Council could take 20 years to assess unsafe structures

By Lawrence Gullery

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Limited funds means it could take Hastings District Council up to 20 years to assess the 911 buildings deemed potentially earthquake-prone.

The council put in place its policy on dangerous, earthquake-prone or insanitary buildings, as required under the Building Act 200, in May 2006.

The policy required the council to identify buildings potentially earthquake-prone. A total of 911 buildings were initially classified as potentially earthquake-prone in a desktop study largely completed in 2007. A priority ranking had been established which identified an order in which these buildings would undergo further assessment by a specialist earthquake engineer.

Of the 911 buildings, 35 (3.8 per cent) had been confirmed as earthquake-prone as they did not exceed the threshold of 33 per cent of the new building standard (NBS) and had been placed on the councils earthquake-prone register.

A further 23 per cent of the 911 buildings had either been assessed above the NBS or had remedial work completed.

The council's group manager of planning and regulatory John O'Shaughnessy said the council was not required to fund assessments of potentially earthquake-prone buildings under the current legislation.

"However Hastings District Council has allocated a small amount of funding ($20,000) on an annual basis to further this project. Because this resource is limited, some building owners/investors have sensibly decided to engage structural engineers to undertake their own assessments."

He said the council did not have a funding or grant scheme to assist property owners to undertake their own assessments or upgrades of their buildings.

And at the current level of council funding each year, the assessment of all 911 buildings would take between 15 and 20 years to complete.

Following the earthquake events in Canterbury and a Royal Commission of enquiry, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment was looking at a number of legislative changes to the Building Act regarding earthquake-prone buildings.

Mr O'Shaughnessy said the changes were likely to be enacted within the next 18 months and a review of the council's dangerous, earthquake-prone or insanitary buildings policy had been placed on hold pending the new legislation.

A "building risk profile" had been completed for the Hastings CBD by the council-appointed consulting engineers.

"This has determined an assessment ranking priority for buildings in this area and council will advise building owners of their ranking over the next few months."

There were five priority levels. Priority one buildings had the highest risk profile while priority five buildings had the lowest risk profile.

"It is unlikely that all the buildings in the CBD will be assessed before the envisaged changes to legislation have been enacted.

"Council officers will be speaking with the owners of buildings in the CBD over the coming months, to establish which buildings have had assessments completed, who has a programme in place for assessment of their buildings and are planning remedial work."

Mr O'Shaughnessy said the council had taken a "proactive approach" to deal with earthquake-prone building issues in its community and would continue to work with building owners and investors to ensure the process continues.

Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wayne Walford said the costs to business and commercial property owners, in terms of upgrades to commercial buildings, would depend on the agreed level of tolerance by Government, councils, insurance companies and banks.

"If banks refuse to lend on properties under 80 per cent for example, insurance companies will not insure properties of 75 per cent and councils only require 33 or 67 per cent, then commercial property owners are held to ransom meeting local government earthquake-strengthening levels but not insurance or bank lending levels.

"There needs to be some communication between all stakeholders to decide on a common level of acceptance then the building owners can make appropriate investment decisions."

Hawke's Bay businessman Kevin Clark owned a number of commercial buildings in Napier and Hastings. He began work on upgrading the buildings about three years ago but was aware of other landlords who "haven't even started yet".

One of his buildings in Hastings was on Market St South and the tenant was The Doctors.

"We had to strengthen that building to a higher grade because of the type of activity it's being used for. It is of a higher standard than say a retail building."

The upgrade was completed in April and the building was strengthened to a higher standard.

"One of the difficulties we had was that the tenant operates seven days a week and they didn't want any disruptions. So we had to work nights to get the job done.

"We were lucky we had Morgan Builders do the work for us, it was one of the last jobs they did before they decided to close their business, they were very good."

Mr Clark said some landlords found it difficult to obtain insurance for buildings constructed during the years following the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake.

"A lot of the buildings in Napier were built a few years after the earthquake, but before the first design standards for buildings came in, in 1935.

"Those buildings would have been constructed well but insurance companies are reluctant to go near them because they were built during that two to three year period before regulations. You might get the odd one that will insure but you will be paying a huge premium."

Mr Clark would not specifically identify any of the other commercial buildings he owned but said he was working through each one to make sure they were brought up to required standard.

"Initially most of the buildings required IEP (Initial Evaluation Procedure) reports which was a very broad analysis but a lot of engineers are looking and doing much more thorough reports."

IEP reports ranges from $800 to $1500. Engineers continued to be in demand to complete the reports with some landlords waiting long periods.

"We have looked at all of our buildings and are slowly upgrading them when finances become available. It has been pretty stressful. All of the work we do, none of it is tax deductable. So it's all got to be financed by whatever is left over after you have paid tax. We want to make a profit, the tenant wants to make a profit ..."


  • The risk of earthquake-prone buildings is measured by comparing the performance of each building to the performance required of a new building.

  • Legislation targets buildings less than one-third, or 33 per cent, of the strength required for a new building.

  • Buildings less the one third have at least 10 times the risk of serious damage or collapse when compared to a new building.

  • A key factor for councils determining policy for earthquake-prone buildings is the level of earthquake risk in their area.

  • Changes to the law were introduced to reduce casualties in major earthquakes.

  • The changes were developed with the engineers, councils and the public.

  • Design standards for buildings in earthquakes were first introduced in 1935 following the Hawke's Bay earthquake.

  • Each district or city council must have a policy on earthquake-prone buildings.

  • Councils can decide on the approach, priorities and timetable to be followed.

  • Information from the Ministry of Business and Innovation.changes to legislation have been enacted.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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