Earthquake-prone buildings

In May 2016, Parliament passed the Buildings (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act, which governs how owners must deal with earthquake-prone buildings. An earthquake-prone building is one that is less than one-third of the current structural standard.

Local councils are no longer required to have individual policies for earthquake-prone buildings  There will be a national register for all earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand.

Simon Tonkin, the Invercargill City Council’s Development Liaison Manager (pictured), is  overseeing the assessment of buildings to check if further action must be taken. He reports: 

Recent devastating earthquakes in New Zealand have prompted the need for a nation-wide system for targeting buildings that pose the greatest risk to public safety or other property in a moderate earthquake event.

In July 2017 the government passed new legislation as part of the Building Act 2004, setting out how Councils, owners and engineers must undertake assessments on buildings which have the potential to be earthquake prone.  Section 133 has been added to the Building Act, setting out the special provisions for earthquake-prone buildings.  In addition to this, the Building Regulations 2005 have been amended to add new requirements.

What does this mean for Invercargill?

New Zealand has been split into three levels of risk– low, medium and high.  Depending on these risk levels, different timeframes have been allowed for councils, owners and engineers to take action on earthquake-prone buildings.  Invercargill has been judged to have a medium level of risk.

The Council has had to consider:

  • Whether there are priority areas in Invercargill, where it is particularly important for buildings to be protected
  • Whether there are strategic routes that needed to be protected. Strategic routes are roads which would be needed by emergency vehicles in the case of an emergency.  It is vital that buildings along these routes do not collapse and impede free movement.

After public consultation, City Councillors have decided that the priority area in Invercargill is the inner city bounded by Liddel, Ness, Forth and Gala Streets.  Strategic routes are Gore Street in Bluff, and the area outside the former Ocean Beach Freezing Works.

What happens now?

We have started to identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings within priority areas and on strategic routes.  To do this, we have split the city centre into blocks,  numbering them 1 to 23.  We plan to assess the buildings within this grid block-by-block, a process which will take two or three years.

After we assess an individual building, we will send the building owner a letter, which will either :

  • Request them to commission an engineer’s report regarding the structural integrity of the building. The owner then has twelve months to provide the report, but may apply for an extension for a further twelve months after that.
  • Advise them that they don’t need an engineer’s report under the current legislation (although there is nothing to stop them getting an engineering report, of course).

When we receive the engineering report, we will decide whether the building is earthquake prone.  If it is, we will write again to the owner, advising what they have to do and the time frame for work to be undertaken or have the building demolished.

We will also provide the owner with an earthquake-prone notice, which is required to be displayed in a prominent position on the building.

A Government department will produce a national public register of buildings that have earthquake-prone notices placed on them, using information provided by local councils.  When the building owner strengthens or demolishes their earthquake-prone building, the public register will be updated. – September 2018.

More information
If you have questions about earthquake-prone buildings email simon.tonkin@icc.govt.nz or phone (03) 211 1777 . For more information, including related Cabinet papers,  visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment website

Heritage EQUIP

Heritage EQUIP provides funding support to owners of earthquake-prone heritage buildings.

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