Backlash against council's quake-check list

8:24 am on 21 December 2016

Wellington City Council's order for new earthquake strength inspections on buildings is being criticised as "hyped up" and expensive.

David Jones Lambton Quay Wellington

Among the 80 buildings on the list is the David Jones building on Lambton Quay (pictured), the InterContinental Hotel, government offices and apartment buildings. Photo: RNZ / Emile Donovan

The council released a list of more than 80 buildings whose owners are ordered to carry out further inspections on the structures.

The list was released after an investigation into damage to Statistics House on Wellington's waterfront by the 7.8 earthquake on 14 November.

The partly-completed report into the damage raised concerns over reinforced-concrete frame structures with precast concrete flooring, of a certain size and sited on soft soil or ridgetops, which the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment passed on to the Wellington council.

Independent analyst Ian Harrison of Tailrisk Economics said he could not understand where the new material came from, and he accused the council of hyping the matter up.

Earlier research he had done concluded that New Zealand's earthquake policy would save 0.25 lives a year while a similar sum of money spent on the roads would save 20 to 30 lives a year.

"This could cost a lot of money money for nothing more than a bit of comfort for the people running the council's civil defence function," he said.

Inner City Association of Wellington chair Geraldine Murphy said the council was being unrealistic about the costs facing tenants and owners for earthquake tests.

She said she surveyed one building and found 20 occupants could afford to pay for strengthening costs, but eight did not have the financial means to pay their share.

This raised the risk that strengthening - which could cost millions - would simply not get done, she said, no matter what the government and council wanted.

"I have heard of one building recently, $2.5 million, another $5 million," she said.

"These were heritage buildings, but another one which was not a heritage building could have cost just over $1 million to strengthen.

"For some owners, they just can't get the money because they are retired or have fixed incomes."

The cost of the evaluations themselves was also nothing to be sniffed at.

In announcing the public list of more than 80 buildings which were required to get another examination, council recovery manager Mike Mendonca put the cost at $5000 a building.

The Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand agreed with that figure.

Ms Murphy says the costs of inspections could be higher.

"The figure we have had for the initial seismic assessment is between $1000 and $3000," Ms Murphy said. "But for a detailed assessment, the figure was $6000 to $10,000 and higher, plus GST."

Neil Cooper, who heads the body-corporate chairs group for apartment owners, thought the real cost would be far higher, more like $20,000.

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