Better standards needed for key buildings

Last updated 13:49 03/07/2014

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Key Wellington buildings should be protected by better earthquake standards, or a big shake could shut the city down, a select committee has been told.

''We don't want to have buildings in the middle of the road outside our main hospital,'' Wellington City Councillor Iona Pannett said today.

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament, maintains a national earthquake-prone building threshold of 33 per cent of new building standard.

Speaking to the council's submission on the bill at the local government and environment select committee in Wellington, Pannett offered broad support for the legislation, but also raised some concerns.

''Protection of life must be paramount, but we also want to look after the economic and social assets of our communities.''

It was important for local councils to be able to set higher earthquake standards for some key buildings after public consultation, Pannett and fellow councillor Andy Foster said.

Examples included key heritage buildings, or those on important routes, for example on Lambton Quay, Featherston St or near Wellington Hospital.

''Cities, especially those with limited transport route options (like) Wellington, cannot afford to have large areas red-zoned and those transport routes severed for months as has happened in Christchurch,'' the council's submission said.

At the 33 per cent threshold, ''people may survive but the building may not.''

''We cannot stress enough that the economic cost would be utterly devastating to Wellington if even a few buildings in the central city were damaged to the point of needing demolition.''

National MP Paul Goldsmith questioned how much implementing higher standards may cost.

''It could end up being a lot of buildings.''

Foster said the Government had to consider the consequences of not taking action, ''if we end up in a situation where we have to close Wellington down.''

Tenants were also demanding strengthening to higher than 33 per cent, the council said.

Foster said the council had now completed assessments of all 6000 buildings built prior to 1976.

''Last time we looked we were ahead of the rest of the country put together.''

The bill, which has passed its first reading, amends the 2004 Building Act and incorporates many of the recommendations of the Canterbury Earthquakes royal commission.

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