EQ Royal Commission: Owners given 15 years

by Rebecca Macfie / 07 December, 2012
The Government proposes giving the owners of earthquake-prone buildings 15 years to strengthen or demolish.
Christchurch - Basilica
photo Dean Purcell/NZH

The Government has shied away from the tough recommendations of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, which would have required local authorities to assess all unreinforced masonry buildings in their districts within two years, with owners forced to strengthen them within seven years.

Instead, a consultation document released simultaneously with Volume Four of the commission’s report proposes a softer time-line. Put together by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MOBIE), it recommends:

  • Local authorities would have five years to undertake seismic capacity assessment of buildings, with the resultant rating provided to the building owner.

  •  Building owners would then have 10 years to strengthen or demolish any buildings that fall below 33% of the strength required for new buildings.

If these recommendations are adopted, that would provide for a total of 15 years before earthquake prone buildings would be required to be brought up to a third of current code.

The MOBIE document says the risk of death from an earthquake is very low in New Zealand – about one in a million annually, compared with a one in 10,000 risk of dying in a car accident.

“The system must strike a balance between protecting lives, and the economic costs of strengthening or demolishing the most vulnerable buildings.”

The potential cost of an aggressive policy towards earthquake-prone buildings clearly weighed heavily on officials considering the best way forward in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, in which 42 people died as a result of the failure of unreinforced masonry buildings. Around 15,000 – 25,000 earthquake-prone buildings exist in New Zealand – about 8-13% of all non-residential and multi-unit, multi-storey residential buildings.

The Royal Commission’s recommendations would have “significant economic implications for those building owners,” says Maurice Williamson, minister for building and construction. A “workable balance” must be struck, while being “realistic about what is practical and affordable.”

MOBIE recommends that a quicker timeframe could be required for certain buildings, such as those on critical transport routes, while other buildings that have low use – such as rural churches – would be exempted from the rules or given longer to be strengthened.

Assessments of buildings would be entered onto a publicly accessible register maintained by MOBIE.

More to come.

Volume 4 of the Royal Commission report:

Consultation document from MOBIE: Building Seismic Performance:

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