Officials deciding on proposed earthquake-proofing building codes have been told ensuring New Zealand leads the way in access for the disabled will be a financial boom - including the chance to tap into a tourism sector that pumps almost $5 billion into the Australian economy.
It was revealed last weekend that a government consultation paper was seeking opinions on a recommendation that owners of existing buildings that needed to be earthquake-proofed could do so without meeting Building Act requirements over access for people with disabilities.
The recommendation - which is included in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) document, "Building Seismic Performance", was made by the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission. The paper said the costs of strengthening an estimated 15,000-25,000 properties nationwide "may cause significant financial hardship for many building owners".
The recommendation was criticised by Green Party disability issues spokeswoman Mojo Mathers, who provided the Star-Times with the consultation document.
A week on, Minnie Baragwanath - chief executive of the Be. Institute that wants a 100 per cent accessible society - said she hoped policy makers would embrace the great opportunities that increased accessibility would provide.
"We know that the future tourists for New Zealand, and the world, are baby boomers," Baragwanath said. "And the baby boomers have the highest rates of access needs. So actually if Christchurch can turn this around and have greater accessibility it could be one of the greatest economic drivers for their future.
"An awful lot of access is seen as a cost and not an opportunity. We are trying to get people to understand the opportunity that being accessible presents."
Baragwanath said "access tourism" was a financial boom to the economy across the Tasman.
The estimated 4.2 million people with a disability who travel within Australia pour $A4.8b into the country's economy. When a person with a disability travels on holiday, they tend to take longer breaks and are usually accompanied by four or more other people. By 2050, 3.1 million tourists are expected to travel here annually. The Be. Institute estimated that with an ageing population, more than 20 per cent would have special access needs.
An estimated 660,000 people - 20 per cent of New Zealand's population - have physical or mental disabilities. Fifty per cent of Kiwis aged over 65 have a physical disability.
MBIE has invited stakeholders to have their say during a consultation period ending on March 8 but will not comment on the document while the consultation is under way as it wants the consultation to be open and not influence submissions.
Baragwanath said: "Now is the time for visionary leadership.
"I acknowledge the financial aspects, but perhaps there is a way to both advance access and not over-burden businesses at this challenging time . . . why don't we factor in the cost of exclusion, employment and getting access to goods and services?
"Why would we not be advancing the more accessible world right now, because the cost is going to hit at some point. So I would say the smart thing to do is to build it in now, it is always cheaper to build things in at this point."
- Sunday Star Times