At-risk buildings will need twice the strengthening

11:45 am on 11 September 2010

Christchurch City Council has brought in new policy requiring earthquake-prone buildings to be strengthened twice as much as had been planned.

The policy, adopted at an extraordinary council meeting on Friday, will require all identified historic and quake-prone buildings to be strengthened to 67% of the building code.

Advocating the move, city councillor Sue Wells says that last week the council didn't know a faultline ran through the city and now times have changed.

The policy relates to the 490 heritage buildings in Christchurch specifically identified as being at risk under the Building Act. Owners will have 15 years to implement the new code.

It's estimated that altogether there are 7600 earthquake-prone buildings in Christchurch.

Ms Wells told Checkpoint the policy change only affects buildings that have been damaged by a seismic event.

She said there had been a gap in the policy on damage to earthquake-prone buildings, which the council had in any case planned to remedy at the end of this month. It had originally intended to implement a 33% requirement.

Mayor sees need for urgency

Mayor Bob Parker says the move was urgently needed because people will want to start rebuilding from next week, when the state of emergency is lifted, and he wants to give them clarity.

The council is emphasising that the new policy does not affect domestic homeowners who want to rebuild fallen chimneys and the like.

Insurance Council head Chris Ryan says that where building owners had full cover policies in place, the insurer should meet the cost of rebuilding to the new code.

Some owners may not have full cover, he says, in which case the owner will need to contribute something towards the cost of rebuilding.

Cost factor may be disincentive

Radio New Zealand's reporter at the council meeting says some councillors were concerned that some owners will just demolish their historic buildings rather than rebuild at a higher cost.

The head of the Property Council, Connal Townsend, says he applauds the move but warns that unless monetary incentives are offered, more historic buildings will be lost forever.

Owners may wait until the last minute of the 15 years to implement the code, Mr Townsend says, and then demolish their building.

He says a study by Holmes Consulting Group in 2009 put the cost of the council's new policy at nearly half a billion dollars.

The chief executive of the Historic Places Trust, Bruce Chapman, takes a similar view, saying that the Government and the council will need to step up with monetary incentives to go alongside the new policy.

Demolition of significant buildings feared

A member of Christchurch's urban design panel says architects want to help save buildings that are being demolished in the wake of the earthquake.

The director of Wilkie and Bruce Architects, Alec Bruce, says he has been told that significant Edwardian and Georgian buildings have been knocked down or are partway through demolition.

He says architects could take part in building assessments, as strengthening and restoration work is sometimes successful even where there appears to be structural damage.

Mr Bruce says that in the current economic conditions an intensive redevelopment of the city centre is unlikely.