The stated priority of the Government in developing the earthquake strengthening policy for buildings is "public safety and minimising future fatalities, we also need to ensure that the response is proportionate to the risk, that the costs are minimised and that we retain as much of our built heritage as possible".

For the purposes of the revised policy, New Zealand has been divided into three "seismic risk" zones:

  • Buildings in "high" seismic risk areas (for example Christchurch and Wellington) must be assessed within five years and strengthened or demolished within fifteen years following that assessment;
  • Buildings in "medium" seismic risk areas (for example, Tauranga and Hamilton) must be assessed within ten years, and strengthened or demolished within twenty-five years following that assessment; and
  • Buildings in "low" seismic risk areas (for example, Auckland and Dunedin) must be assessed within fifteen years, and strengthened or demolished within thirty-five years following that assessment.

These changes are intended to stage the assessment and strengthening process based on risk, instead of applying blanket national timeframes.

The Government also confirmed that the earthquake prone building definition as being less than 34% of the "New Building Standard" (NBS). A ten year extension for listed heritage buildings, and exemptions from strengthening for low risk, low occupancy buildings would remain in the policy.

The Government also stated that building owners will be encouraged to upgrade their buildings ahead of the allowable timeframe by the establishment by the Government of a "web based public register" and "requiring notices on buildings highlighting the level of risk". There will also be a new requirement to strengthen earthquake prone buildings when doing substantial alterations.

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill is currently being considered by the Local Government and Environment Select Committee, with the report being due on 3 September 2015. Parliament will also be consulting on the detailed regulations such as the assessment methodology, the Earthquake-prone Buildings Register, the building notice requirements and the definition of "substantial alterations".

The Property Council has submitted on the Bill, supporting the recommendation to classify the country into low, medium and high risk zones. The Property Council has also supported some of the proposed changes to heritage buildings, but is not convinced that some clauses in the Bill go far enough.

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