Building balance needed

By Heather McCracken

The Government and Royal Commission proposals for new rules on earthquake-prone buildings will be of interest to building owners throughout the region.

The consultation document puts forward new rules that would mean tighter timeframes for shoring up at-risk buildings, and implications for all buildings, even single-level homes.

Falling hazards, like chimneys, could be made to be reinforced or removed, which will no doubt be an unwelcome cost to many home-owners.

But it's not a surprising recommendation, given many of those who died in the Canterbury earthquake were killed by falling debris, many from unreinforced masonry buildings.

Here in Wairarapa there are many buildings in need of earthquake strengthening - the 75-year-old Times-Age building on Chapel St is among them.

Particularly for companies or landlords who own multiple buildings, having to make improvements within a short timeframe could have a significant financial impact.

However, there needs to be a tightening up of the rules, as the current system seems to allow building owners, once they have met requirements to assess their building, to do nothing for an indeterminable length of time.

According to the consultation document, owners are being given an average of 28 years to undertake strengthening work.

While the need to make buildings safer needs to be balanced against the cost, 28 years is a long time to live with a known and avoidable risk.

What's also unclear is what safeguards will be put in place to ensure valuable historical buildings won't be put at risk by putting more pressure on owners to bring them up to standard.

The need to protect our heritage doesn't outweigh protecting people's lives, but it needs to be part of the plan.


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