Quake Resilience Must be a Focus for Capital

17 February 2012

A report to be considered by Wellington City Council's Strategy and Policy Committee next week highlights that earthquake resilience must be a focus for the next decade in Wellington, says Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

The report presents the first estimates of the potential financial impact an earthquake could have on Wellington. The impact of a major earthquake on the city is estimated to be $37 billion. This estimate includes the loss of buildings and income from businesses, the cost of rebuilding, and costs to the government through benefits and loss of tax revenue. 

Work to further strengthen infrastructure and buildings within the city would reduce the damage and associated economic impact of an earthquake.

The report also estimates the cost of strengthening 435 unreinforced masonry buildings to a standard where they are not considered to be earthquake prone at up to $535 million. More detailed assessment of this cost is required as some buildings will have had strengthening work completed already.  However, if the government were to raise the standards for buildings then the cost would be higher and a larger number of buildings would need to be strengthened.

"Earthquake resilience is one of the biggest challenges our city is facing in the future. We have already started responding to this issue by strengthening our infrastructure and this will become a greater focus over the next decade," says Mayor Wade-Brown. 

"We have also been working with the government as they begin their review of building legislation and standards and we will continue to be closely involved in this review process." 

To date around 3100 buildings have been assessed in Wellington. Of these, 233 have been assessed as being earthquake-prone. Around 2300 buildings are considered unlikely to be earthquake prone under the current building code. 

The Council has been actively requiring building owners to strengthen buildings since the 1980s. 

The report identifies a number of options to mitigate the impact of an earthquake on the city which will be considered by the Mayor and Councillors at the Strategy and Policy Committee meeting on 23 February.

In total, the Council is budgeting $44 million on the strengthening of a number of its key buildings, including the Town Hall, over the next few years. Work is already under way on the strengthening of the Council's 1950s Municipal Office Building in Civic Square.

Councillor Iona Pannett, the Council's Built Environment Portfolio Leader, says the report also looks at options including accelerating the process to assess the safety of commercial buildings in the city that have not already been evaluated and continuing work with the owners of heritage buildings to identify strengthening options.

The paper also covers a range of proposals relating to the funding of strengthening programmes. Cr Pannett says this could involve, for example, a targeted rating scheme that would enable councils to work with banks and other lending institutions to make borrowing easier for owners seeking to strengthen buildings.

It proposes changes to legislation to enable dangerous elements of buildings to be removed or secured, and advocates new building methods and technology that could enable strengthening work to be completed at reduced cost.

Some $1.4 million has been proposed to be budgeted in the Council's 2012-22 Long Term Plan to cover investigations into approaches to the treatment of unreinforced masonry buildings, heritage issues and financing proposals.