Wellington City Council requires targeted building assessments

20 December 2016

Wellington City Council has this week written to the owners of around 80 buildings requiring them to undertake detailed independent building assessments and to share them with the Council.

The Council’s City Recovery Manager, Mike Mendonca, says the initiative is one of several being taken to ensure the city’s safety. This additional information requirement is informed by preliminary advice from a panel of experts investigating the damage to Statistics House in the 14 November earthquake.

“At this stage, we are conducting a targeted assessment to form a complete picture of the current state of the city’s buildings. Some buildings may have incomplete records due to previous works or repairs, and we want to make sure our planning is based on the most up-to-date information.”

Letters have been sent to the owners of buildings that have been identified as having certain attributes that need to be checked.

Mr Mendonca says the City Council has decided to release the list of buildings due to the public interest.

However he stresses that the great majority of them did not appear, from initial inspections, to have had more than minor internal damage in the November quake.

“Some of the buildings on the list have been damaged and are already closed. So far, however, we have no evidence of any need to evacuate any other buildings. We do not expect to find any unsafe buildings we are not already aware of, but the Council is taking this precautionary approach and being prudent.”

Most of the properties are reinforced-concrete buildings of up to 15 storeys, built in the past four decades, and many of them on softer reclaimed land or on ridgelines.

A detailed engineer’s assessment looks closely at these features to assess how they performed in the quake and will help determine if further strengthening work is needed.

“This targeted assessment programme focuses on issues specific to the 14 November earthquake sequence. The long, rolling nature of the quake caused certain types of buildings to experience more stress than we first thought, and aftershocks may add incremental stress. We want to take a closer look at certain structural elements to understand how these buildings managed the quake and aftershocks.”

These assessments are more detailed than the visual inspections undertaken of most buildings so far and are likely to require lifting of carpet tiles, celling panels, or wall linings to gain access.

Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle says the latest inspections initiative is a positive step that will enable the Council to fully assess buildings and identify any risk to public safety.

Mr Mendonca recommends tenants and businesses speak with their building owner if they have concerns. The Council is requesting building owners acknowledge receipt of letters by 20 January and complete the assessments by 10 February.

The City Council’s request for information is a formal demand under new powers granted under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. The cost of assessments and of maintaining safe buildings is the responsibility of owners.

In terms of the requirements of the CDEM Act, letters will also be sent to the owners and tenants of properties immediately neighbouring the targeted buildings. The letters will notify the neighbours that an inspection of the building is required, but will not seek any other action.

Under the legislation, a copy of the notification letter must be posted in a prominent place in the targeted building, such as an entranceway or foyer.