'Hands tied' on quake risk

By kelli.hooks@age.co.nz, Kelli Hooks -

The likelihood of a rupture had until quite recently thought to be about 30 per cent, it's now reduced to 10 per cent.David Hopman,

Masterton assets and operations manager Masterton councillors' "hands are tied" on the town's earthquake-prone building policy until the Government drives through changes.

In a Masterton District Council meeting this week, chief executive Wes ten Hove said the council was waiting on changes to the way earthquake-prone buildings were dealt with under the Building Act, which would hopefully give councillors more power.

Changes are expected in the next couple of weeks.

Mr ten Hove said the council's current policy asked building owners to conduct structural assessments but lacked the authority to back it up.

"The new framework hopefully deals to this a little better in terms of timeframes and, if they don't comply, hopefully it gives council power to step in and force compliance.

"The [current] law hasn't given it teeth, if there is no way to enforce it that's a problem," he said.

Masterton's policy dictates buildings deemed quake-prone must be strengthened within 10 years.

The council also has the power to shut down a dangerous building and "possibly demolish".

Masterton council is looking for building owners to wear the cost of the assessment, rather than ratepayers.

"Owners carry an obligation," Mr ten Hove said.

The issue was put on the agenda after several councillors attended the "It's Our Fault" geological talk in Masterton. The Wairarapa U3A - University of the Third Age - hosted GNS Science earthquake geologist Dr Robert Langridge to talk about Wairarapa's faults.

Councillor Gary Caffell said he had attended several meetings in Masterton in which discussions had centred around the council being more proactive in terms of hunting down owners who were not fulfilling building requirements.

"What will happen to the people inside the buildings?

"There was a big worry about people living in buildings here that don't meet the requirements. They felt that we need to be saying to the owners of the buildings that we don't give a stuff about your buildings but we do care about the people inside.

"I think we need to keep in focus that it's more a lives thing than a buildings thing," Mr Caffell said.

He said the recent Wellington earthquake had created an "emotional buzz" but he agreed there was little the council could do until the Government made changes.

Assets and operations manager David Hopman said the big concern for residents was not the Wairarapa fault, but rather the Wellington one.

"The likelihood of a rupture had until quite recently thought to be about 30 per cent, it's now reduced to 10 per cent," Mr Hopman said.

He said the Wairarapa fault had a return period of 3000 years, so was unlikely to rupture.

The last quake in Wairarapa was in 1942 and was a magnitude 7.2, centred on Masterton. In 1855, a magnitude 8.2 earthquake shook Wairarapa.

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