Earthquake strengthening law changes could flood engineers

Proposed changes to laws on earthquake strengthening could mean Taranaki's structural engineers flooded with more work than they can handle.

Their skills are already in high demand and one of Taranaki's top structural engineers said with current legislative changes about to be debated by councils throughout the country, the region's best could soon be all booked up.

David Hutchinson, a senior structural engineer and director at Chapman Oulsnam Speirs Ltd, said there were only 17 registered structural engineers in Taranaki and not all of them worked in the field.

There was sometimes a waiting list for work in the region and Hutchinson expected that waiting list to get longer very quickly.

"As the Government is about to change the legislation I suspect some people are playing wait and see before committing to undertaking an assessment," he said. "There is a nationwide issue with regards to capacity of competent structural engineers, particularly due to the Christchurch workload. This is generally complex work which takes time."

The proposed law changes could mean an extra 350 to 450 buildings in the New Plymouth District would need an initial assessment, paid for by the New Plymouth District Council.

If any of those buildings were deemed "likely to be earthquake prone" then the building owner could be faced with an expensive detailed seismic assessment, which can cost up to $25,000 according to the NPDC.

Hutchinson, who has 10 years experience in structural design, said a detailed seismic assessment in Taranaki could take anywhere between 10 and 250 hours.

Simple structures, the availability of structural drawings and the original design intent and calculations helped to speed up the process, he said.

Hutchinson, who is the Taranaki representative for the Association of Consulting Engineers New Zealand, said New Plymouth had taken a proactive approach and there was a greater awareness of the issues and a higher demand for seismic assessments.

There would be many building owners contemplating the future of their properties over the coming months and years, and the best thing they could do was talk to a structural engineer and ask them to explain anything that was unclear, he said.

Building owners also had to decide if the value or condition of the building warranted spending any money on an assessment.

"If your building has been identified as potentially earthquake prone, is there any benefit in undertaking a detailed seismic assessment or would the money and effort be better spent starting straight into design of strengthening," he said. The NPDC Policy Committee will discuss the Building (Earthquake-Prone Buildings) Amendment Bill tonight at the council chambers from 4.30pm.

Taranaki Daily News