United front on building law concerns

Timaru District Council has joined forces with its southern neighbours in an effort to stem the more expensive proposed changes to building rules.

The Government's proposed changes to the Building Act will require all non-residential buildings to have a seismic assessment within five years, and to meet 34 per cent of the current standard for new buildings within 15 years of being identified as earthquake-prone.

However, several councils have expressed concern the changes will be overly stringent and expensive.

Timaru Mayor Damon Odey said the council would make a joint submission with the 13 other district councils south of Christchurch.

"We are diverse communities, but in this case, we share a common concern," he said.

"Collectively, we have more people than either Christchurch or Wellington, and more buildings, too."

According to the submission, the councils were concerned its communities would carry a "disproportionate burden".

"Our communities are characterised by a greater proportion of pre-1976 buildings, and rural buildings when compared with the rest of New Zealand," the submission said. "Many of us face demographic challenges such as ageing and declining populations."

The submission was particularly concerned about the proposal that councils demolish buildings not upgraded within the mandatory time frame.

"We support the Government's intention to improve building standards [...] but the 'one size fits all' approach risked creating a situation where councils will not have the flexibility to respond," the submission says.

Instead, the southern councils' submission proposed allowing councils to "cordon, shut down or make the structure safe".

Submissions on the proposal to the local government select committee close on Thursday, but it is unknown when the legislation will come into effect.

Timaru District Council regulatory services manager Chris English said it had not received any applications to demolish buildings in the wake of the announced proposed changes.

"People are still holding out to see how it goes," he said.

English was not sure whether a Timaru District Council representative would appear before the select committee hearings.

The other councils joining the submission were Dunedin City, Buller, Clutha, Gore, Mackenzie, Southland, Invercargill City, Queenstown Lakes, Waitaki, Westland and Waimate.

The Timaru Herald