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Earthquake Fallout

It was inevitable that the tightening of standards resulting from the Christchurch earthquakes would eventually filter down to every small town, with almost predictable consequences for those with buildings 'of a certain age.' But I guess that most of us here have been quietly lulled intro thinking that the mainly wooden fabric of old buildings here would protect us from the worst scenario. 

No such luck - the consequences appear just as dire here as everywhere else, and this is made clear today's TCDC press release that outlines the consequences of the application of the standards here:

  • The total possible number of affected buildings would be in the vicinity of 1400
  • This includes a total of 943 commercial buildings that would need to be assessed.
  • It is estimated that we would have in our district approximately 150 multi-level dwellings particularly around the area of Pauanui, Tairua and other coastal areas with steep sites
  • In addition to this are an estimated 300 farm or implement buildings that would now require assessment

I have been following the anguish in my old home-town of Oamaru which has the largest collection of Victorian and Edwardian multi-story un-reinforced masonry (Oamaru Stone) buildings outside of main cities. They are in for a whack of heart-stopping proportions unless something is done to rationalise the requirements. My old school - Waitaki, will almost certainly require demolishing along with its magnificent Hall of Memories. In fact, I have been waiting to hear that this particular building may be condemned outright due to its use for school assemblies. What a bloody shame. 

There has to be some thought given to just how small towns will survive the raft of new regulation - I think everyone has to underand just how 'gun-shy' the bureaucrats are - particularly since the 'leaky building' debacle was unleashed on us, more or less by government regulation-busting decree. 

Pressure will need to be brought to bear at every level of Government - both the legislature and the executive, in order to bring about clarity and vision unencumbered with fear of the consequences of a completely unlikely similar event elsewhere in the country. The underlying situation in Christchurch was, and is unique, The fault lines through the South Island and North East to the Kermadecs are now well known, and those likely to be affected well established.

Surely to God we have the wit to be able to take these circumstances into consideration when determining an assessment priority, and secondly, to provide a universal waiver for wooden structures. We know that it is the un-reinforced masonry that does the damage - why cannot that be recognised?

The impacts to districts like ourselves considering that we are in the lowest risk category over such a short time frame cannot be underestimated.These are the impacts if we proceed in the manner proposed:

  • The Coromandel could easily lose a considerable number of our Historic Buildings due to the cost implications and with it would go our Tourism appeal and possibly entire communities.
  • The impact of buildings being demolished in settlements like Coroglen, Whenuakite, Manaia and the like could result in these communities not having any public buildings during times of need like weather events.

This is what our people have estimated the cost of the current proposals:

  • As it will be the responsibility of Council to assess the buildings a total cost of administration, engineering input and communication with Owners and Stakeholders could place the cost per property in the range between $1500 and $2500.
  • Taking the lesser value for the 1400 properties, we have a cost impact of $2.1 million dollars over five years or $420k per annum.
  • It is estimate that as much of 18% of buildings maybe uneconomical to strengthen and result in their demolition. This 18% equates to an approximate 63 thousand square metres of floor space throughout the district.
  • To recreate this lost space at present building costs as per the Statistics Department of $1298/m2 has an impact of $81.7 million dollars spread over a 10 year term (this figure could double when new fire regulations etc are included in any rebuild costs).

This is what our people are proposing:

  • The Thames-Coromandel district, should be allowed to focus on natural hazards more relevant than earthquakes such as tsunami's, weather events and land slips and that our current earthquake policy, while requiring a review, should in principle, be upheld and the current approach maintained.
  • Implementation of a 10-year assessment programme of commercial buildings based on a priority list of most at risk buildings
  • Earthquake strengthening triggered when a building consent is applied for if work exceeds $20,000 cost or if there is a "change of use"
  • Earthquake strengthening to be done to 33% of the code (not above 33% like the reforms are suggesting)

I don't like their chances, but I believe that is a need for the entire population to get in behind Council on the issue and let Wellington know with great vigour just what we think about the assessment regime as it stands. Clearly they are in the outlier category at this stage, but unless Wellington hears the clamour from the provinces, they will assume that calculated pragmatism is a dirty word in today's climate, and that setting off a frenzy of 'assessments' is the way forward. They have done it to us in the past, and they will do it again unless we remain vigilant.  





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