Editorial: Big numbers cause alarm

There were a couple of dramatic headlines on the front page of the Herald on Saturday.

And they certainly reflected the material in the stories they headed. The comments were right there:

From Timaru District Mayor Janie Annear: "There is a risk we would lose the central business district."

From Waimate District Mayor John Coles: "... the proposals ... could, if they are implemented, turn Waimate and other provincial towns into ghost towns".

From Mackenzie District Mayor Claire Barlow: "The costs on a number of small businesses could be very burdensome; many of them are struggling already."

Stirring stuff, and not really surprising considering the numbers being bandied about in regard to the possible costs to councils - read ratepayers - and owners of commercial and public buildings for earthquake-strengthening work.

That's if the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's proposal to tighten earthquake rules gets the go-ahead. The government proposal was released for consultation in December.

On Friday, Dunedin City Mayor Dave Cull released a report tabling potential costs to the councils if the proposal becomes law. His document, circulated among the southern councils, including the three South Canterbury district councils, says the policy could cost those local bodies a combined $1.8 billion over the 15-year timeframe proposed by the ministry.

Which is undoubtedly alarming. But a couple of thoughts here:

Firstly, the proposal isn't law yet. Minister for Building and Construction Maurice Williamson told the Southland Times last week a final policy was still being decided.

"We're canvassing the criteria. We want people to tell us where that balance lies," he said. Which is why such policies go out for consultation. And why a joint submission by the councils, from Timaru south, is a good idea.

Secondly, in my view the balance needs to lie in a place where the owners of such buildings are required to have their quake safety assessed, and for that information to be public. Even if they're not required by law to do the expensive strengthening work, those who have occasion to be in such buildings should know how safe or otherwise they are.

Another thing: Congratulations to the Timaru Rowing Club line-up at last week's nationals. Their achievements, detailed on page 16 today, were remarkable. And to the South Canterbury cricket side, for securing a first Hawke Cup challenge in a decade.

The Timaru Herald