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Prone holds: A snapshot of the current state of the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill - Fri, 29 January 2016

Prone holds: A snapshot of the current state of the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill

Introduction

Not many New Zealanders or people who have connections with New Zealand will forget where they were on the 22nd of February 2011, the day that Christchurch was rocked by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake that claimed the lives of 185 people. One consequence of this tragic event, is that it forced the government to update its earthquake-prone buildings policies. This legislation has far reaching implications for the construction industry and the public alike. It is important to know your rights and obligations under the proposed framework so that changes can be implemented to manage the pending requirements.

 

The Building (Earthquake-prone Building) Amendment Bill legislative history

In 2012, the government introduced legislation into Parliament to change the system for managing earthquake-prone buildings. The changes follow recommendations by the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission and a comprehensive review (including consultation) by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). In the Government’s press release it cited a number of definitive factors, but the central point of the proposed legislation was to improve the current system that was failing to achieve an acceptable level of risk in terms of protecting people from serious harm in moderate earthquakes. The Bill passed its first reading in Parliament on the 5th March 2014 and was referred to Parliament’s Local Government and Environment Committee (the “Committee”) who released its detailed final report on the 2nd of September 2015. The Bill is currently awaiting its second reading in Parliament.

 

The Bills current form

Importantly, in May 2015, the government announced that it had revised its policy on earthquake-prone buildings in favour of a more targeted approach that focuses on the buildings that pose the greatest risk to life. It ensures the response is proportionate to the risk, that the costs are minimised and that we retain as much of our built heritage as possible. As was expected, the Committee has also recommended a number of amendments to the Bill. These two occurrences have altered the nature of the Bill and have prepared the Bill for its second reading.

 

Key changes

The key changes include:

  • Varying the timeframes for identifying and strengthening earthquake-prone buildings according to the seismic risk around New Zealand (with timeframes for identifying potentially earthquake-prone buildings of five, 10 and 15 years, and timeframes for strengthening earthquake-prone buildings of 15, 25 and 35 years – timeframes depend on the seismic risk of the area).
  • Reducing the scope of buildings covered by the system – excluding farm buildings, retaining walls, fences, monuments that cannot be entered (e.g. statues), wharves, bridges, tunnels and storage tanks.
  • Prioritising education buildings, emergency service facilities, hospital buildings and corridor buildings by requiring that in high and medium seismic risk areas they be identified and strengthened in half the standard time.
  • Introducing new measures to encourage earlier upgrades through a new requirement to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings when substantial alterations are undertaken.
  • A more focused Earthquake-prone Buildings Register and enhanced public notices on earthquake-prone buildings that give information about the earthquake rating of the building.

 

Definition of ‘earthquake-prone building’

The amended Bill changes the definition of ‘earthquake-prone building’ by:

  • Clarifying that an earthquake-prone building can be one that poses a risk to people on adjoining properties and not just those within the building itself.
  • Excluding from the definition of ‘earthquake-prone building’ certain residential housing, farm buildings, retaining walls, wharves, bridges, tunnels and monuments.
  • Including in the definition of ‘earthquake-prone building’ hostels, boarding houses and residential housing that is more than two storeys and contains three or more household units.

The definition of earthquake-prone building still refers to a building that would have its ‘ultimate capacity’ exceeded in a moderate earthquake.

 

Seismic risk

The amended Bill introduces the concept of different geographical areas having a different ‘seismic risk’, with three possible risk levels:

  • High seismic risk; and
  • Medium seismic risk; and
  • Low seismic risk.

This is relevant to the timeframes for identifying and strengthening potentially earthquake-prone buildings

 

Conclusions

These recommendations and policy changes are a product of a slight change in focus of Government and Local Government (as represented through the Committee). What is clear is that the Government is very serious about the legislation and the major benefits it will have on the safety and welfare of New Zealand. However, it does mean increased responsibilities for New Zealand property owners and the construction industry. Firstly, it is important that you identify whether the relevant building is within the definition of ‘earthquake prone buildings’ and what geographical area relates to the same. If you have any questions contact GTODD LAW.


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