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One of Levin's oldest family businesses has questioned a tight timeframe to earthquake strengthen its building.

Clark's Menswear owner Maurice Campbell, like many other Levin shop owners, now has seven and a half years to get his building earthquake compliant following a Horowhenua District Council decision to class the town centre a high-priority zone.

The clothing store had been in Mr Campbell's family since 1894. He accepted earthquake strengthening was an emotive issue, but felt 15 years was a more realistic timeframe.

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Mr Campbell said the new time frame would pressure building owners into replacing or repairing with cheap designs and materials.

He said some building owners might find it cheaper to demolish their buildings, or leave work until the last minute, creating chaos in the town centre.

"It is crucial that we get very good rebuilds that are in keeping with the overall concept for the town centre," he said.

HDC decided this week to make Levin a priority for strengthening buildings. The area covers the central business district on Oxford Street from Devon Street to Levin Adventure Playground.

It would also included some buildings on Salisbury Street and Queen Street.

Mr Campbell questioned why Foxton and Shannon were excluded from the shortened time frame when a planned state highway bypass would likely mean Shannon had more passing traffic than Levin.

He said it could discourage new businesses "when so many buildings are condemned to such a short life".

Similar sized towns like Taihape, Bulls, Hunterville and Marton were not made high priority by their local bodies, he said.

"Whanganui has only just announced public consultation. Tararua is waiting for the official report and Manawatū has only just begun consultation."

It was likely to be a costly exercise. Engineers reports were needed to find out what work needed doing before any costs could be determined.

HDC group manager customer and regulatory services Ian McLachlan said under the Building Amendment Act 2016 priority areas had to be strengthened or demolished in half the time allowed for building in non-priority areas.

"The intent is to ensure that areas where there is greater risk to public safety during and after an earthquake are prioritised for work before other buildings," he said.

Priority areas were busy road or footpaths where falling masonry from buildings would pose a high risk to public safety in an earthquake, and would be designated priority under the Act, he said.

That didn't mean every building was automatically deemed earthquake-prone. Each building owner had two and a half years to get an engineering report.

He said the decision was based around local knowledge and input from community consultation last year.

"We have obligations under the Act to identify earthquake-prone buildings, issue notices and enforce timeframes. These processes take time, and we are committed to providing education for owners in a complementary manner as we implement the Act," he said.

A majority of councillors voted to support the shortened time frame, saying community well-being and safety had to take precedent ahead of the concerns of businesses and building owners.

Levin's high density traffic and pedestrian flow through the town centre was a factor in the decision.