191 earthquake-prone buildings require urgent strengthening-

191 earthquake-prone buildings require urgent strengthening-

Wellington City Council's map of high traffic routes in the city's centre

One-hundred-and-ninety-one priority earthquake prone buildings in Wellington will require strengthening within the next seven-and-a-half years.

Wellington City Council’s city strategy committee today approved a proposal to shorten the time owners had to strengthen their buildings to meet at least one-third of current structural standards. Because of Wellington’s high earthquake risk, priority buildings would require remediation within seven and a half years of the time owners are notified.

This has halved the time originally given to building owners.

Of the 191 priority buildings, 109 in were in high traffic areas and 82 on emergency routes.

The Building Act identified most educational facilities, emergency service centres and hospital emergency departments as priority buildings.

Priority buildings were otherwise identified if, in a moderate earthquake, they either had unreinforced masonry elements which could fall into a high traffic area, or could obstruct transport routes of strategic importance. 

The council consulted with residents in 2018, to establish areas that would most significantly affect public safety. Fifty-three written submissions were received and nine oral presentations were made to the committee.

Many submitters expressed views that government should provide financial support to building owners to meet strengthening requirements.

Several, including the Ministry for Primary Industries Trust, suggested providing guaranteed, low interest loans to building owners for remediation costs. 

Many building owners were concerned they would not be able to remediate their buildings within the reduced time frame.

They also raised concerns about costs involved and the pressure upon Wellington’s inadequately-equipped engineering and construction sectors to complete such a large volume of work within the time.

Eric and Betty Cornick, said the lack of support and resources, such as engineers and builders, made the process of strengthening difficult.

“The financial burden of continuing strengthening work has, and is, going to cause us significant hardship and stress,” they said.

Councillor Iona Pannett said many owners, particularly apartment owners, would be paying unreasonably high costs to bring their buildings up to standard.

“The community gets all the benefit of a safer city, whereas the cost falls on a reasonably small percentage of that community. We can’t have a safe city unless we can actually afford to pay for it,” she said.

Cr Pannett suggested an amendment to vote separately on enforcing priority requirements for buildings in high traffic areas, from those on emergency routes.

She said the “net has been cast too wide,” with the report including areas identified as high traffic, without significant supporting data, that she did not think required as urgent attention as others.

“Some of the streets we’re talking about don’t have any data, and while we might able to make reasonable inferences about how much pedestrian movement there is, we don’t actually know.”

High traffic areas were defined as those that had more than 1000 vehicle movements per day. “It’s not 1000 movements a minute, that’s over a whole day,” said Cr Pannett. “You have to be very, very unlucky to be hit by unreinforced masonry.”

Councillor Brian Dawson disagreed that the identified high traffic areas were not busy enough to pose a threat to public safety.

“We, as council, and central government, need to do a lot more than we have done so far to assist those building owners.” Safety should not come second to cost, he said.

Councillor Chris Calvi-Freeman said that although the last major earthquake to affect Wellington, the Kaikoura earthquake of 2016, happened just after midnight, it could not be assumed that future earthquakes would not happen during business hours.

He asked what would happen if a moderate earthquake occurred during a major event like Cuba Dupa, when many thousands of people would be in the city’s centre.

Mayor Justin Lester said that he did not ever want to be in the position where, after an earthquake, he felt that they could have done more to ensure the safety of the public.

“I want to say we did every little, single thing we could to limit the damage in our city.”

Cr Pannett’s amendment was not approved.

There was strong feedback that reducing public risk from earthquake prone buildings was a public good, therefore government funding would be appropriate.

The council has provided rates remissions and building consent subsidiaries to owners of buildings needing earthquake strengthening.

Additionally, a $500,000 built heritage incentive fund could be applied to for funding.

As part of the 2019/20 draft Annual Plan, council has proposed increased funding of earthquake resilience projects to $1 million per year.

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