Safety standards 'a concern'

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 08/02/2013

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A second district council in the Horizons region has voiced concern over proposed changes to how earthquake-prone buildings are to be dealt with.

At a meeting last night, the Horowhenua District Council was warned there would be a financial burden from the need to inspect buildings that potentially would not meet earthquake safety standards.

However this cost could not yet be estimated, council environmental services manager Tony Thomas said.

In reply several councillors voiced concerns at the policies being introduced after the Royal Commission into the Canterbury earthquakes.

There was neither the money nor the expertise to strengthen all of the earthquake-prone buildings in the time the Government was mandating, they said.

"This is bad news for the Horowhenua," councillor Robbie Shaw said. "We're going to have towns with no buildings in them because they're going to be demolished because people can't afford to renovate them."

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.

Cr Anne Hunt said Foxton's town centre was particularly vulnerable.

Most buildings on the main street predated the Napier earthquake of 1931, she said, and may not meet the requirement of 33 per cent of the current building standard. The worries expressed last night mirrored concerns raised by members of the Tararua District Council last month.

Then, Tararua District 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."

At last night's meeting, Horowhenua councillor Garry Good said Tararua District Council could have a point.

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"How realistic is it to put another huge cost on local authorities?"

- Manawatu Standard

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