Tararua council rails against quake plan

23:38, Jan 30 2013

Tararua District Council is the first local authority to push back against the Government's proposed changes to dealing with earthquake-prone buildings.

The council says local authorities should not have to pay for or carry out the building assessments because of the significant cost to ratepayers.

"We do not believe it is appropriate for council to be pinged for every building and doing the standardised assessment for everyone," council chief executive Blair King said.

"There are a number of people who see this as necessary to give them self-assurance, but why should the council be responsible for doing it?

"The rural councils, well the ones that I've spoken to, do not like this.

"This council has decided the best way to spend our money is to fix the water and wastewater, improve the main streets, as opposed to going and doing a theoretical study on whether there is potential for a building to collapse in a potential earthquake."

At present, councils, in consultation with their communities, make decisions on how buildings in their districts should be dealt with, but the Government has proposed replacing this with a consistent national approach to dealing with at-risk buildings.

All non-residential, multi-unit and multistorey residential buildings would have to have a seismic capacity assessment done within five years.

Owners of buildings identified as earthquake-prone would then have up to 10 years to strengthen or demolish the buildings.

This means, depending on individual council policies, that all earthquake-prone buildings would be dealt with within a maximum of 15 years, compared with an average of 28 years under the current system.

In the proposal, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment is suggesting local authorities fund and conduct the assessment process.

At yesterday's council meeting, councillors unanimously supported Mr King's objections. Mayor Roly Ellis said the process was getting "completely out of hand" and talk among other rural mayors echoed Tararua's concerns.

Councillor Peter Johns said he could understand "spending vast sums of money in order to prevent deaths", but was worried about long-term repercussions.

"The country, or more likely, the ratepayers will be required to spend an inordinate amount of money for no justifiable reason ... and we're going to end up with a lot of heritage buildings being pulled down unnecessarily."

Cr Shirley Hull said the council did not have the capacity to comply with the Government's proposal and felt it was "setting us [Tararua] up to fail".

"At least we're switched on enough and advanced enough to get onto this early, I look forward to seeing the rest of New Zealand catching up," she said.

A Ministry of Building and Construction spokeswoman said there had been about 45 submissions to date, but none were from local authorities.

The submissions process was the best time for councils to raise issues, she said, and encouraged others to do so.

"You have to put the costs of carrying out this assessment process in the context of the potential risk to life if an earthquake [occurs].

"Which is exactly why this policy is being considered ... councils are all in different places on this and there is a range of views, that's why we're keen to have submissions.

"Some councils are very advanced, have already completed the assessments and are well-advanced in terms of their policy."

In the next few weeks ministry representatives are meeting councils across the country to discuss the proposed policy changes.

Public consultation closes on March 8.


Manawatu Standard