Local Government Magazine

Earthquake rules get shake-up

Local authorities and business leaders have welcomed government’s proposed changes to pending earthquake-prone buildings legislation – although many continue to call for more detail around who will bear the cost.

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith recently announced government will shift away from its earlier “one-size fits all” thinking to a more targeted “risk-based” approach in setting rules around how earthquake-prone buildings should be treated.

The proposed new rules would create three seismic zones of risk. They set out different timeframes for assessing and strengthening old buildings for “low-risk” areas such as Northland, Auckland or Oamaru, “medium” (eg New Plymouth or Whanganui) and “high-risk” zones such as Gisborne, Christchurch or Wellington.

A second change requires education and emergency buildings in medium- and high-risk zones to be identified and strengthened in half the standard time. A third change reduces the scope of buildings requiring assessment to those that pose the greatest risk.

Local authorities right throughout the country put in submissions last year outlining their concerns about the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill. Many said their towns and regions simply could not afford to assess, repair or upgrade buildings according to the proposed legislation.

Minister Smith says the policy changes mean just 30,000 buildings rather than the originally-estimated 500,000 will now need to be assessed. Total costs are now more likely to be around $777 million as opposed to the earlier estimate of $1.36 billion.

Wellington City Council mayor Celia Wade-Brown welcomed the changes but questioned how much funding central government would be prepared to contribute to building strengthening. She also said she was disappointed government appears to be rejecting the idea of councils developing their own earthquake-prone buildings policies.

LGNZ also welcomed the announcement and said it looks forward to working with government to refine policy details. It raised the specific issue of financing upgrades for heritage buildings.

BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly said a risk-based approach is “sensible” and urged government to be flexible around how the policy would be implemented. Read the full transcript of Minister Smith’s speech at bit.ly/1RBsyKZ

This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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