Whanganui district councillors will decide next year what they consider are priority areas for fixing the district's earthquake-prone buildings.

Whanganui was classed as a medium seismic hazard area when the Earthquake-Prone Buildings Amendment Act came into effect last year.

It means Whanganui buildings identified as being earthquake-prone will have 25 years to be strengthened.

But those in whatever priority zone the council decides on next year will have 12 and a half years after identification and a report.

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That decision will follow a public consultation period likely to be in the middle of 2019.

Council staff will meet groups such as Mainstreet Whanganui and the Earthquake Prone Buildings Community Taskforce to shape a draft plan for public consultation.

"We need a starting point to start the conversation," council building control team leader Greg Hoobin said.

"Then the councillors will make that decision."

Buildings in priority areas identified as earthquake prone will have 12 and a half years to secure things such as parapets, facades and verandas.

"That shortened legislation is just in relation to the dangerous parts," Hoobin said.

"But the rest of the building gets the full time [25 years]. That's a lot. I think that's the misnomer that everybody's thinking about.

"And the clock doesn't start until we issue that potential earthquake-prone-building notice.

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"We're trying to balance our response to what we have to do for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and what we have to do for building owners."

Hoobin said people would be surprised at how few buildings would fall in the priority earthquake-prone category.

"There's not going to be that many."

Smaller councils such as Rangitikei have decided they have no priority areas.

Hoobin encouraged the public to start thinking about what they believed were priority areas and acknowledged talk of seismic strengthening had gone quiet recently.

"But we need to do some things a little bit going forward again and I just don't want to go out there and people say 'well, you haven't been talking to us, what's going on?'"

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Once the priority areas were identified, the council would work one-on-one with owners, he said.

"We'll have the time to spend in a really solid engagement with the building owner and not just treat them as a block, as a number. Because every building is different."

Hoobin said about 40 buildings in Whanganui had already been seismic strengthened and that was being driven by the market rather than regulation.

The council will have some trainee building inspectors in Whanganui next year looking at some buildings but Hoobin said it was training only and building owners would be notified beforehand.

"I don't want people to panic."