Building criteria 'bit over the top'

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014

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An Invercargill city councillor has slammed the country for wrapping people in cotton wool and is claiming New Zealand has "gone mad" over earthquake building standards.

Councillor Graham Sycamore said in a council committee meeting the country was going over the top with earthquake standards.

It was a sentiment many city councillors shared.

"This country has gone completely mad. It's just about not safe to walk out the door any more without having a sign to say you are coming first," Cr Sycamore said.

Speaking after the meeting, Cr Sycamore said the Government was not using common sense when it came to categorising buildings as earthquake prone.

"I just think New Zealand has gone completely mad on trying to eliminate risk. There's a risk every time you get into a car and drive down the road, but we are still allowed to do that, but we are not allowed to walk into a building where an earthquake may or may not even hit."

Cr Sycamore said the council felt "bloody helpless" in regards to earthquake-prone buildings.

"We are a public body, we have to be seen to meet legislation requirements, but in reality, I think some of them are a bit over the top, but we are stuck with it."

The council faces a multitude of issues with some of the city's most prominent buildings, including the water tower, Anderson Park Art Gallery and the Southland Museum and Art Gallery.

"I am not against any sort of legislation but nobody knows when and if there will be another earthquake. Where do you start and where do you stop?

"We tend to try and wrap people in cotton wool too much," he said.

Deputy Mayor Darren Ludlow said he "completely agreed" with Cr Sycamore.

"It has actually overtaken, political correctness, and we are constantly fighting to be one of the most politically correct countries, but at the moment it's becoming embarrassing."

But Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson rebutted their claims. He said the Government was trying to ensure the safety of the public and had given building owners a long period of time to comply with the minimum standards of 34 per cent of the building code.

The Government had not yet closed any buildings and it was a council decision to close buildings like Anderson Park Art Gallery in Invercargill.

"You better tell the councillors to stop blaming the Government, we have not closed them. It's not the Government that has gone mad."

Mr Williamson said the Government was simply enforcing a minimum standard for buildings, like a warrant of fitness for cars.

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Cr Sycamore's analogy of the risk of getting in cars was not valid, because those cars had to have a warrant of fitness to be on the road, just like a building had to meet the minimum standards, he said.

But Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said it was not a case of the country going mad, but being driven mad. The issue was huge and was not going to be solved overnight, he said.

He agreed with Mr Williamson about the council closing buildings and said while they could have left them open for the next five years and let people enter at their own risk, he did not believe the public would appreciate it.

"I guess this council feels we have taken a bit of a hammering for that approach."

Mr Shadbolt said the issue was likely to put a strain on the relationship between local and central government, but it had to be dealt with.

 

- The Southland Times

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