Annemarie Quill: Better safe than sorry

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Devonport Rd buildings which have been issued 'fix' notices by council because they require earthquake strengthening.
Devonport Rd buildings which have been issued 'fix' notices by council because they require earthquake strengthening.

If a severe earthquake did affect Tauranga during work hours, thousands of Bay workers could die or be horrifically injured in collapsed buildings.

David Porter reported yesterday that there are 57 buildings in downtown Tauranga and the Mount that have been identified by the Tauranga City Council as being potentially at risk in a large earthquake.

Perhaps more worryingly, there are another 353 potentially risky buildings in the area that still have to be assessed.

This is despite the fact it is five years since the Christchurch earthquake, where many who survived the quake tragically then lost their lives when the buildings they were in collapsed.

Cost is, of course, an issue for building owners. Strengthening requirements introduced after the Canterbury earthquakes left many individual owners and organisations facing multimillion-dollar bills.

And to be fair to the owners of the 57 Tauranga buildings so far identified, the council has advised them that they are not categorised as dangerous, and the at-risk notices give them up to 10 years to carry out strengthening.

You cannot blame building owners for not hurrying to fix their properties, although many have done so anyway - without getting at-risk notices - in some cases in response to market forces.

Given a decade to fix a building, some landlords may have made the choice to delay strengthening in the hope that the legislation, including timescales, might have changed.

In other cases, landlords have cited the rapidly evolving technologies for strengthening buildings, and the varying opinions of consulting engineers as to the degree of risk and the amount of strengthening work required.

So you can understand the reasons why some business owners have not rushed to organise the work required to strengthen their buildings.

Recent events have thrown this strategic approach into question. As Beca Bay of Plenty regional manager Gavin Frost says, given the recent earthquakes, there is a heightened risk for building owners to consider.

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill outlines strengthening requirements for the 15,000 to 25,000 earthquake-prone buildings across the country.
It was passed in May, but has yet to come into force.

The recent upheavals in Kaikoura and Wellington have heightened the urgent need for these regulations to be updated and issued so that councils can get on with this vital work with a clear understanding of what is now required.

Council teams pivotal to responding to emergencies are shifting this month into the first floor of an earthquake-strengthened building at 46 Spring St.

So it's good to know the council's call centre, transport operations centre, emergency management, and information and communications technology staff will be safe in the event of a catastrophic quake in the Bay.

Currently, we cannot guarantee the same for all of Tauranga's at-risk buildings.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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