Managing the District's Earthquake-Prone Buildings

(Posted on: December 5)

Since the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011, and more recently the Kaikoura earthquake, we have become acutely aware of our built environment’s safety.

To ensure that our buildings are safe for everyone and managed consistently, a national system for managing earthquake-prone buildings that focuses on the most vulnerable buildings and people's safety came into effect on 1 July 2017. This was created by the passing of the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 which covers commercial, community or industrial buildings.

New Zealand has been categorised into three seismic risk areas (high, medium and low) with specific time frames to identify and take action to strengthen or remove earthquake-prone buildings.

The Manawatū District has been identified as a high risk area, which affects owners of buildings identified as earthquake-prone, their tenants and anyone in the vicinity of the buildings.  

Within the Manawatū District, Feilding’s town centre will be impacted the most due to the number of unreinforced masonry buildings.

Being a high risk area, Manawatū has a short time frame in which to inspect and evaluate the buildings.  This must be done by Council and the building owners by December 2019 for priority buildings or parts of buildings and by June 2022 for all other buildings.

The actual time frames depend on the building importance which also dictates how long the owner has to carry out remedial work which is 7.5 years for priority buildings and 15 years for others. The building owner must either strengthen the building (or part of building) or demolish it within the timeframe.

Chief Executive Dr Richard Templer says New Zealand is prone to seismic activity and ensuring the safety of people is paramount.

“Buildings need to be safe for occupants and users.  Council’s role is to ensure the Act is implemented.  We are also very conscious that this is a complex process and affects everyone in the community,” he says.

“My advice to building owners is that it is important not to wait until the last moment, strengthening a building is a significant decision that will need time to be considered properly and to get an action plan created.”

Manawatū District Council will be administering the process of identifying earthquake-prone buildings. Council will not be inspecting each building, this is a specialist role for suitably qualified engineers.

Once a building has been inspected, and if it is found to be earthquake-prone, the owners have to make a choice about its future and look at the options for strengthening or demolishing.

“We encourage building owners to get their building assessed by a structural engineer as soon as possible if it has been identified as potentially earthquake-prone.  They will then know the strength of their building and will have time to consider their options.”

As part of ensuring the building owners are well informed the Council has created an Earthquake Prone Building Working Group that has been bringing in experts to talk to the owners and explain the potential options for strengthening and potential financial assistance.

The two options available to owners is to either strengthen or demolish the building.  The actual choice will vary for each building and depend on what is needed and the costs.

Mayor Helen Worboys says this is likely to have an impact on what the Feilding business district will look like in the future.

“The more immediate effects will be those on businesses as the buildings undergo strengthening.  Some may relocate to another premises or temporarily relocate,” she says.

“Looking further ahead, the look and feel of our town may change with new and improved buildings that are better suited to businesses and the needs of the community.  This is an exciting period for our town, it will involve a lot of discussion between the community, building owners, and the council.”

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