Good accessibility wanted
There are fears the old and disabled could be shut out of thousands of Auckland buildings.
The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill 2013 is on the list of bills to be read in Parliament next week.
It could pave the way for building consents to be granted to about 20,000 earthquake-prone shops, workplaces and residential buildings nationwide without requiring usual upgrades for disability access.
It could affect more than 4000 Auckland buildings.
CCS Disability Action barrier free adviser Vivian Naylor, in a wheelchair since a car accident at 24, says it is a backwards step.
The legislation is based on cost-cutting and is short-sighted, the Auckland woman, 69, says.
There are affordable ways to make buildings accessible, she says.
"These buildings are going to be with us a long time; it doesn't make sense.
"It's frustrating in the extreme. We start to think we're making progress and then we're slipping back again."
Grey Power Auckland president Anne-Marie Coury says accessibility is also a concern for older generations.
Stairs, heavy doors, poor lighting and slippery surfaces can all pose problems and more elderly are now using mobility scooters, she says.
Ms Coury says the changes will also have a negative impact on the way New Zealand is seen by other countries.
"A huge proportion of our tourists are over 60. People will be assessing how good access is and word will spread."
Clint Owens, spokesman for Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson, says there is a long way to go in the process.
The bill, introduced as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, looks to unify New Zealand councils' approach to earthquake strengthening, Mr Owens says.
It is about making logical decisions on a case-by-case basis, he says.
"It's not to say that nothing will be done in terms of accessibility but in some circumstances councils will be able to exempt people if it's going to cost too much.
"There'll be a pragmatic approach to this if it comes through."
If the bill passes its first reading it will go to a select committee to be considered in more detail and a public submission phase.
People's voices will be heard, Mr Owens says.
Ms Naylor is taking part in a wider government disability access review in her position with Royal Oak organisation CCS.
She says New Zealand should be following the lead of other cities such as Melbourne or London which are completely accessible.
"If there's a big old two-storey building in an old suburb there's no way you're going to put a lift in it. We want to know about the four-storey buildings that could have a lift and don't or should have an accessible entrance and won't.
"When there's an opportunity to do it, why not?'
Be Accessible chief executive Minnie Baragwanath says it is about forward thinking.
"New Zealand has the chance to be a country that actually thrives with an ageing population because we've designed a world that works for everyone, not an inaccessible one."
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