Quake-prone assessment target 'not possible'

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2012

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Assessing the seismic strength of New Zealand's most earthquake-prone buildings within two years will be "impossible", a leading Christchurch structural engineer says.

The Canterbury earthquakes royal commission announced on Friday 36 sweeping proposals for earthquake-prone buildings throughout New Zealand after a review covering the failure of 21 buildings in the February 2011 quake, resulting in 42 deaths.

Buildings with unreinforced masonry would be assessed within two years and strengthened or demolished within seven, the commission said.

Christchurch structural engineer Russell Poole, who has more than 40 years design experience in Christchurch and Wellington, did not believe the two-year target could be met.

"One of my colleagues in Wellington told me he has five years of [building] assessments to do. The legislation has been there for 40 years and we've done nothing about it," he said.

The document recommended commercial, public and multi-storey, multi-unit residential buildings be brought up to minimum standard within 15 years, down from the current average of 28 years. Crucially, the current threshold for earthquake-prone buildings, often referred to as 34 per cent of the new building standard, will not be raised.

Poole backed the finite time frame for strengthening all quake-prone buildings.

Previously, there had been no economic incentive to upgrade.

"Now there is because tenants won't use them," he said.

"That argument falls down when you go to Feilding or my home town, Gisborne, where the economic equations just aren't there. Some buildings will just have to be demolished."

Poole also supported the decision to retain the 34 per cent minimum standard.

The market would decide if the status quo was acceptable.

"I think it's a good thing that [the Government] isn't making any further change. I don't see any justification for it," he said. Money would be better spent on technology that helped limit quake damage, Poole said.

Buildings had been required only to survive the quakes, but rebuilding after the Canterbury quakes would cost nearly $30 billion.

"We've done well on survival and non-collapse, but clearly we haven't done well on damage."

The use of new quake technology should remain voluntary, Poole said.

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