Wellington Scoop

Fixing facades and parapets – compulsorily

About 300 high risk buildings are to be targetted by yesterday’s government announcement that unreinforced masonry facades and parapets must be secured within 12 months.

How many of them are in Wellington? A list of the 300 buildings hasn’t yet been released. But Cuba Street (with 42 quake-prone buildings) and Riddiford Street (Jackson Street, too) are areas of concern. Mayor Lester has welcomed the plan:

“Unreinforced masonry is a real threat to people’s lives during a strong earthquake… As we are in the middle of an active earthquake sequence, it’s important we get this work done as soon as possible. This will help keep people safe and it could save lives.”

The MBIE website provides specific information:

The government has proposed that owners of certain unreinforced masonry buildings be required to secure street-facing parapets and facades …The focus will be on unreinforced masonry buildings in four areas with a heightened risk of earthquakes, on routes that have high pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Following the Hurunui/Kaikōura earthquakes in November, GNS Science has advised there is a heightened seismic risk in areas that include Wellington, Lower Hutt, Marlborough and Hurunui. The primary focus is public safety. On busy thoroughfares, street-facing unreinforced masonry parapets and facades present significant risks to life safety due to their vulnerability in an earthquake event. In recognition of the public and private benefits from securing unreinforced masonry facades and parapets, the government will establish a $3 million fund to support building owners in areas of heightened seismic risk to meet the requirements.

An Order in Council will be proposed under the Hurunui/Kaikōura Earthquakes Recovery Act 2016, to modify the Building Act in relation to certain buildings with unreinforced masonry facades and parapets. The four councils of Wellington City, Lower Hutt City, and the Marlborough and Hurunui Districts would be able to issue notices for these buildings, requiring owners to ensure street-facing unreinforced masonry facades and parapets are secured within a specified timeframe. The proposed Order in Council … is likely to come into force in mid to late February. After the Order in Council takes effect, councils will issue notices to certain building owners who will then have 12 months to complete the work.

A $3m fund from the Government will be available to pay for half the cost of the work, but only up up to a maximum of $15,000 for a facade and $10,000 for a parapet. Mayor Lester will be asking the City Council to add $1m to this fund.

Grant Robertson has suggested that more government help is needed:

Don’t think that these are all buildings owned by rich property developers. I have been working with owner-occupier apartment buildings where the residents are struggling to save the money for strengthening. This was already going to be tough with the legislated timelines, let alone doing them quickly … My view is the government should come to the party with tax write-offs or low or no interest loans to help get the work done quickly, These building owners are not asking for a handout, just some help to get the work done before we have another major shake.

In November, Ian Cassels of the Wellington Company touched on the same issue.

“Some people can’t afford to do it, and some people just won’t do it. Some owners just will not behave as responsible citizens.”

In the same month, Justin Lester was writing to landlords telling them they must invest in making sure their buildings are prepared for future earthquakes. But back then the deadlines were 15 years, or longer. His council will soon be enforcing a 12 month deadline, at least for facades and parapets.

Next of course, is the equally important issue of strengthening the buildings behind the facades.

RNZ: Questions about St Gerard’s