Quake upgrade demands relaxed

TRACY NEAL AND KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 13:00 05/03/2014

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Rules are to be relaxed around strengthening requirements of buildings defined as earthquake-prone in Nelson city, but the jury is still out on the Trafalgar Centre.

The city council said today that owners of buildings in Nelson that are legally defined as earthquake-prone will be notified next week about a change that eases strengthening requirements from no less than 67 per cent of new building standard [NBS] to no less than 34 per cent of the standard.

Mayor Rachel Reese said the decision on the Trafalgar Centre would still rely on assessments of the building and if the 34 per cent threshold would be adequate to meet other requirements such as the public safely risk and life-span of the building.

There are nine council-owned buildings and 18 privately-owned buildings that have been issued section 124 notices and are considered earthquake-prone, meaning they were in the throes of being assessed for strengthening or demolition.

The nine council buildings include the Founders Granary, Founders Duncan House, Refinery Artspace Concrete Building, the former Mediterranean Foods building in Halifax St, The Hub, Trafalgar Centre, Riverside Pool entry, 108 Trafalgar St Civic House [former Post Office Savings], 110 Trafalgar St Civic House [State Advances building].

Work is under way to strengthen the Riverside Pool entry, and the building in New St that once housed The Hub is due to be demolished because of its poor seismic strength rating. Ms Reese said today the decision to relax the threshold would make no difference to the decision on The Hub, which fell "well below" seismic strength standards.

She said the move was a sensible response to the Court of Appeal decision and what the Government had been signalling it might do, but the immediate practical impact was limited.

The council made the change because it needed to be consistent with the rest of the country and up-to-date with the law when issuing section 124 notices, which prohibit access to dangerous properties because of the public safety risk. Building owners would still need to consider a number of other factors when deciding what level to strengthen their properties to, such as requirements from insurance companies, banks, heritage values, and tenants, she said.

The news that the threshold is to be lowered has been welcomed by at least one Nelson commercial property owner. Bill Moulder said the move sounded promising, but the real crux would be whether tenants were happy with the new rules. Government tenants had in some cases demanded that buildings be strengthened to about 80 per cent or more of the NBS.

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Mr Moulder had called for some middle ground on new rules around the strengthening of earthquake damage-prone buildings, as owners faced ruinous bills to repair or demolish them. He expressed his concerns through his submission last year to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which was consulting on the proposals aimed at requiring all non-residential and multi-unit, multi-storey residential buildings to have a seismic capacity assessment done within five years.

The city council has previously required Nelson building owners to strengthen to no less than 67 per cent of NBS.

Chief executive Clare Hadley said today that proposed legislation [Earthquake-prone Buildings Amendment Bill] and the decision from the Court of Appeal in University of Canterbury v The Insurance Council of New Zealand Incorporated had prompted her to "reconsider practices in light of the outdated policy and changes resulting from the Christchurch earthquakes".

"We've been following a policy signed off in 2006.

"It's out of date, given all we know now.

"The policy was due for review in 2011. It made sense for us to wait to see what direction government would give.

"I've been convinced by the judicial interpretation in the University of Canterbury case and the Government's bill now before the House that we're out of step.

"The new norm is 34 per cent of NBS, from all we're being told, and I've requested an immediate update to our practices to reflect this," Mrs Hadley said.

She said that from today building owners can be assured that the local building authority will be applying a no-less-than-34-per cent of the NBS requirement.

Next week the council will write to 18 building owners who have been issued section 124 notices under the Building Act 2004. Their notices will be revoked and reissued reflecting this change.

- Nelson

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