Flexibility wanted in earthquake rules

The Queenstown Lakes District Council says it has decided against adopting an ''alarmist approach'' to the Government's consultation over earthquake-prone buildings and believes more work needs to be done on details about assessment, risk and strengthening.

Last week, the Otago Daily Times reported a joint submission from 11 southern councils and five southern industry and employer groups on the Building Seismic Performance Consultation Document had been signed off by the Dunedin City Council.

The submission said the Government should take a principles-based, rather than prescriptive, approach to the issue of ensuring members of the public were safe from earthquake-prone buildings.

In a statement this week, Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden said the council had not participated in the regional submission because it did not face the same extent of issues as other councils.

''A large proportion of this district's buildings are modern stock, less are constructed with unreinforced masonry, and most tend to be only single or double storey.

''Council's own estimation of the number of buildings requiring upgrade or demolition are substantially different to other purported regional figures.''

In its submission on the consultation document, the council said it sat in a zone ''likely to be affected by a substantial earthquake on the Alpine Fault''.

While the council was aware of the damage that might be caused in an earthquake, there were ''no guarantees'' relating to public safety or financial risks associated with building design and performance.

''The building stock in our country has already performed to an exemplary standard in world comparisons, but there are still likely to be some unavoidable injuries and fatalities relating to earthquake events in the future.''

The council's submission suggested the development of a seismic assessment tool be a ''desktop risk-based approach'' that should only require an initial assessment - about one or two hours per building - by the local authority at its own cost. Any further, alternative or detailed assessment would be the responsibility of, and cost to, the building owner.

It also submitted a regional (zonal) approach to different levels of earthquake risk should be built into the assessment criteria; exemptions for certain low-risk buildings should be set in regulations on a national basis; and provision should be made for local authority exemptions and extensions.

Ms van Uden said the council welcomed further discussion with central government on the appropriate level of upgrade for older buildings, on an affordable and pragmatic basis.


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