OPOTIKI heritage buildings are mainly unreinforced masonry buildings and considered a higher risk to life in the event of a major earthquake. File photo

THE Opotiki district has been identified as a high seismic activity area, shortening timeframes around earthquake-prone buildings.

This means earthquake-prone priority buildings must be identified by January next year.

“All of the Opotiki district has been categorised as a high seismic risk area, so our timeframes are shorter than for other areas of the country,” planning and regulatory group manager Gerard McCormack said.

Priority buildings are those with unreinforced masonry in areas of high pedestrian or vehicle traffic and buildings used by schools, hospitals or emergency service organisations.

“Some of these are easy to identify; buildings like hospitals and schools are priority buildings because they are likely to be needed in an emergency or regularly occupied by more than 20 people,” Mr McCormack said.

“Other buildings require us to look a little bit deeper.

“For example, the legislation tells us that unreinforced masonry buildings are considered a higher risk to life where they could fall in an earthquake on to either frequently-used thoroughfares or roadways that we’ll need in a response to an emergency,” Mr McCormack said.

Four thoroughfares that have sufficient vehicle or pedestrian traffic, and unreinforced masonry buildings that could fall on to them in an earthquake, have been identified.

They are:

  • Church Street – Richard to Kelly Street;
  • King Street – Potts Avenue to St John Street;
  • Elliott Street – Potts Avenue to St John Street;
  • Kelly Street – Potts Avenue to the cemetery on Kelly Street;

“There are approximately 1200 vehicles per day down Church Street and even more when you add surrounding areas,” he said.

“Vehicle and pedestrian use of this area and the number of unreinforced masonry buildings means we have identified four proposed thoroughfares that we want to speak to the community about.”

However, Mr McCormack indicated no issues had been identified for Opotiki’s emergency service routes in the event of an earthquake.

“We looked into transport routes of strategic importance and didn’t identify any buildings that, if they were to collapse, would impede emergency vehicles,” he said.

“This is mostly because Opotiki town centre forms a grid so there are alternative routes in an emergency.”

Councillors at last week’s meeting agreed to consult the community on the four thoroughfares and whether all or some should be given priority and whether there are other thoroughfares that should also be considered.

Letters notifying the owners of priority buildings in Opotiki will sent out in December.

These letters will ask the owners of priority buildings – identified as potentially earthquake prone – to obtain a structural engineering assessment.

Mr McCormack said if the assessment was over the threshold there were no issues, but if it came in below and structural work was required, notice would be issued for the building to be strengthened.

The timeframe for work on these buildings would begin once the notice was issued.

“If the notice isn’t complied with, the council has to look to enforce that notice, and we can either demolish the building or prosecute,” Mr McCormack said.

“Once they haven’t complied with that notice, the building has to be either have been approved or demolished so the risk is gone.”

Mr McCormack said the council also had options to extend timeframes for building owners, but only if there was proof of ongoing work.

“There has to be concrete evidence that work is going to be done,” he said.

Owners of priority buildings have one year to get the structural engineering assessment, and seven-and-a-half years to complete the strengthening work or demolish.

For owners of earthquake-prone buildings the timeframe for completing this work is 15 years.

Submissions on these thoroughfares opened on Monday.

Submissions can be made through the council website, by writing to the council at PO Box 44, Opotiki 3162, emailing info@odc.govt.nz or with a physical submission available at the council office or the Opotiki District Library.

Policy review

TWO other structure-related papers tabled at last week’s council meeting were largely administrative.

One was the repeal of the Opotiki District Council Earthquake-prone Buildings 2006 policy, which is no longer required under recent amendments to the Building Act 2004.

A new policy will be required in the future once the council has investigated the number and nature of “priority” earthquake-prone buildings as required under the Act.

The second paper was the review of the Opotiki District Council Dangerous and Insanitary Buildings Policy.

As with the repealed policy, the review was required under the Building Act and the paper recommended amendments to the existing policy. These changes are set to go through a formal public consultation process in the coming weeks.

james.sandbrook@opotikinews.co.nz