24 Jun 2015

MPs rethink quake-strengthening laws

7:10 am on 24 June 2015

MPs are looking again at legislation on quake-strengthening buildings in light of proposed changes to deadlines for completing the work.

A crack in Woodham Road caused by the Christchurch Earthquake

Photo: 123RF

The Earthquake-prone Buildings Amendment Bill aims to balance the protection of citizens with the cost of demolishing buildings or earthquake strengthening them.

Instead of a 20-year deadline to get buildings up to standard, as originally proposed, some building owners would have more time, and some less.

The Local Government and Environment Select Committee is asking previous submitters for feedback, as it said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's proposed changes would significantly alter the original bill.

Suggested changes include dividing the country into three seismic risk areas - low, medium and high - rather than the one-size-fits-all-approach of the original bill.

Buildings in high risk areas will need to be strengthened within 15 years, but in areas of low risk building owners will have up to 35 years to get the work done.

However committee chair Scott Simpson said some types of buildings, such as hospitals and schools, would be treated as priority buildings.

"The proposal is to tailor the risk more effectively and also therefore tailor the time-frame responses that landlords and property owners will have in order to put the buildings right."

Eugenie Sage.

Eugenie Sage. Photo: GREEN PARTY

One of the committee members, Green Party MP Eugenie Sage, said the proposed changes failed to address some of her concerns.

"Concerns around the failure to take up requests from a number of submitters, including GNS, that there be shorter time-frames for fixing things like verandahs, parapets, chimneys in unreinforced, masonry buildings.

"Those have killed people in the Christchurch earthquakes. They are the low-hanging fruit."

The bill should also be making funding available to get the work done, she said.

"The Government is putting a big load on local authorities but providing no funding to assist them with ensuring that earthquake-prone buildings are identified and then remediated," she said.

The bill needed incentive schemes to assist the owners of heritage buildings.

However, she said putting the bill out for further comment would make it a better law.

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove.

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove. Photo: Supplied

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove, the party's spokesperson on earthquake matters, said he would reserve judgement on the changes until he heard from submitters.

"I think some submitters will be very happy and some of their issues will be resolved....others [it] will raise new issues for them. I'd have to say it's been a pretty good process that has been agreed cross-party because we've got to get it right."

Mr Simpson said the changes would reduce the scope of the bill such as excluding farm buildings, tunnels and bridges.

"There was quite a bit of concern from submitters that some buildings didn't need to be actually further strengthened.

"Now, one would assume for instance that a tunnel... actually already has a relatively high level of seismic strength."

The deadline for submissions from previous submitters is mid-July.