23 Jul 2013

Govt expected to approve new building check

10:06 pm on 23 July 2013

The Government is expected to grant approval for hi-tech methods allowing people to assess a building's earthquake rating before they enter it.

This would work by having a national database of dangerous buildings, publishing it on the internet and allowing people to download it on their phones via an app.

The easy to use dangerous building check is one of several proposals from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which go to Cabinet's powerful Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee on 31 July and to the full Cabinet after that.

However, other proposals are more contentious. One is a suggestion that 15,000 to 25,000 old buildings be brought up to the 33% of the building standard required for modern construction. Another is the 15-year timeframe for that to be done. Both have been criticised for going too far - or not far enough.

Wellington City Councillor Iona Pannett said on Tuesday she hopes the Government will make some brave decisions on strengthening earthquake-prone buildings in the wake of a 6.5-magnitude tremor that hit the capital and Marlborough on Sunday.

The Government is expected to make a decision soon about changing the Building Act to strengthen quake-prone buildings.

Ms Pannett said that the decision by the Cabinet needs to make sure New Zealand is resilient by getting buildings strengthened as soon as possible. She said the Government can't expect building owners to shoulder the cost and should provide some incentives.

"There's a whole suite of options such as tax breaks, grants, loans, some powers to allow local authorities set targeted rates. It will cost, but if you look at the benefit-cost ratio, it absolutely makes sense because, of course, earthquakes are expensive."

Ms Pannett said the idea of councils foregoing rates to allow owners to strengthen buildings has some merit.

The council said on Tuesday there is no evidence to suggest that 600 quake-prone buildings in the capital are any less safe following Sunday's quake.

Building policy and planning manager Richard Toner said the council has carried out visual checks from the street, but not structural checks on buildings. However, he said it is satisfied there is no immediate risk to public safety.

In 2009, 600 buildings in Wellington were deemed earthquake-prone, with owners given up to 20 years to comply with standards. Mr Toner said the status of those buildings appeared to be unchanged and appeared safe, but their owners are responsible for more thorough checks.

Stronger regulations sought

The Institution of Professional Engineers wants stronger regulations for restraining internal components in buildings in the wake of Sunday's earthquake.

IPENZ said inspectors looking at buildings around Wellington have raised concerns about the number of ceiling tiles, pipes and light fittings that fell during the violent tremor.

Chief executive Andrew Cleland wants voluntary standards for securing internal fittings to become mandatory.

Dr Cleland said the reason people are told to get under desks during a quake is not to protect them from the building collapsing, but to avoid internal components falling from the ceiling.