Council queries need for national quake standard

Wellington City Council believes it can comply with new earthquake-strengthening criteria being floated by the Government but thinks the rest of the country might struggle.

That was the message from the city council's earthquake resilience manager, Neville Brown, who was last night part of a panel fielding questions from concerned commercial property owners at a public meeting in the city.

The meeting was the first of seven the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will hold around the country as it seeks public feedback on its proposals for a national approach to deal with earthquake-prone buildings.

Under the proposed changes, all non-residential and multi-unit, multistorey residential buildings would have to be assessed within five years of a law change taking effect.

Owners of earthquake-prone buildings would then have up to 10 years to strengthen or demolish them, meaning all such buildings would be dealt with within 15 years rather than the current average of 28 years.

The ministry estimates between 15,000 and 25,000 buildings would be affected nationwide.

Mr Brown said Wellington city was ahead of the game in terms of assessment. Other cities had not even started.

"For that reason, I think we need to ask the hard question - is a nationwide standard appropriate in that respect?"

Ian Cassels, Wellington branch president of the NZ Property Council, who was also on the panel, addressed a concern of many in the 300-strong audience, that sky-rocketing insurance premiums since the Canterbury earthquakes had made strengthening unaffordable.

He acknowledged premiums were "through the roof" and said redirecting money from there into strengthening would make a huge difference in Wellington.

Mr Brown said the council had been pursuing a "range of measures" with the Government around funding assistance for strengthening work.

He was not in a position to publicly announce them last night, he said, but hoped to within the next six months.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson stressed the Government had not made any decisions around timeframes or minimum standards for strengthening.

He also said it would not be taking a "one size fits all" approach, signalling there would be exceptions for things like heritage and high-use buildings.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade- Brown said the council had assessed 3694 of its pre-1976 buildings and had about 1143 to go. Of those, about 600 were less than 33 per cent of new building standards, or "earthquake-prone".

The Dominion Post