Wellington building owners will struggle to hit masonry deadline, industry experts warn
Industry experts are warning that owners of Wellington buildings with unreinforced masonry will struggle to meet a one-year deadline to secure them.
A buoyant construction industry and a shortage of available engineers are expected to conspire against building owners, who could face a $200,000 fine for failing to meet the Government deadline for securing facades and parapets in Wellington's busy pedestrian streets.
A visiting Californian-based seismic expert has questioned the one-year deadline, saying it is "extremely tight".
"In California, we adopted a similar [scheme] and implemented it over 10 years," said structural engineer Kit Miyamoto, who owns the former Cadbury building on Ghuznee St, which needs unreinforced masonry work.
A spokesman for Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said: "We acknowledge this is an ambitious timeline, but make no apologies for that. However, we will work with building owners on a case-by-case basis.".
The Government and various councils, including Wellington City Council, have set up a $4.5 million fund to help building owners with the cost of the work, footing half of each repair bill – but the work needs to be done before the money can be claimed.
The 12-month deadline starts once owners receive a notice from the council, which must be issued by March 29.
About 300 high-risk buildings in the Wellington region have been assessed as having unreinforced masonry facades, in busy pedestrian areas, and are required to be brought up to code.
The buildings include about 250 in the historic areas of Cuba St and Courtenay Pl in the central city, and Riddiford St in Newtown, as well as about 50 in Lower Hutt.
Miyamoto acknowledged that work needed to be done in Wellington more quickly than California's 10-year timeframe, because the buildings were exceptionally vulnerable, and said the council was heading in the right direction.
"Cuba St is one of the most dangerous in the country. If I was in the middle of that during a big earthquake, I'd be concerned."
The engineering work was not complex, but getting contractors would be difficult because many were booked out for the rest of the year, he said.
Society for Earthquake Engineering president Peter Smith said he was hopeful engineers and builders would get behind the public safety initiative, and get the work done on time.
But he added: "Let's be honest, it will be a challenge."
Institution of Professional Engineers chief executive Susan Freeman-Greene said engineers were committed to getting the work done in the interests of public safety, and more had been brought in from outside Wellington to help meet demand.
Geoff Thomas, of Victoria University's school of architecture, said: "If there was no timeframe, it would not happen. There are no incentives for building owners to do it, so there has to be compulsion."
Registered Master Builders chief executive David Kelly and Certified Builders Association chief executive Grant Florence both said the industry was "flat out", and they expected that would continue for a few years.
"I understand engineers are also extremely busy, and none of the building work can be started without them," Kelly said.
Building Industry Federation chief executive Bruce Kohn said: "Getting tradespeople in Wellington to do the work will be the biggest problem."
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said about 124 engineers, designers and builders attended a training session last week, and there was strong interest in meeting the deadline.