Environmental / Resource Management

"...NO ONE WAS KILLED IN CHRISTCHURCH FROM A BUILDING THAT MET THIS LEVEL"

This comment from Building & Housing Minister, Nick Smith, in a speech announcing the Government's revised earthquakestrengthening policy, referring to the 34% code compliance standard for earthquake prone buildings: Minister's speech.

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill, which is due to be reported back to the House on 30 July 2015, caused a flurry of concern from insurers and building owners when it was introduced at the end of 2013. The Bill proposed seismic assessments of all buildings within 5 years, and required work resulting from the assessment to be completed within15 years, with an extension of 10 years available for some heritage buildings – see our commentary on Bill here.

Changes to Policy

The Government has listened to the concerns about the financial impact on building owners, and the failure of the Bill to address the varying levels of earthquake risk in different parts of the country. The Minister has announced a revised earthquake strengthening policy that better targets buildings where location, use and type pose the greatest risk to life.

There are four significant changes to the policy:

  • Varying the timetable for strengthening relative to earthquake risk
  • Prioritising education and emergency buildings for strengthening
  • Reducing the number of buildings requiring assessment
  • Introducing new measures to encourage earlier upgrades

The five year timeframe for identification and assessment, and 15 year timeframe for strengthening is to be varied relative to seismic risk. Low, medium and high seismic risk zones will be established throughout New Zealand, with timeframes for assessment of 5, 10 and 15 years, and strengthening of 15, 25 and 35 years. See the proposed Schedule of revised timetable by location and Map of new risk zones for strengthening. High risk areas, where the 5 year assessment and 15 year strengthening requirements remain, include Wellington, Christchurch and Gisborne. Low risk areas, where 15 year assessment and 35 year strengthening timeframes are proposed, include Auckland and Dunedin.

Education and emergency buildings (includes hospitals) in high and medium seismic risk areas come into a special category requiring that they be identified and strengthened in half the standard time. Altogether, the scope of buildings requiring assessment is to be reduced from an estimated 500,000 to 30,000 by excluding farm buildings, retaining walls, fences, monuments, wharves, bridges, tunnels and storage tanks, and focusing on older buildings like unreinforced masonry that pose the greatest risk.

In addition, to encourage early upgrading, a web based public register will be established listing all earthquake prone buildings, and notices will be required on such buildings highlighting the level of risk. There will also be a new requirement to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings when doing substantial alterations.

Savings expected

The Minister claims:

"This policy will result in an estimated 330 fewer deaths and 350 fewer serious injuries from earthquakes over the next century, the same as the earlier proposals. However, by taking a more targeted approach, the cost is $777 million rather than $1360 million – a saving of over $500 million."

It would seem likely that the new policy will satisfy most of the opponents of the Bill in its original form, but it is sobering to take a look at the map and see just how great a proportion of the country is in the high risk zone. On the positive side, the Minister helpfully points out that we are 100 times more likely to die in a car crash than in an earthquake.

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The contents of this publication are general in nature and are not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice on a specific matter. In the absence of such advice no responsibility is accepted by Brookfields for reliance on any of the information provided in this publication.

 

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