Quake strengthening a big issue
Central Hawke’s Bay mayor Alex Walker says she supports moves to have new legislation governing earthquakeprone buildings changed, to make the costs of meeting the requirements “more feasible” for districts like CHB.
Ms Walker said new timeframes to fix earthquake-prone buildings under the Building (Earthquakeprone) Buildings Amendment Act 2016, had the potential to be a “big issue” for rural towns like Waipukurau and Waipawa, which both contain masonry buildings located along the their main retail strips.
“Yes earthquake strengthening is something causing issues for small communities all around New Zealand, particularly rural ones.
“My perspective is that it is my job and my council’s job to represent the best interests of this community in how we enact this legislation.
“We’ve already been involved, for instance, in a remit that has come through Local Government New Zealand, seeking some minor changes that will make meeting that legislation more feasible for our local communities,” she said.
Under the new legislation, which came into effect last July, buildings will continue to be deemed as earthquake prone if they meet less than 34 per cent of the New Building Standard (NBS).
Because CHB is a high risk seismic area, as is the rest of Hawke’s Bay, the district council has until July 2022 to identify all potentially earthquake prone buildings in the district under the legislation.
Owners will be required to provide an engineering assessment within 12 months of their building being identified by council as potentially earthquakeprone, though council will have limited discretion to extend the timeframe for up to a further 12 months.
Owners in high risk areas have 15 years to strengthen their buildings, unless they are owners of reinforced masonry buildings located on “priority routes”, who will have a shorter seven-anda-half year timeframe to make their buildings safe.
As defined by the MBIE, priority routes are busy roads or footpaths where falling masonry from buildings damaged in an earthquake would pose a high risk to life and safety.
Also included in the legislation is a “trigger” clause that says when an owner carries out substantial alterations worth at least 25 per cent of a building’s capital value, they must also carry out seismic strengthening works at the same time if it is earthquake prone.
The remit from LGNZ has requested the clause to be changed to say “25 per cent of the capital value or $200,000 whichever is the greater” to make for a “more equitable provision” for regional centres.
The remit was passed “overwhelmingly” at LGNZ’s annual conference this month, with 95 per cent of territorial authorities supporting it.
Mayor Walker said for a building with a small capital value in a rural town, the legislation would trigger the earthquake strengthening requirements “very quickly”.
She said the issue of earthquake prone buildings was a major reason why her district council had set aside funds to develop Town Centre Plans in its long term plan, which will develop “a longer term sustainable approach for the future” of CHB’s main centres.
One person with recent experience of successfully bringing an earthquake prone building up to the minimum 34 per cent rating of the NBS is Alan Sutherland.
Closed since Easter of 2014 after it was rated at just 13 per cent of the NBS, St Mary’s Anglican Church in Waipukurau is due to reopen on St Mary’s Day on August 15 after local parishioners successfully raised more than $200,000.
Sutherland, the spokesman for the local subcommittee tasked with strengthening St Mary’s, described his experience of the seismic strengthening process as “costly, time consuming and — at times — frustrating”.
Sutherland said the process started with $10,000 for an initial seismic assessment of the 1929-built church, which withstood the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake.
“What we got back was a report which basically said the church was made of red brick and it was a risk in an earthquake. We didn’t get much value from it,” he said.
A detailed seismic assessment (DSA) was then carried out at a cost $25,000, with plans for the strengthening work, based on the findings of the DSA, costing a further $25,000.
“Along with consent costs and engineers’ fees, I estimate we spent around $75,000 before even getting a worker on site,” he said.
While St Mary’s has only been strengthened to the minimum 34 per cent rating, Hastings registered valuer Paul Harvey said most commercial building owners would have to strengthen their buildings up to at least 67 per cent of the NBS if they wanted to attract or keep tenants.
“It is at this point or higher that we do not see any resistance from tenants to occupy, purchasers to buy and banks to lend. Anything less than this and this may well impact on decisions by any or all of these stakeholders.”
Unstrengthened buildings would be potentially “unsaleable” unless they were offered at significantly reduced prices to allow a new owner to strengthen it, he said, while financiers might not be interested in any new lending on such a property. In smaller provincial towns where a number of the main street commercial premises are owner occupied, Harvey said some owners had been able to make the decision to accept the seismic risk and stay in occupation. “However director’s obligation under the new health and safety legislation creates an interesting scenario, and liability to staff, should there be an event in the future and someone is injured in a building that was known to be earthquake prone.”
Mayor Alex Walker says new timeframes to fix earthquake-prone buildings have the potential to be a “big issue” for rural towns like Waipukurau and Waipawa.