Scaremongering alleged over quake-prone buildings

19:44, Feb 25 2013

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson has accused southern councils of "scaremongering" about the Government's proposed earthquake-prone buildings policy.

The territorial authorities from Timaru south released a report last week, suggesting the collective costs of assessing and strengthening earthquake-prone buildings could be around $1.8 billion, with more than 7440 properties likely requiring demolition or strengthening.

Timaru Mayor Janie Annear said the proposed regulations could be devastating for the districts.

However, Mr Williamson said the councils were "punching at fog".

"None of the options suggested in the discussion document were even close to being law yet. If anything, the Government is leaning on the lighter end of the royal commission recommendations," he said. "It's disappointing that the councils have spent money on a piece of work that wasn't even needed. I wish they would put a lot more energy into suggesting where the exemptions should lie, rather than all this scaremongering."

The royal commission's report, released in the wake of the inquiry into the Christchurch earthquakes, recommended that local authorities would have five years to undertake seismic capacity assessment of buildings. Owners would then have 10 years to strengthen or demolish any buildings that fall below 33 per cent of the strength required for new buildings.


"The devil is in the detail. This is a very open discussion," Mr Williamson said. "Somewhere we've got to find a balance point, where we have a realistic time frame for buildings to get up to the recommended standard."

He said he had his own ideas about potential exemptions. "If a heritage building is impossible to get up to modern standard, and is discretionary in its use, then I'd be comfortable with just a warning sticker on the building," he said.

Mr Williamson said the royal commission's recommendations were an excellent starting point, but he would not comment as to the extent to which the Government would implement them.

Councils would have to produce public and easily available records on the earthquake standard of their buildings. "That's one of the few bottom lines. People have a right to know, those registers are going to be mandatory," he said.

Waitaki District Council policy manager Fraser Liggett said consultancy firm Rationale Ltd provided the council calculations.

The calculations were based on Quotable Value data sets provided by all the councils. The study cost about $40,000, with the money spread across the councils and other partners.

Submissions on the Government's discussion document are open until March 8.

The Southland Times