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Council wants to engage on Earthquake Prone Buildings
Wednesday 9 May 2012, 7:49PM
By Palmerston North City Council


The release today of a list of 109 earthquake-prone buildings by the Palmerston North City Council is required to uphold public safety, says Mayor Jono Naylor.

The list comprises mostly Unreinforced Masonry Buildings in the city centre assessed by a consulting structural engineer. All the buildings are below 33 per cent of what is required for new buildings. The Building Act 2004 defines buildings below 33% of code as earthquake-prone and having greater risk of collapse in a moderate earthquake.

Mr Naylor says Council has had policies to identify earthquake-prone buildings for some years. An earlier list was made public nearly 15 years ago.

"We have attempted to work with building owners all along in a level-headed manner. Council met with building owners and tenants yesterday to outline how our current Policy requires us to do what we have done."

Mr Naylor says the release of the list is likely to trigger a lot of questions and Council may not be able to answer them all.

"We are required to act under our current Policy - however it is up for review. The national direction coming out of the reviews of the Canterbury earthquakes is not yet clear. It's a dynamic environment and important that everyone is aware of the issues.

"There are big challenges ahead and we are all in this together. We love our heritage in Palmerston North but Council can only do so much. We've funded more than 20 buildings on the list to address the need for strengthening under our Natural and Cultural Heritage Incentive Fund."

These include All Saints Church, Café Cuba and the old RSA building, the Nash building on George St and the Grand Hotel. Ratepayers have also met the cost of 135 building assessments undertaken so far, which saw 109 identified as earthquake-prone.

Council wrote to owners last year providing them with a copy of their building's assessment, says Mr Naylor.

"They were given six months to accept the assessment and provide a strengthening programme or come up with their own engineer's assessment of a building's structural integrity."

Mr Naylor says most owners are yet to respond formally, though many owners and tenants attended a briefing with PNCC staff on Monday night.

"We acknowledge that major costs in strengthening older buildings will have to be balanced with economic realities. The Christchurch quakes are a wake-up call and now the public can make informed choices for themselves."

Mr Naylor says there is considerable discussion and review underway nationally on how earthquake-strengthening can be improved and funded. Council is talking to Government and other councils about how this can best be provided.

"We want to work for and with the building owners, the business community and our citizens and define how we can best improve public safety."

People also need to be aware that the Royal Commission has already released interim findings, and there is nothing stopping owners making some improvements relatively quickly with no major cost, such as removing chimneys and reinforcing unsound parapets. Mr Naylor said such work could be done while strengthening programmes were being developed.

"In line with existing Government guidelines, we currently require a 15-30 year timeframe for strengthening buildings below 33% of new building code towards a minimum of 67% of code."

He said the 109 buildings now confirmed by Council as earthquake-prone were among 135 which a desk-top assessment suggested were most at risk. Assessments are now being carried out on all other buildings in Palmerston North that were built before 1976. Some potentially may also be earthquake prone (below 33% of code). Others will be between 33% and 67%. The Council has a 5-year programme to assess buildings.

"As Council, we are straddling two of our community objectives - people deserve to feel safe and fostering business and jobs.

"While there are real issues presented for some businesses, Palmerston North is in an active seismic zone and Council must act on behalf of our people and our City.

"One of the lessons from Christchurch was that businesses housed in perfectly sound premises can be impacted for months by weak buildings which collapse around them in a major earthquake."

Mr Naylor says while Council is clear on the need to have identified those buildings seen as likely to present the most risk, the community's input is vital to what happens next. Council will soon consider whether to review its Earthquake-Prone Policy or await any national policy changes.

"We genuinely want to listen to what building owners, heritage advocates, the business sector and community representatives have to say. The best way forward will come through working together."

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