15 Jul 2019

Quake prone building changes just 'tinkering on the sides' - National

10:59 am on 15 July 2019

The government is moving to take pressure off owners with earthquake-prone buildings in small towns, but others argue more needs to be done to ease the burden.

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Feilding has got about 90 buildings which have to be either demolished or strengthened within the next seven and a half years, and the Feilding Hotel is one that has an uncertain future. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Under the current system, strengthening work needs to occur if alterations to a building needing a consent add up to at least 25 percent of the building's value, meaning low-value buildings are more likely to be affected.

Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa said small towns were disproportionately affected by the regulations.

"One of the mayors actually put it this way, that the way the legislation affects provincial and small towns is that the legislation will convert some of these small towns into ghost towns," she said.

Ms Salesa said that's why the government is going to change the definition of what's classed as substantial alterations.

"It will be substantial if it needs a building consent together with other consented work over the last couple of years, to the value of 25 percent value of the building, but only if the value of the building work is greater than $150,000," she said.

Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa.

Jenny Salesa said the government is listening to what local councils and building owners are saying. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritson

Manawatū district mayor Helen Worboys said that change was good but it didn't reduce the overall costs of strengthening a building.

"One rule doesn't fit all. It might work in the cities where the return on investment is so much higher, but to expect building owners in a very short timeframe to do this work ... they just need a bit more time, a bit more incentivising to help them do that."

Manawatū district deputy mayor Michael Ford welcomed the move but said because Feilding was deemed a high risk earthquake zone, it was still worse off than other areas.

"We've got 90 buildings approximately that have to be either demolished or strengthened within seven and a half years, so for a small town of 16,000, that's a colossal challenge," he said.

He said the council is working with business owners to get assistance through Heritage EQUIP and Engineering New Zealand.

The owners of the Carthew's building in Feilding are among those looking to get assistance through Heritage EQUIP.

Co-owner Gary Smith was undecided if the new changes will help him.

"It could be helpful, we've got half of our premise that's going to be sublet and we may need to do some reconfiguration of that and obviously that would trigger having to do earthquake strengthening faster.

"I don't think it would affect us, but it could be a plus for us," he said.

Mr Smith said he was still going to be hard pressed to complete strengthening work within the seven and a half year deadline.

"We just do not have the building people etc [in Feilding] to do that, let alone the engineers, so I think the government is going to have no choice but to look at other ways of doing that," he said.

National Party building and construction spokesperson Andrew Bayly said the owners will still have to strengthen their buildings eventually.

"How do people go about strengthening their building when the rental returns don't justify the costs incurred to strengthen?

"That's what the disappointing thing is with this announcement, the tinkering on the sides," he said.

Mr Bayly wants to see more initiatives to help small town building owners.

But the minister, Jenny Salesa, said the government was listening to what local councils and owners are saying.

She said the latest regulatory changes will be in place by the end of the year.

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