Relief, resignation at building proposals

Buildings are considered earthquake-prone if they meet less than 34 per cent of the building code.
Buildings are considered earthquake-prone if they meet less than 34 per cent of the building code.

Owners of commercial buildings have greeted Government proposals on earthquake strengthening with a mixture of relief and resignation.

The Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry released a discussion document yesterday, alongside a long-awaited report from the Canterbury Earthquake's Royal Commission on the implications for building standards. The report suggests between 15,000 and 25,000 commercial buildings may need strengthening, at a cost of $1.7 billion

However, industry players believe the true number could be as high as 40,000 buildings.

If adopted, the Government's proposals will mean commercial building owners have 15 years to get building strengthened or demolished. This includes five years to get their properties risk-assessed.

Building owners and apartment dwellers responded to the report with a sense of relief as it became clear the threshold for quake strengthening would not be raised.

Wellington-based Neil Cooper, chair of the Body Corporate Chairs Group, said the decision was helpful at a time when insurance costs had gone through the roof.

Wellington City Council's manager of earthquake resilience, Neville Brown, said raising the threshold beyond 33 per cent of the building code would have caused hardship for some owners.

However, awareness of its faultlines had put Wellington ahead of the game in many ways. "I'm not sure there will be too many surprises for anybody in Wellington because we have been reasonably proactive over the last few years and communicated that reasonably well.

"I would have a great deal of concern for probably the small areas who haven't had the ability to have the same level of focus on earthquake- prone buildings as we have."

Some owners of heritage buildings would be left with hard economic decisions, Brown said.

Residential buildings were not addressed, except for a recommendation chimneys and unreinforced masonry be strengthened or removed.

Meanwhile, the Property Council, which represents commercial building owners, has warned people might be forced to walk away from their properties if they did not get some form of assistance.

"We're concerned that the current tax system is actually artificially stacked against owners and, if anything, it actually provides real genuine disincentives to owners to take action," said Chief executive Connal Townsend.

Fairfax NZ

The Press