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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Earthquake-prone buildings

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has published the media release for the policy decision on managing earthquake-prone buildings (here).

Part of the release states:

The new system is designed to strike a better balance between protecting people from harm in an earthquake and managing the costs of strengthening or removing earthquake prone buildings.

When the performance of the MBIE (DBH as it then was) on acceptable floor levels in damaged houses is taken into account (see blog entry here), there is room for concern that this piece of policy is potentially just as dubious. Once again the balance seems to have moved further in favour of protecting business interests by transferring the risks onto people. 

A primary part of the policy is to extend the amount of time available in which to strengthen a building identified as being earthquake-prone.  The policy proposes that Councils have five years from the date of the new legislation in which to identify all earthquake-prone buildings in their territory (2018 or 2019). There will then be a further fifteen years in which earthquake-prone buildings must be strengthened or demolished (2033 or 2034).

A negative aspect of this timeframe will be the situation of buildings that are not economic to strengthen being kept in use, with minimal maintenance, until the last possible moment to maximise the return on the owner’s investment. What sort of oversight will there be to ensure these buildings don’t deteriorate further?

The one redeeming feature is the intention for a publicly accessible register of earthquake-prone buildings to be set up by MBIE.

The Government intends introducing legislation into Parliament later this year. It will be worth scrutinising it to ensure that there will be full and prompt disclosure of all buildings considered to be earthquake prone, along with information about any exemptions or extensions applicable to each building.

The Minister’s media release is here and a full report on the consultation process here.

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