Editorial: What price a life?

Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012

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OPINION: Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

In the wake of the most devastating earthquake the country has known, an earthquake that claimed 185 lives, we have to put a price on saving lives in future.

Knowing we can't save them all. Because of price. And how severe earthquakes can be.

So compromises have to be made. And the outline of those, out for public comment now, proposes that earthquake-prone buildings should be upgraded to 33 per cent of the requirement for a new building.

Too expensive to demand more is the first compromise.

And not right now, is the second compromise.

Should this policy be adopted by the Government, local authorities will have five years to conduct seismic assessments on non-residential buildings and multi-storey residential ones (assuming they can find the staff) and put out a public register; and then the owners will have 10 years to either strengthen or demolish those that don't meet the 33 per cent threshhold.

That's potentially going to make a huge difference to the main streets of Timaru, Geraldine, Waimate and Temuka.

Because of the types of buildings there. The very buildings that make our towns attractive.

Yet this area is supposedly less prone to earthquakes than others.

So what submission might we make?

Personally, I'd like to know which buildings in whichever town I'm in are earthquake prone, and to what extent. And sooner than five years. Especially in relation to verandas.

But then it gets tricky, because I don't want the character of our main streets to go, yet owners may simply not be able to afford to fix them.

And the buildings will go and new shopping centres set up in the suburbs.

Or the buildings are fixed and rents increased, only for tenants to not be able to afford them, heading instead for the suburbs.

If this sounds like an argument going around in circles, it's because it is.

There is no right answer. It's the most challenging town planning issue we've faced since, well, perhaps ever.

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