Safe buildings a goal in sight

The Government must ensure that the lessons learnt in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes are fed into its policy development for making all buildings safe, say Labour MPs Lianne Dalziel and Raymond Huo.

“All New Zealanders deserve assurances that their homes, workplaces and businesses are structurally sound,” Earthquake Recovery spokesperson Lianne Dalziel said.

Labour is welcoming the release of the Royal Commission’s fourth volume of its wide-ranging report into the earthquakes today as progress towards that goal.

“The Commission’s report outlines 36 recommendations, which raise a number of serious issues about New Zealand’s earthquake-prone building system.

“The Government has released a consultation document in response to the report, which unfortunately does not address all of the recommendations. In fact, it looks set to reinforce some of the confusion and misunderstanding that exists among building owners, tenants and territorial authorities as to the risks buildings pose in the event of an earthquake, what an assessment of building strength means, the likelihood of an earthquake, and the legal obligations under the Building Act for earthquake-prone buildings.

“We can understand confusion and misunderstanding on the part of building owners and tenants, but it is simply unacceptable that territorial authorities are included in this category.

“We owe it to those who lost their lives In the Canterbury earthquakes to get this right,” Lianne Dalziel said.

“Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson should be calling together the territorial authorities, the NZ Society for Earthquake Engineers and other experts to workshop the Commission’s recommendations, before putting out a consultation document,” says Labour MP Raymond Huo.

“It its current form the document will mean little to the general public. Effective consultation and real engagement with building owners, city councils, businesses and all New Zealanders is vital.

“While consultation should focus on the number one priority - ensuring buildings are secure and that people are safe -  it is also important to think about buildings being able to continue to be used after an earthquake.

“There are buildings being demolished in Christchurch that could have been repaired, but the economics meant it was more cost-effective to demolish and cash settle the insurance claim. That is not a sustainable future,” Raymond Huo says.

Lianne Dalziel said it was also vital that we have a good, clear understanding of risk.

“Given that many of the earthquake prone buildings are our heritage buildings, we must as a country be prepared to have an open and honest conversation about where the costs of strengthening them lie. 

“I would like to think that the consultation document provides an opportunity for a shared learning exercise, which will not only strengthen our buildings, but also our understanding of the risks we face and how we can be better prepared in future, ” Lianne Dalziel said.