Cost of quake standards 'outweighs the benefits'

Last updated 05:00 04/03/2013

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A former adviser to the Reserve Bank and World Bank says the cost of bringing in tougher tests for earthquake-prone buildings would far outweigh the benefits.

Economic consultant Ian Harrison said he had analysed proposals put forward by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on building standards, and it showed the cost of the tougher regime would be 50 times the benefits.

In Auckland the cost was 1762 times the benefit.

Harrison said his research was based on the ministry's own expert analysis.

"The proposals will save only 0.25 lives a year at a cost of over $4 billion," he said.

"If this money was put into road safety it could possibly save over 20 lives a year."

Harrison also claimed many councils were applying higher standards for assessing earthquake-prone buildings than was currently in the law, opening their designations up to a legal challenge.

Using those standards, people had been led to believe by MBIE that there were 15,000 to 25,000 buildings in New Zealand which would collapse in a moderate earthquake.

In fact "very few buildings" would collapse in such an earthquake, he said.

Harrison said the tougher test was not only proving costly to building owners, but meant many of the designations would likely not survive a challenge in court.

"They can't make up their own standards. They must define an earthquake-prone building in terms of what the act says." He called on the Government to develop standards based on "sound, disinterested analysis".

MBIE said the stricter test Harrison referred to was the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineers guidelines.

They had been used by many councils and engineers since 2005 on advice from the former department of building and housing.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said Harrison had every right to his opinion, but he did not agree with his assertions.

"The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has come to its conclusions by way of detailed research and work by industry experts," Williamson said.

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