Call to set higher code level for key buildings

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013

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Councils should be able to force owners of "critical" buildings to strengthen them beyond the proposed legal minimum, Wellington City Council says.

Councillors will this week consider a draft submission to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on proposed changes to quake-strengthening rules that would require all high-occupancy buildings to meet at least 34 per cent of the building code, or be demolished.

The draft calls on the Government to allow councils to set higher levels for critical buildings, or those in "lifeline" areas.

The onus should not be simply on people getting out alive, but also on the city's resilience and ability to bounce back, the draft submission says.

"We are concerned that a blanket level of 33 per cent might set expectations that this level is sufficient, and will still leave New Zealand cities exposed to the risk of shutdown and economic loss with a moderate or stronger earthquake . . . City resilience is a key concern beyond life safety, which has not been taken into account in setting the level at 33 per cent."

Instead, councils should be able to set a higher standard for buildings that would play a key role in re-establishing the city.

"There should be additional flexibility for councils to increase the strengthening standard above 33 per cent for particular buildings or classes of buildings, including lifelines, provided that this has community support."

Built environment portfolio leader Iona Pannett said the submission highlighted the importance of being a resilient city. "If you're actually interested in how a city functions after a major event, then you're more interested in a higher level [of strengthening]."

It was important to think about how the city would function after a quake, as well as how many people would survive, she said.

"We have worked hard to try to get that balance between protecting public safety, and not bankrupting the city."

The submission also raises the cost of having to assess more buildings, and the need to assimilate the old and new rules. The council has been assessing high-occupancy buildings built before 1976. Extending this to all buildings would mean another 3000 assessments, costing $1.5 million.

"More resources will be required to meet the new policy requirements. That will become an additional cost to ratepayers at a time when councils are required to place limits on rate increases."

Councillors will consider the submission at Thursday's strategy and policy committee meeting.

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