Wellington Response to Quake Announcement

7 August 2013

Wellington City Council welcomes today’s Government announcement on earthquake-strengthening issues.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the recommendations from Minister Maurice Williamson shows the Government has listened to Wellington City’s concerns, expressed in the submission to MBIE in response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Canterbury earthquakes.

“Financial assistance to the owners of buildings that need strengthening is critical,” says the Mayor. “We’re working with the Government on a suite of financial assistance options, for example a revolving fund to be paid back through targeted rates.

“We will also have a conversation with the public on the desirability of greater speed and level of strengthening buildings along strategic routes such as the main routes to the hospital.”

The Mayor says: “The City Council is well advanced in our assessment of earthquake-prone buildings. The Council has completed assessments of 85 per cent of around 4500 pre-1976 buildings. Of those, 611 are identified as quake-prone. In 2011 and 2012 we have increased funding for this essential work.

“It makes sense that we prioritise pre-1976 buildings because the building standards were less rigorous,” says the Mayor.

Councillor Iona Pannett, who holds the Council’s Built Environment Portfolio, says it’s good that all buildings – including those designed and built since 1976 - are to be assessed. However she is concerned about the capacity of the nation’s engineering profession to deal with all the work that will inevitably come.

“We are also pleased to see that there will be mandatory standards to enforce strengthening within 15 years but are concerned again about the ability of owners to pay for the work.” 

Cr Pannett says the National Database has merit “and we need to be assured that there are resources to maintain it to a high standard. Building owner interests must be protected as well as giving the public accurate information.” 

She says it is good that some buildings will be prioritised for strengthening – such as those on critical transport routes. “This is just common sense.”

“We also think it is positive that people will be able to apply for exemptions for low-risk buildings and that owners of Category 1 heritage buildings will be able to get extensions of a further 10 years,” said Cr Pannett. “However I believe Category II buildings and non-listed buildings are also important and need to be considered.” 

“We are looking forward to discussions with the Government on possible financial assistance for owners. We have some good ideas.

“There are a number of initiatives like tax breaks, grants, low-cost loans and targeted rates that could all assist owners. We need to look at these,” said Cr Pannett. 

“Another critical issue is insurance - which is crippling owners. The Government needs to address this issue by engaging with the insurance industry, looking at the role of EQC and whether there is a role for the state in the insurance market. 

“We also need a system to grade buildings as recommended by the Royal Commission.  The existing system is complex and not easily understood by the general public.” 

“We would also like clarification as to whether councils in high-risk areas like Wellington should have the ability to require owners to strengthen above 34% of the current code.”