The Inner city association established in 2009 meets monthly in the Quality Hotel in Cuba St. I attended a meeting this week that was facilitated for its members and other interested parties, to hear what the city council is doing regarding the massive issue of earthquake prone buildings in the city.
There was a large audience of concerned apartment and building owners in the room. The council representatives included Councillor Iona Pannett and senior council officers; also there was MP Grant Robertson and technical advisors who are focused on dealing with the earthquake prone building problem. I was heartened to hear the council’s commitment and engagement with the community and their willingness to work with the concerned owners. I was also pleased to hear that they realise there are important heritage precincts such as Cuba St where building owners with prone buildings will need some assistance. However how they intend to assist them is yet to be worked out.
What became evident to me through the meeting was that there is a lot of stressed owners concerned about a number of issues. What are the future intentions of the central and local governments, regarding the changing again of the building code for strengthening buildings? There are an increasing number of prone commercial buildings that are under 50% strengthened, that are empty and costing the owners. The public is concerned about where they locate their businesses and the safety of their staff and customers. The plummeting values of the properties that are earthquake prone and the ability of body corporates and building owners to afford the work that is required to bring them up to a code that could well be changing again.
A big problem that is currently affecting everyone is that the insurance companies have ratcheted up their premiums. In one case an inner city low rise brick apartment building (that was strengthened to the current building code when converted from a factory in the 90’s) have had their premiums increased from $17,000 to $90,000 per year! The only insurance companies willing to insure buildings in NZ now are from off shore. All the NZ companies have either gone bust or pulled out of that market since the Christchurch quakes.
The details of the numerous problems being faced by all parties are long and complex. One positive is that everyone is willing to talk about these issues. There are a lot of experts involved in the discussions, engineers, architects, BRANZ, Historic Places Trust, Council and private owners. All these people are working to find solutions to these complex issues.
Wellington City Council is advising the Royal Commission on the Canterbury quakes. The WCC is regarded as an expert in these matters, due to the work the city has already done in this area. The commission’s report is due out at the end of the year and will be making suggested building code changes.
Let’s hope the balancing act between overreacting to the earthquake risk and the damage this could cause to our economic and social fabric is being well considered by those that govern.