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Maurice Williamson

7 December, 2012

Consultation on earthquake-prone buildings begins

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson is encouraging New Zealanders to have their say on proposals to improve the earthquake-prone buildings policy system, released in a consultation document today.

“The destructive earthquakes in Canterbury have highlighted the need to review and improve our system for dealing with earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand,” Mr Williamson says.

“It is estimated there are between 15,000 and 25,000 earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand under the current policy and regulatory settings, which equals around 8-13 per cent of all non-residential and multi-unit, multi-storey residential buildings.

“That’s why it’s so important for people to have their say during this process, as any decisions will affect a large number of New Zealanders and communities across the country.”

The proposals in the consultation document set out a consistent national approach for dealing with earthquake-prone buildings.

In summary, it is proposed that:

  • All non-residential and multi-unit, multi-storey residential buildings be seismically assessed within five years of the changes taking effect, with the information as to whether a building is above or below the earthquake-prone building threshold to be made publicly available on a register.
  • All earthquake-prone buildings be strengthened, or demolished, within 15 years of the changes taking effect (up to five years for local authorities to complete seismic capacity assessments, followed by 10 years for owners to strengthen or demolish buildings), compared to an estimated 28 years (on average) under the current system.

It is proposed the current national earthquake-prone building threshold (one-third of the requirement for new buildings, often referred to as 33 per cent new building standard, or NBS) will not be changed.

“We must ensure the earthquake-prone buildings policy system strikes an acceptable balance between protecting people from serious harm, and managing the significant economic implications of strengthening or removing the most vulnerable buildings.”

Mr Williamson says the consultation document released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment today contains proposals that result from a year-long review of the earthquake-prone building policy system by officials and a team of experts. It also responds to recommendations made in Volume 4 of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission report, which was also released today.

“The consultation document looks carefully at all aspects of the earthquake-prone buildings system, including the risks, costs and benefits associated with alternative strengthening options and timeframes.

“The proposals in the consultation document are broadly in line with the recommendations in Volume 4 of the Royal Commission’s report, which looked specifically at issues around earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand. However, the Royal Commission does go further than the MBIE proposals in some areas.

“The consultation document asks for feedback on proposals in nine key areas, and asks for responses to 33 questions through an online submission process.

“This consultation exercise will inform the Government’s response to the full report of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, which is expected to be delivered in early- to mid-2013,” Mr Williamson says.

The consultation process will run until 5pm Friday 8 March 2013. A series of regional public information meetings and stakeholder meetings will be held across New Zealand during February.

To view the consultation document and make a submission visit: www.dbh.govt.nz/consultingon-epbp.

To view Volume 4 of the Royal Commission’s final report visit: http://canterbury.royalcommission.govt.nz/Final-Report---Part-Two

Questions & Answers

Q. What does Volume 4 of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission report cover?

Volume 4 deals with how earthquake-prone buildings are identified and managed. It is estimated there are between 15,000 to 25,000 buildings across New Zealand that could currently be classified as earthquake-prone.

Volume 4 contains 36 recommendations relating to earthquake-prone buildings, which address practice, legislative change and earthquake-prone building policies.

Q. Why are you releasing a consultation document at the same time as releasing Volume 4 of the Royal Commission’s report?

The consultation exercise is part of the response to some of the key recommendations in Volume 4 of the Royal Commission’s report.

It will help the Government to develop its full and comprehensive response to the Royal Commission’s full report (Volumes 1-7), which it expects to be able to issue early- to mid-next year (2013).

Q. Will the Government accept all the recommendations in Volume 4 of the Royal Commission’s report?

The Government has welcomed Volume 4 of the Royal Commission’s report but we are still considering its recommendations.

The recommendations in Volume 4 have potentially wide-ranging implications for the entire country, not just Canterbury. That’s why we’ve released a consultation document to get the views of New Zealanders on proposed changes to improve the earthquake-prone buildings policy system.

It’s about finding an acceptable balance between protecting people from serious harm and managing the huge economic costs of strengthening or removing the most vulnerable buildings.

The Government has already accepted all the findings and the 70 recommendations in the first part of the Royal Commission’s report (Volumes 1-3), which were publicly released on 23 August 2012. Some of these recommendations have already been implemented while others are being worked on, or are planned for in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Building System Performance Branch’s three-year work programme.

Q. What law changes is the Royal Commission recommending in Volume 4 of its report?

The Royal Commission recommends making changes to three Acts of Parliament – the Building Act, the Earthquake Commission Act and the Resource Management Act.

The Royal Commission makes several recommendations to amend the Building Act 2004 to:

  • Ensure that local authorities identify and assess unreinforced masonry buildings within two years of that change and within five years for other earthquake-prone buildings.
  • Clarify that parts of a building as well as the whole building are covered.
  • Require all unreinforced masonry buildings to be strengthened to specified standards within seven years of the enactment of the new law and 15 years for other earthquake-prone buildings.
  • Include all residential buildings to allow hazardous features such as unreinforced masonry chimneys to be addressed by local authorities.
  • Clarify the dangerous buildings provision of the Act to allow, for instance, immediate repair after an earthquake.
  • Enable building consents to be granted for remediation of earthquake-prone features of a building without requiring upgrades to accommodate disability access.
  • Give local authorities the option of requiring strengthening to be done faster and/or to higher levels than those set by central government, after consulting with communities.

It also makes recommendations relating to other Acts of Parliaments as follows:

  • Amend the Earthquake Commission Act to support information sharing
  • Where a building is in a state where demolition or remediation is necessary to protect life, consent shouldn’t be needed under either the Resource Management Act or the Historic Places Act.

Q. How long will it take to implement the proposals?

Submissions on the consultation document on the earthquake-prone buildings policy system can be made up until Friday 8 March 2013.

After the consultation period finishes, MBIE will analyse feedback and submissions and report to the Government for it to make decisions. If adopted, the proposals will require legislative change, which can be a lengthy process.

It will take some time to implement the proposals - probably years rather than months. There will be a lot of detail to work through on establishing a register and nationwide procedures for assessing buildings, with associated training and education

Q. Why don’t all local authorities already know which buildings are earthquake-prone or not?

Local and regional councils are not currently required to make building assessments or collect data on earthquake-prone buildings in their districts, although they can choose to do so.

They are only required to develop policies on how they will identify and deal with earthquake-prone buildings in their areas, in consultation with their communities. These policies must be reviewed every five years, and any amended policy must be provided to MBIE.

Some of the 66 local and regional councils across the country, for example Wellington City Council, have made a proactive effort to identify which buildings in its districts are earthquake-prone but many have not. Wellington City Council also issues a list of earthquake-prone buildings in its jurisdiction.

One of the Royal Commission’s 36 recommendations in Volume 4 of its report is that the Building Act 2004 is changed so that all local and regional councils have assessed all unreinforced masonry buildings within two years of the Act being amended and within five years of other types of earthquake-prone buildings.

The MBIE consultation document proposes that all earthquake-prone buildings be seismically assessed within five years.

Q. Why will it take five years to assess all buildings in New Zealand to see if they are earthquake-prone?

There are around 193,000 non-residential or multi-unit, multi-storey residential buildings in New Zealand so it would be logistically difficult to assess them all any sooner than that.