Quake legislation not enough, says Council

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 12/04/2014

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Lessons learnt from Christchurch's deadly 2011 earthquake are not reflected in new legislation aimed at reducing the number of quake-prone buildings, the city council says.

It is concerned that the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill does not specifically prioritise the strengthening of unreinforced masonry buildings or buildings with hazardous features such as verandas and parapets, despite their known dangers.

The bill, which has passed its first reading, amends the 2004 Building Act and incorporates some of the recommendations of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, but does not pick up on the commission's recommendation that all unreinforced masonry buildings should have their seismic capacity assessed within two years and any required strengthening work done within seven years.

Forty people died in the February 2011 quake because of the failure of unreinforced masonry buildings.

Ann Brower, the sole survivor of a bus crushed by a collapsed building in Colombo St, shared the council's concerns and was also pushing for a tightening of the legislation. Eight people died and she spent two months in hospital as a result of her crush injuries.

In a hard-hitting submission on the bill, Brower said that unless Parliament moved to retrofit unreinforced masonry buildings first, the tragedy on Colombo St was destined to be repeated.

"I say this not because I was there. Neither do I say it because I heard and felt the involuntary death throes of a 78-year-old woman, a 14-year-old boy and 10 others in between. Nor do I say it because it changed my leg, spine, hand and soul forever more.

"Colombo St deserves more attention because every town in New Zealand has a Colombo St, full of parapets and facades in varying states from loveliness to disrepair. The horrors I witnessed are quite likely to happen again."

The bill also ignores a recommendation from the commission that local authorities should be given the option of requiring strengthening to be done faster or to a higher level than that set by central government.

Under the bill, central government would require all territorial authorities to do seismic capacity assessments on all non-residential buildings and all multi-storey residential buildings in their district within five years of the legislation being passed.

Owners of earthquake-prone buildings would then have 15 years from the assessment to bring them up to at least 33 per cent of the New Building Standard (NBS).

The city council is still finalising its submission, but this week unanimously endorsed a draft submission, which said shorter time frames for the strengthening of unreinforced masonry buildings and buildings with hazardous features were essential.

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Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the council had an obligation to push strongly for the royal commission recommendations to be included in the legislation.

"We owe it to the people whose lives were lost and who were severely injured when buildings collapsed in the earthquakes."

In Christchurch, 9500 buildings would require seismic capacity assessments if the bill was passed. Some already had detailed engineering evaluations completed but council officials estimated 5800 still needed to be assessed - a process likely to cost about $2.5 million. They believe about 22 per cent (2090) of the buildings remaining in Christchurch are quake-prone and bringing them up to at least 33 per cent of NBS would cost about $247m.

- The Press

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