Rangitīkei Mayor Andy Watson says his council is prepared to help owners of earthquake-prone buildings, so the government should "come to the party" as well.
Rangitīkei District Council representatives, along with Whanganui and Manawatū district councils, have met with Building Minister Jenny Salesa to talk about the issues for building owners in high earthquake risk zones as they face compliance with earthquake strengthening legislation. Salesa told representatives she was open to coming to the region to look at the impact but no date has been set.
"Rangitīkei, with Manawatū and Whanganui, is leading the charge in terms of questions we are asking of government," Watson said.
"We are prepared to give some rate assistance and consenting assistance. My challenge to government is if our council is prepared to waive our consenting costs, then the government should also come to the party.
"One of the issues is timeframes. Rangitikei is in a high earthquake zone so we have 15 years to rebuild, demolish or earthquake strengthen. Some priority buildings, which have a civil defence function, are council-owned and we have seven years for those.
"The government came out with questions about priority areas which would usually be in a town's central business district where facades could fall. There was no clear definition from government around the amount of foot traffic that would make priority areas."
Rangitīkei District Council went through a public consultation process about priority areas and, after considering submissions, decided it would have no priority areas.
"We were the first council to do that and I know that a number of councils are watching what we do and may go down the same path," Watson said.
"One of the challenges facing owners is that the legislation says if you do some work on your building and it's more than 20 per cent of the capital value of the building, that means you have to do everything [in terms of earthquake strengthening]. So if owners recognise a problem with facades and want to tie them back, they will have to do everything."
Watson said he believed the legislation was here to stay but the councils were questioning aspects such as timeframes and making more government funds available.
"Government money for heritage listed buildings is available through the Heritage EQUIP fund. I would like to see that fund increased and extended to these [earthquake-prone] sorts of buildings as well."
In Marton there are 70 to 75 buildings in the main street, about half of which are earthquake-prone and half of that half are heritage listed, Watson said.
Building owners had mixed views on the legislation.
"Some are saying it's too expensive and they're not getting the return on the building to justify this amount of expenditure," Watson said.
Those owners may wait until the end of the compliance timeframe and then hand the buildings over to the council to deal with.
"Others say they want to do [the strengthening] and do it now because their business is reasonably prosperous and they have concern about the building and their staff," Watson said.
"Some are saying they would like to do it but could they do it over a period of time.
"We are advocating on their behalf. Quite a lot are happy to do some work but ask 'what assistance can council or government give us?'"
The council has bought a number of earthquake-prone buildings in Marton and is deciding on the future of its own earthquake-prone premises.
"One option is whether we could rebuild in the main street and show some leadership," Watson said.
"Some businesses have said 'if you show that leadership we will replace our buildings.
"We need to go through a business case whether to rebuild or strengthen where we are or go to town. If we go to town, which is probably the better option, is it economic to strengthen to save those buildings or demolish and start again? It may be a combination. We need to wait for advice from consulting engineers."
Common walls were another issue facing building owners.
"Marton is no different to most of rural New Zealand in that there are a lot of premises with common walls, so when one building owner decides to demolish, the next building can be left without a wall.
"It's not a clear cut process, there are all sorts of twists and turns in this process."
Watson was encouraged that the councils were working together and said they may be able to collectively employ engineers to do some assessment work to make the process more affordable.