Quake repairs worry council

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 28/02/2013

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Proposals to make buildings stronger after the Christchurch earthquakes could reach into private homes and up their chimneys.

Building Seismic Performance, a discussion document out for public comment, suggests local authorities could develop policies to make unreinforced brick chimneys safer.

Palmerston North City Council head of building services Leigh Sage said he welcomed the idea, although it would be difficult to implement.

"Personally, chimneys worry me, after spending a lot of time in Christchurch."

An infant was killed by a falling chimney breast, even though the top had been removed, in the February 2011 quake.

Another person was seriously injured the previous September from a falling residential chimney.

Councils currently have no control over the structure of chimneys unless they are part of a dangerous building.

Mr Sage said the task of contacting thousands of homeowners to talk about securing or removing their chimneys would be a daunting one.

The city council has supported the proposal for councils to be given powers to consult their communities and set rules about making chimneys and other residential building features less likely to fall in an earthquake.

Policy planner Matt Mackay said consideration of chimney safety was a new issue.

Until now, the focus of earthquake-prone building policies had been on commercial buildings, only affecting housing in multi-storey or multi-unit buildings.

The proposal in the consultation document would allow councils to include hazardous elements of residential buildings, such as chimneys, in their policies.

Mr Mackay said the chance to discuss the issue with residents was welcome.

"It is not proposed as a mandatory thing, but opens the door for councils to have that discussion."

The city council last night approved a submission that supports some national direction on reducing risks and improving building safety.

But it says the plan to have all earthquake-prone buildings strengthened or demolished in 15 years is too much, too soon, and threatens the vitality and viability of town centres.

Mr Mackay said an estimated 60 to 70 per cent of buildings within Palmerston North's central business district could need attention.

Cr Ross Linklater said he was very concerned about the implications of the 15-year time frame.

"Can the community and property owners afford it, or find the work force to do it?"

Cr Lew Findlay said the response to the earthquakes was getting out of hand.

Cr Duncan McCann said it was unreasonable to expect building owners and the community to pay in 15 years to fix a problem that had taken generations to develop.

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He was concerned there were no figures about the likely costs for Palmerston North included in the council's submission.

Mr Mackay said he had not done any estimates while the council still did not know how many buildings might be affected.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson told Parliament yesterday the proposals could cost around $1.7 billion for the country, and when he heard mayors suggesting it would cost their regions $1.8 million alone, "I really do find that my gast is flabbered".

- Manawatu Standard

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