Building data policies differ greatly

Councils that refuse to give out information on earthquake-prone buildings may be forced to under proposals issued by the Government.

Details of policies on earthquake-prone buildings reveal just how differently councils tackle the matter.

Some, such as Hastings, Masterton and Wanganui district councils, issue their full list of earthquake-prone buildings and those buildings identified as potentially earthquake-prone but have yet to be tested.

Others, such as Wellington, Porirua, and Palmerston North city councils, provide just the lists of buildings confirmed as earthquake-prone, and not those identified as being potentially earthquake-prone.

Some provide a list of potentially earthquake-prone buildings, but will not provide a list of those confirmed as earthquake-prone, and others are only just getting around to starting the most basic of lists of any sort.

Then there is Horowhenua District Council, whose chief executive, David Ward, refuses to give out any information because he deems it "commercially sensitive".

The contrasting stance taken by councils was noted in a report by the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission this month, which recommended that councils "be required to maintain and publish a schedule of earthquake-prone buildings in their district".

A consultation document by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment issued at the same time as the report, proposes a national publicly accessible register to be maintained by the ministry.

Councils could enter the seismic capacity ratings of buildings. These could be updated and would be "easily and freely available to the public".

The document, out for submissions until March 8, stated "information on the register could be made accessible by smartphone applications, so that building users could quickly and easily gain information on their safety in an earthquake".

Councils are not legally required to assess buildings for seismic capacity.

The ministry proposes that councils assess all non-residential and multi-unit, multi-storey residential buildings in their district within five years of an amendment being made to the Building Act 2004, which the ministry says is likely to be "a lengthy process".

Lawrence Yule, president of Local Government New Zealand, said the proposed register appeared to introduce consistency between councils "and that should be encouraged".

"The earthquake-prone building issue is a bit like sea-level rise. It needs a consistent approach."

He questioned the reasoning for councils considering their lists as commercially sensitive. "Commercial sensitivity cannot over-ride public safety," he said.

An earthquake-prone building is one that is likely to collapse in a moderate earthquake and cause injury or death or damage another property.

The Building Act empowers councils to require building owners to "reduce or remove" the danger presented by such buildings.

Failure to do so is a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to $200,000.

The Dominion Post