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Tougher deadlines for upgrading shaky buildings

Published: 11:19AM Friday December 07, 2012 Source: ONE News

Owners of earthquake-prone buildings look likely to be given 15 years to meet required safety standards or face demolition.

The proposed timeframe forms a key part of the Government's response to the Canterbury Earthquake Commission report on earthquake-prone buildings, released today.

An earthquake-prone building is one that does not meet at least 33% of the current building code and while the commission found no reason to change that limit, it wants much great urgency on fixing up old buildings.

In the Christchurch quake, unreinforced masonry buildings contributed to the deaths of 42 people. Today, the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission issued its views on how to stop that happening again.

It's calling for all unreinforced masonry buildings to be assessed within two years of a law change and strengthened within seven years. All other quake-prone buildings must be assessed within seven years and strengthened in 15.

It's also recommending the Government set up a national standard for building safety, a public education campaign and a public register grading quake-prone buildings.

As many as 25,000 buildings may not meet earthquake standards.

"It's pretty important that we get this right," says building and construction minister Maurice Williamson. "We owe it to the 42 people outside of CTV and PGC, who died from falling debris."

But the Government must also consider the multi-billion cost of repairs and a shortage of engineers.

And in a discussion document, it calls for a 15-year window for assessing and strengthening brick and stone, rather than the commission's tough seven years timeframe. 

"We think the timeframe we set aside is realistic, the Royal Commission want it faster - we think we will land in agreement in the midpoint somewhere," says Williamson.

The property industry accepts the timeframes but says the Government needs to help owners do the work.

"If you do it, you can't claim depreciation - that was removed a few years ago," says Property Council of NZ chief executive Connal Townsend. "We are talking to ministers about possible changes there."

While not ruling out tax incentives, the Government appears to be hoping market forces will be enough to encourage building owners to get the work done.