Quake work Plea for leniency

By John Maslin

Wanganui District Council will argue for special consideration in its submission to the Government's proposed earthquake-prone building policy.

The submission will highlight the fact the district has the largest number of quake-prone buildings - about 400 of them - in the country but a small population base that would struggle to fund any fix of the problem.

Stuart Hylton, the council's senior policy adviser, said the 400 mainly unreinforced masonry buildings were between 70 and 100 years old and many were of national heritage significance.

"It would appear we have 11 per cent of the country's problem but only 1 per cent of the population with which to solve it," Mr Hylton said.

He said this was a key statistic that meant Wanganui had to be considered as a special case.

Attention to suspect buildings was heightened after the Christchurch earthquakes and initially the Government was going to demand all buildings met 67 per cent of the National Building Standard (NBS) but this has been dropped to 33 per cent following Royal Commission of Inquiry recommendations and cost/analysis of the problem.

Now the Government is suggesting all buildings would have to be either strengthened to that standard or demolished within 15 years of any legislative change being enacted.

There are exceptions in the proposal. Some buildings may be exempt or given a longer timeframe to have strengthening work completed and these would include low-rise rural churches or farm buildings with little passing traffic.

Mr Hylton said like every other local authority, the Wanganui council would be given five years to complete a seismic assessment of every non-residential, and multi unit, multi-storey residential building in the district and provide a seismic rating to the buildings' owners. Single-storey residential buildings are exempt from assessment. Owners can also have that rating changed by commissioning their own engineering assessment and pick up the costs themselves.

Mr Hylton said the Government had been talking about each territorial authority adopting local policies and setting timeframes to suit their circumstances but now it appeared it was looking at adopting a one-size-fits-all scheme.

He said Wanganui had a "strong case" to push for a more flexible regime which best reflected the risk profile of the city's heritage buildings, considering the massive financial impact this would have on the community.

There were 400 buildings to be assessed at a cost of between $600 and $1000 for a two-storey commercial building. More complex assessments would cost more.

The Government was still to determine the timeframe to have the work completed "but it's a big ask logistically to get everything completed within 15 years".

Mr Hylton said WDC had not asked the Government for special consideration, but given the large number of buildings in the district potentially affected by the regulations he said that would be the "thrust" of the submission.

Regional information meetings are being held around the country and one is scheduled for Thursday in Palmerston North. But Mr Hylton said they were hoping to get Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials across to Wanganui for a meeting with building owners.

Submissions have to be with the ministry by March 8.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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