COMMENT: by Georgina Campbell
No one is above the rules when it comes to earthquake safety, especially in a city like Wellington.
In a long-running dispute with Wellington City Council, KiwiRail decided to remove earthquake-prone building notices from the capital's central railway station.
KiwiRail did this based on independent engineering advice, which led it to believe the building was no longer earthquake-prone after strengthening undertaken in 2015.
But KiwiRail doesn't get to decide whether or not a building is earthquake-prone, that's the council's job.
WCC maintains parts of the building are vulnerable and need strengthening to lift the building's rating above 34 per cent of the New Building Standard, although it still considers the station safe for day-to-day use.
It's not so much the status of the building that's alarming, after all Wellingtonians walk around a city with 600 of these earthquake-prone buildings.
What they should be alarmed by is a building owner deciding to snub a regulator without that regulator even knowing.
Imagine if the council decided to take down KiwiRail's warning signs because it had different safety advice. That simply wouldn't wash.
Yes, the science of earthquake engineering isn't cut and dried.
It's a moving beast as the industry learns more about how buildings perform in earthquakes, which can result in differing opinions.
But the Building Act is crystal clear that it is territorial authorities which determine whether buildings are earthquake prone, assign ratings and issue notices. Owners are required to display notices on their buildings and do the work.
The national system for managing these buildings is to provide consistency, and consistency is definitely not individual building owners taking matters into their own hands to decide whether their properties are earthquake prone.
WCC hasn't come out of this debacle squeaky clean either.
It has gone to great pains to point out to KiwiRail it is the regulator, so that also means it's responsible for making sure earthquake prone buildings notices are displayed.
It had no idea KiwiRail had removed the notices. The council says it doesn't have the resources to police the placement of signs across hundreds of buildings in the city.
However, this isn't just any building, it's the central railway station that tens of thousands of people walk through every day.
Just because the council deems the building safe for everyday use doesn't mean people don't have a right to know that parts of it are weak.
They should be able to make informed decisions about what buildings they enter in a city that's built on a fault line.
What are the consequences for not displaying earthquake prone building notices?
A person who fails to attach a notice or fails to notify Wellington City Council as required commits an offence. Offenders are liable to a fine not exceeding $20,000.
A person who willfully removes or defaces a notice or incites another person to do commits an offence. Offenders are liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000.