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Major Concerns over Earthquake-prone Buildings Proposals

Southern Councils Highlight Major Concerns over Earthquake-prone Buildings Proposals

Dunedin, 22 February 2013 – Southern communities could face a bill of almost $1.8 billion under proposed changes to rules governing earthquake-prone buildings.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says that councils accept work needs to be done on this issue in response to the tragic events in Christchurch, but that any changes need to be flexible, risk-based, practical and affordable for building owners and communities.

Speaking on behalf of the Otago Mayoral Forum and 10 South Island councils, Mayor Cull says rural provincial areas would be seriously disadvantaged by proposed changes to earthquake legislation.

The proposals put forward by central Government include shortening timeframes for earthquake-prone buildings to be assessed and strengthened and greater accountabilities and costs on local authorities.

“The accountabilities, risk allocation and timeframes put forward by the Crown would place a disproportionate burden on rural and provincial New Zealand. This is one of the biggest issues to face councils, building owners and the wider community in a generation, and, as such, it is important we work together to ensure any changes are right first time.”

The concerns outlined in a draft joint submission prepared by the southern councils include:

1. Scale of the problem
The southern councils believe there may be as many as 22,600 rural and urban buildings from Timaru south which require assessment under the proposed changes, with upwards of 7440 that require demolition or strengthening.

2. Cost of implementation
The proposed mandatory requirement that councils undertake seismic capacity assessments over a five-year period is financially challenging. The cost of this work could reach as much as $30 million and would need to be recovered through rates or user charges.

3. Proposed timeframes and costs for building owners
Under the proposals, earthquake-prone buildings at less than 34% of the new building standard will either need to be upgraded or demolished within 10 years. Ten years may not be an economically-feasible timeframe for a large number of buildings to be upgraded or demolished. In the southern councils’ area alone, it is estimated upgrading affected buildings could cost about $1.77 billion over the proposed 15-year period. In smaller urban or rural areas, there would be limited opportunities to recoup these costs through raised rentals.

4. Negative socio-economic impact
If it is uneconomic to upgrade earthquake-prone buildings, businesses may be forced to close or relocate. Some building owners may choose to demolish rather than upgrade their buildings, which could result in the loss of services and of buildings of social and heritage significance. The added costs to business may see some move away from the region or close up altogether.

5. Affordability and risk
The councils believe the existing proposals are unaffordable for their communities. They want to see a more targeted, risk-based approach which targets buildings with high occupancy first. They also support the short-term targeting of building elements such as parapets, which present the greatest risks to lives, with longer timeframes for full building upgrades.

The Otago Mayoral Forum began work on the issue last year. Detailed work is still being carried out and the next step is to consider options to address this issue. Mayor Cull says flexibility and awareness of local variables are necessary to ensure solutions are enduring and cost effective for communities now and in the future. The Mayoral Forum wants to work closely with central Government to develop solutions that address risk while maintaining the economic, social and cultural viability of the South Island’s towns and cities.

The 10 councils involved are Dunedin and Invercargill City Councils, and Central Otago, Clutha, Gore, Mackenzie, Southland, Timaru, Waimate and Waitaki District Councils.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is seeking comments on proposals to improve the earthquake-prone building system. The proposals were prepared following recommendations from the Canterbury Earthquake Royal Commission. As well as a joint submission from the southern councils, each council and organisation may make its own submission to the Building Seismic Performance consultation document. Public submissions close on 8 March.


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