The Government is finally backing down on its “one size fits all” stringent requirements for earthquake prone buildings.

Housing and Building Minister Nick Smith announced yesterday that “The timeframe for identification and assessment of five years and strengthening of 15 years is to be varied relative to seismic risk.

The four significant changes to the policy are:

Varying the timetable for strengthening relative to earthquake risk

Prioritising education and emergency buildings for strengthening

Reducing the number of buildings requiring assessment; and

Introducing new measures to encourage earlier upgrades.

New Zealand is to be categorised into low, medium and high seismic risk zones with timeframes for assessment of five, 10 and 15 years and strengthening of 15, 25 and 35

Previously all buildings were to be assessed in five years and remedied within another 15.

That applies now only to Wellington, Christchurch, the West Coast, Napier/Hastings, Palmerton North, Gisborne and Blenheim.

Auckland will now be a low risk area which effectively means it has 50 years to deal with earthquake prone buildings.

It has been estimated that the city has   more than an estimated 4000 earthquake prone buildings that would have to be properly assessed by Auckland Council and strengthened to 34% of the national building standard and under the previous policy that would have to be done within the next 15 to 20 years.  

Across the country the scope of buildings requiring assessment is to be reduced from an estimated 500,000 to 30,000.

The new methodology for identifying earthquake-prone buildings will ensure the focus is on older buildings like unreinforced masonry that pose the greatest risk. 

“Building owners are to be encouraged to upgrade their buildings ahead of the allowable timeframe by establishing a web based public register and requiring notices on such buildings highlighting the level of risk

“There will also be a new requirement to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings when doing substantial alterations.”

 Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule welcomed the change.

“However, the financial challenge of upgrading heritage buildings continues to be a challenging issue which requires further consideration and we are looking  to working with Government to refine the detail around these policies,” he said.

The change acknowledges advice that was given to the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment two eats when British risk expert Tony Taig said that since European colonisation began probably something like forty thousand people have died on the roads in New Zealand and four or five hundred have died in earthquakes.

“So, averaged over the whole population over a long time, far, far more of us in New Zealand are going to die on the roads than we do from earthquakes,” he said.