Mayor leads attack on proposed quake rules

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 15/02/2013

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Proposals to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings could ruin town and city centres around New Zealand as badly as earthquakes destroyed Christchurch, a public meeting in Palmerston North heard last night.

It was the fourth in a series of meetings run by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to explain and seek feedback on its proposals.

The key changes would see all potentially at-risk buildings assessed within five years, and either strengthened to 34 per cent of current building standards or demolished within another 10 years.

Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor led the attack, describing the changes as unachievable, unaffordable and unnecessary.

He said the Christchurch earthquakes were tragic and traumatic for the whole nation, but the reaction, such as the building proposals, was perpetuating anxiety and uncertainty.

"If we are looking at this as a way to protect life, frankly, we are barking up the wrong tree."

The money that would be needed to bring buildings up to standard would be better spent on diabetes or heart disease prevention, he said.

Mr Naylor said if the proposals were adopted, Palmerston North and many other cities would end up looking like Christchurch did now.

About 60 building owners, engineers, council staff, business owners and people with an interest in heritage buildings from the city, Feilding, Whanganui, Ruapehu and other central North Island districts were at the meeting.

Several echoed Mr Naylor's comments.

"A lot of this is complete nonsense," said former councillor and engineer Les Baty.

"I believe we should do nothing."

The money spent on an estimated 20,000 buildings nationally that could need attention added no value, and could cripple the economy, he said.

Commercial property manager Steve Williams said the drive to strengthen buildings could be an economic disaster for the country.

"The commercial property market has stalled, and investors are not interested in getting caught up in this debacle."

While Mr Naylor supported a uniform, national approach, several speakers asked for a more conservative approach for smaller towns.

The ministry is proposing the rules for city centres need not apply to remote country churches and farm buildings which, if they collapsed, would threaten few people.

Palmerston North city councillor Pat Kelly said communities should have flexibility to decide what balance of risk and safety they were prepared to live with.

Submissions on the proposals close on March 8. Already 115 have been received.

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- Manawatu Standard

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