The looming deadlines for earthquake-prone building remediation have exposed a glaring flaw in previous governments’ approach to risk management.
By setting standards and then dumping the responsibility for enforcement onto local councils, successive governments have essentially absolved themselves of accountability while leaving communities exposed to potential disaster, or at the very least, turning central business areas into something of a patchwork of hoarded and demolished buildings.
With a significant number of earthquake-prone buildings in Wairarapa, and the cost of remediation likely to be prohibitive for many building owners, the end result is likely to undermine the vibrancy and economic vitality of our business communities.
Masterton District Council is trying to deal with this challenge firsthand, and councillors want to nail down what plan of attack they will pursue.
Will they go to the extent of prosecuting building owners once the deadline comes, or will they hoard the buildings, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for the building owners, but, in effect, rendering the buildings useless?
As Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell has rightly pointed out, the situation “could get quite messy.” That’s something of an understatement, even by Mayor Caffell’s standards.
Masterton District Council is currently faced with the daunting task of enforcing compliance with more than 80 earthquake-prone buildings in the region, many of which are located in the central business district.
The council is grappling with the complex legal landscape and considerable financial burdens of enforcement, while at the same time looking for clear guidance and support from the previous government.
The fact that many other councils are “watching to see what everyone else is doing” is a testament to the worrying lack of leadership on this issue.
With a still new-ish coalition government, we can only hope that they listen to the plight of councils and building owners.
The government must take immediate and measurable steps to provide the much-needed vision, financial backing, and legal framework for councils and affected building owners.
This could include establishing a national fund to assist building owners with the costs of remediation and streamlining the enforcement process.
Central government could also consider providing financial incentives to building owners who undertake earthquake remediation work.
This could include such tools as tax breaks, or low-interest loans, which would help to offset the cost of remediation and encourage more building owners to comply with the standards.
In addition to the immediate need for action, the government must also address the long-term implications of the previous government’s abdication of responsibility.
The looming deadline for earthquake-prone building remediation has created a ticking time bomb for central business districts across the country.
Without a comprehensive and equitable solution, these areas face the prospect of becoming ghost towns, devoid of businesses and residents.
The government must recognise that the safety of our communities and the vitality of our CBDs are at stake.
It cannot continue to pass the buck to under-resourced local councils.
The government must step up and take ownership of the earthquake risk management process, ensuring that all New Zealanders are protected from harm and that our communities remain vibrant and economically prosperous.