Earthquake prone buildings – Cabinet Paper and Cabinet Minutes

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment have released the Cabinet Paper and associated Cabinet Minute discussing and agreeing to the provisions for legislation requiring Territorial Authorities to assess buildings and for the buildings to be strengthened or demolished. Links to the documents are on their website here (part way down the page). They can be downloaded directly by clicking on the names below:

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Earthquake-prone buildings

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has published the media release for the policy decision on managing earthquake-prone buildings (here).

Part of the release states:

The new system is designed to strike a better balance between protecting people from harm in an earthquake and managing the costs of strengthening or removing earthquake prone buildings.

When the performance of the MBIE (DBH as it then was) on acceptable floor levels in damaged houses is taken into account (see blog entry here), there is room for concern that this piece of policy is potentially just as dubious. Once again the balance seems to have moved further in favour of protecting business interests by transferring the risks onto people. 

A primary part of the policy is to extend the amount of time available in which to strengthen a building identified as being earthquake-prone.  The policy proposes that Councils have five years from the date of the new legislation in which to identify all earthquake-prone buildings in their territory (2018 or 2019). There will then be a further fifteen years in which earthquake-prone buildings must be strengthened or demolished (2033 or 2034).

A negative aspect of this timeframe will be the situation of buildings that are not economic to strengthen being kept in use, with minimal maintenance, until the last possible moment to maximise the return on the owner’s investment. What sort of oversight will there be to ensure these buildings don’t deteriorate further?

The one redeeming feature is the intention for a publicly accessible register of earthquake-prone buildings to be set up by MBIE.

The Government intends introducing legislation into Parliament later this year. It will be worth scrutinising it to ensure that there will be full and prompt disclosure of all buildings considered to be earthquake prone, along with information about any exemptions or extensions applicable to each building.

The Minister’s media release is here and a full report on the consultation process here.

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Earthquake Assessment Service for Wellington

EQC have publicised a house assessment programme Quakecheck, that uses services offered by the New Zealand Master Builders Federation and Certified Builders Association and is available anywhere in the Wellington city area.

The purpose of the programme is to assess the risk an earthquake will pose to your house. The cost is $160 (see here for cost information and inspection details), and it is necessary to book an inspection.

Earthquake information for Wellingtonians.

EQC, Civil Defence and other agencies produce a range of information sources that are useful pre and post earthquake. New Zealand’s highly variable geography and geology means that the information is of a general nature. For those who want to do a bit of research on earthquake preparedness for a city with some characteristics similar to Wellington, the San Francisco area offers a range of useful resources (click on the name to go to the website).

The US Geological Survey (USGS) published Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country in 2005 as a handbook for those living in the San Francisco Bay Region.  While not intended for a New Zealand city, it does provide a wealth of information yet to be emulated here in New Zealand.  A copy can be downloaded here.

Earthquake-prone building policy consultation

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (which now includes what used to be the Department of Building and Housing) are consulting on proposed changes to the system for dealing with earthquake-prone buildings. The focus of the exercise is a proposal that all non-residential buildings and all multi-unit, multi-storey residential buildings have a seismic capacity assessment done within 5 years. Owners of buildings identified as earthquake-prone would then have up to 10 years to strengthen or demolish these buildings. As potential users of these buildings we have a vested interest in ensuring they are properly assessed and either made safe or demolished as quickly as possible. As in the past there will be tensions between the desire to minimise or defer expenditure and the need for safety. There is a consultation document available here. The consultation period closes on the 8th of March. .