Insurance Council in quake court win

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 15:33 05/02/2013

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The High Court has upheld an application by the insurance industry to prevent stricter building standards being imposed on the owners of earthquake-damaged Christchurch buildings.

The Insurance Council sought to overturn the Christchurch City Council's 2010 policy on quake-prone buildings, which lifted the minimum seismic strength from 33 per cent of the new building standard (NBS) to a target of 67 per cent, through judicial review.

It claimed the move, decided just days after the September 4, 2010, quake, was slowing Christchurch's rebuild through consenting delays and passing extra costs to building owners and their insurers.

In a judgment released today, Justice Panckhurst found in favour of the Insurance Council.

"Territorial authorities may not use section 124 notices [of the Building Act, which prohibits entry to dangerous buildings unless made safe] to advance a policy of increasing building capacity to a level above 34 per cent of the NBS,'' it said.

"The primary focus in requiring work on earthquake-prone buildings is upon managing the likely risk of collapse causing injury or death."

Insurance Council insurance manager John Lucas had said the policy could see insurance premiums "skyrocketing", especially in the main centres.

Buildings above the 33 per cent standard were, under the Building Act, not quake-prone or a threat to life, he said.

"People just can't adapt to that straight away and insurers were already liable for repairing lots of damaged buildings. They thought their liability was to the 34 per cent."

Insurers were being asked to "future-proof" buildings beyond their contracted responsibility, Lucas said.

"Quite simply, the insurers can't do that. We only repair what is damaged," he said.

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