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New building law ‘a brave move’

Media Release

12 May 2016

- for immediate release

New building law ‘a brave move’

Lincoln University senior lecturer Ann Brower is applauding the Government’s passing of a new earthquake safety building law after she spent years lobbying for change.

Dr Brower is the sole survivor of 13 people who were crushed by unreinforced masonry on Colombo Street during the 22 February 2011 earthquake. She says New Zealand has made a brave move in passing the Building (Earthquake-Prone Buildings) Amendment Bill, which requires the upgrade of older buildings.

“If previous parliaments had had the courage to make the changes that were made on Tuesday night a generation ago, those who died beside me would still be alive.

“I am delighted to have played a role in transforming a contentious, difficult bill into one that passed by 120 votes to one.”

Dr Brower is now working with a Lincoln University student to research the evolution of New Zealand’s earthquake safety building policy and determine “what worked” during the process.

“Our findings will be of great interest to other earthquake-prone jurisdictions with similarly dangerous buildings,” she says. “After speaking about this to a group of earthquake engineers, I’ve been approached by several such jurisdictions, and several journals interested in our research findings.”

Under the new amendment bill, owners of older buildings will be legally required to have their premises assessed and upgraded, and earthquake-prone structures must be strengthened within specific timeframes according to the seismic risk of where they are located.

“I nearly lost my left leg on 22 February,” Dr Brower says. “I felt I owed it to my fellow injured survivors and the 12 who died beside me to make the changes to building regulations. I don’t mind trying and failing, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I’d failed to try.”

During one of her submissions to the select committee, Dr Brower said: “There was nothing natural about the disaster that befell the 13 of us. It wasn’t the earthquake, it was the building, decisions made about the building and the failure to enforce those decisions.”

Local Government and Environment Committee Chairman Scott Simpson has described Dr Brower’s submissions as “passionate, compelling and committed”.

“She gave remarkably confronting evidence to the committee that made us sit up, take notice and really get to grips with the risks that were prevalent in terms of unreinforced masonry.”

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith has also paid tribute to Dr Brower’s advocacy.

“The select committee received very strong submissions from Canterbury earthquake survivor Ann Brower, and the bill particularly prioritises those areas of an unreinforced masonry building like a parapet, a façade or verandah.”

At a second reading of the amendment bill earlier this year, Wigram MP Megan Woods cited Dr Brower’s “incredibly tireless efficacy in making it a better piece of legislation”.

“Ann suffered horrific injuries, and she came and spoke to us, incredibly movingly, about how it is that we could avoid the fate that she had been through, and what she had witnessed,” Dr Woods said in February. “Ann never gave up on her quest to improve the piece of legislation that first went to select committee.”


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