailrisk Economics will tomorrow release his 100-page report Error Prone Bureaucracy, telling how the new earthquake strengthening policy could cost $3 billion in Auckland alone but take 4000 years to save a single life.

Yet the new regime would negatively affect tens of thousands of people and result in many older buildings throughout cities' suburbs and towns being demolished, all for very little gain.

"The policy can be expected to save just seven lives over the next 75 years.

Compliance with the minimum standard could cost over $3 billion in Auckland but is expected to take 4000 years to save a single life. Three to eight Aucklanders are expected to die as a result of financial stress caused by the policy.

"If $10 billion were spent improving health and road safety, thousands of lives could be saved," Mr Harrison's paper says.

Around 15,000 to 25,000 New Zealand buildings are earthquake-prone, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson defended the upgrade, saying the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission and a comprehensive Government review identified problems with the current system, including significant information gaps and lack of consistency of practice issues so there was a need for change.

"The royal commission's findings and the Government's review have shown that New Zealanders believe the current system for managing earthquake-prone buildings is not achieving an acceptable level of risk," Mr Williamson said.

"Half of all submitters agreed local authorities should be required to assess the seismic capacity of all buildings in their areas and this information should be entered into a national register."

The Government's review included advice from international risk experts.

A sector reference group made up of experts and practitioners in engineering, construction, property ownership and management, insurance, heritage and local government also provided input in the lead-up to the release of a public consultation document.

Mr Harrison said no other country was planning to introduce across-the-board national earthquake strengthening standards.

"Generally, it does not make sense."

The Government should go back to the drawing board and develop new policies based on evidence.

A 5.2 magnitude earthquake rattled southern Hawkes Bay yesterday with reports of it being felt as far away as Wanganui.

- By Anne Gibson of the New Zealand Herald

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