Editorial: The little council that said 'no'
Councils throughout the country are spending millions of dollars investigating whether their buildings would be prone to collapse causing death or injury during a moderate earthquake.
While a few have expressed reluctance, most realise the importance of the work proposed by central government after the deadly events in Christchurch. But one small council is saying no.
At a recent meeting of the Tararua District Council in Dannevirke, staff and councillors voiced their displeasure at the calls for them to fund earthquake assessments for the region's buildings.
The proposed introduction of a consistent national approach to earthquake building assessment would mean all non-residential, multi-unit and multi-storey residential buildings would require a seismic capacity assessment done within five years.
If deficiencies are identified, then the building must be brought up to code within 10 years.
Tararua's chief executive Blair King, himself a member of the Urban Search and Rescue squad that travelled to Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, said it was unfair for councils, especially those in small rural areas, to foot the bill. "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," he said.
His views were unanimously endorsed by Tararua's councillors, who were concerned about the council being unable to afford the tests and possibly losing heritage buildings as a result.
The council is understood to be the first to officially take such a stance against the proposed changes, which are still in the public consultation change.
Most other councils in wider Manawatu have started the process. In Palmerston North such testing has led to the impending closure of buildings, such as the All Saints Church, and the MidCentral Health board office and administration building at the Palmerston North Hospital site. More sites were added to the list of more than 100 buildings last week, while others, including the White Horse Inn in Longburn, were taken off.
Some business owners in the Manawatu District have reacted angrily to the plans, using the Feilding Promotion group as an advocate.
It's not hard to see why Tararua has taken such a stance. It has no skyscrapers and, despite having some large farms, the area's small population means it is not extremely wealthy. A devastating earthquake striking Tararua is unlikely but the tragedy in Christchurch has shown that a laissez-faire attitude towards the possibility of a disaster is perilous.