Archive | Law

National talks new urban planning laws, business & environmental alliance says “Go further”

The National Party has been working steadily towards its latest election policy for most of its 9 years in government: new urban planning laws that would make it easier to build, and faster than the Resource Management Act.

It would incorporate parts of the Local Government Act & the Land Transport Management Act. The Resource Management Act would stay in place for non-urban areas.

Steven Joyce lining up some mud at Manukau in 2009.

But Resource Reform NZ, an alliance of 3 normally National-leaning organisations – the Employers & Manufacturers Association, Infrastructure NZ & the Property Council – plus the Environmental Defence Society, said yesterday the National proposal didn’t go far enough.

They want “an integrated governance, planning, funding & delivery system to guide resource management & national economic development”.

The catchcry: fit for purpose

The ministers releasing the party policy and the Resource Reform alliance used the same term as their base: fit for purpose.

The ministers (now spokespersons for the duration of the election campaign), Steven Joyce on infrastructure & Nick Smith on environment (but apparently not on building & construction) said in their campaign proposal yesterday: “A re-elected National-led government will introduce new fit-for-purpose urban planning laws separate from the Resource Management Act to encourage more responsive planning, faster development & better protection for the environment in our growing cities.

“New Zealand is growing strongly and we want to make it easier to build the housing & infrastructure for that growth while still ensuring our urban environments are some of the most liveable in the world.

“To do that we need to give our cities the ability to adapt & develop faster, while respecting & improving the urban environment – and the current planning system is not allowing that.

“The RMA’s one-size-fits-all approach has restrained the development of our cities, dragged on their economic performance and restricted the supply of much-needed housing & infrastructure.

“So National will establish a fit-for-purpose planning system that allows our cities to evolve in a way that improves the quality of the local environment, and makes them great places to live & work.”

Idea is to separate planning & environmental regulation

Nick Smith, also lining up some mud, in 2015.

Dr Smith said the new planning legislation would have clear & separate objectives for regulating urban & natural environments: “Over the past 9 years we’ve simplified the RMA and made it easier to build, but the RMA is only one part of the planning system, and we have reached the end of what can be done by making incremental changes to the act.

“We agree with a number of stakeholders that it is time to develop fit-for-purpose planning legislation dedicated to urban environments that includes the relevant parts of the Local Government Act & the Land Transport Management Act in one piece of legislation.

“So we will set up separate planning & environmental regulations specifically designed to encourage growth, while tackling the environmental challenges found in cities, such as air pollution & stormwater surges.

“This new legislation will work in parallel with our plan to put in place urban development authorities to redevelop specific brownfields areas in our cities to allow for more housing – the work for which is already underway.”

Dr Smith said National would “keep a close eye” on changes applicable to non-urban & rural areas through the existing Resource Management Act.

“National will start its urban planning reform process by consulting with key stakeholders, local government, iwi, experts & the public to develop fit-for-purpose legislation that works for cities.

“The successful Auckland unitary plan & the independent hearings panel review process shows we can put sensible rules in place that work for everyone. We want to use the same collaborative formula to create an urban planning system that enables growth, gives businesses the confidence to invest and adapts to the changing needs of cities.”

Reformists seek consensus for change, don’t detail their reforms

Resource Reform NZ reform of the resource management system needed to go much further. It recommended that this would be best addressed through cross-party consensus on the issue by a politically independent process, such as a commission.

Infrastructure NZ chief executive Stephen Selwood said: “We know New Zealand’s prosperity is being held back by the current framework the wider planning system operates within. It is no longer fit for purpose, and is why we find ways to work around the current system when we want to deliver the infrastructure that the county so desperately needs.”

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said: “The current unco-ordinated planning system is driving increasing housing unaffordability, the high cost of commercial development and reliance on outdated funding mechanisms such as rates & council debt. That means we’re simply not building enough, quickly enough with the quality & innovation needed to develop the cities & standard of living we all expect in the future.”

Environmental Defence Society executive director Gary Taylor said: “The environment is suffering too. The Resource Management Act is our pre-eminent environmental law. Yet the cumulative effects of permitted land use activities over the lifetime of the act have led to a slow but significant deterioration of the quality of our streams, rivers & lakes.”

And the fourth advocate for greater change, Employers & Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell, said: “For business, these issues are also stifling the ability to grow & expand. Which, in turn, also impacts employees & the families. Looking into the future, we face even bigger challenges in how we manage & respond to demographic changes, advances in technology, rising consumer expectations & climate change.”

Attribution: National & Resource Reform releases.

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Pt England reserve law passed, but still rankles with mayor & board chair

The Point England Development Enabling Bill became law on Wednesday after a 7-month jaunt through the parliamentary process, enabling the Government to complete a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with Ngati Paoa.

The bill was introduced to Parliament on 7 December, passed its first reading 6 days later, its second reading on 23 May and committee stage on 21 June. It returned for its third reading on Tuesday and was given royal assent on Wednesday.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff and Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board chair Josephine Bartley said they accepted Parliament had a sovereign right to dispose of the land and they didn’t oppose the treaty settlement, but they remained concerned about the use of special legislation to lift reserve status outside normal statutory processes.

The new law allows for largescale housing development on 11.7ha of the reserve, enabling Ngati Paoa to build 300 houses on the reserve land as part of its treaty settlement.

Mr Goff said: “While the council is supportive of action to accelerate house building in Auckland, this bill raises a number of issues. This legislation prescribes to Auckland Council what it must do with land vested in & administered by the council under the Reserves Act. This prescription circumvents the statutory powers of a local authority responsible for public reserve land under the act.

“That the minister [Nick Smith, former housing minister and now Minister of Building & Construction] intends to micro-manage Auckland’s future rather than give residents the opportunity to have their say sets a worrying precedent. Going forward, the minister needs to promise Auckland that he will consult the council & Aucklanders on matters that affect their future.

“Auckland Council will now engage with the Government to ensure the loss of reserve land is properly managed and that decisions are made by locally elected representatives with public consultation.”

Ms Bartley said: “Our community has been denied the right to shape its own future. There is nothing more that residents can do now. Sadly this bill may further endanger wildlife and reduce green space in Maungakiekie-Tamaki & Auckland.”

Attribution: Parliament, council releases.

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New bill deals with meth, damage liability & unsuitable rental tenancies

The Government introduced a bill to Parliament yesterday aimed at better managing methamphetamine contamination, liability for careless damage and the tenancy of unsuitable properties.

Building & Construction Minister Nick Smith said the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No 2) would provide better protections & clarity for tenants & landlords: “It builds on the changes we made last year requiring smoke alarms & insulation, and establishing a tenancy compliance & investigations team.

“This bill recognises that meth contamination of properties has become a significant issue that needs clearer direction. We want homes to be safe but we also don’t want properties being vacated when the risks are low.

“Landlords will have easier access to test for meth and tenants will be able to terminate their tenancy if it presents at unsafe levels. Standards NZ is working on appropriate contamination thresholds and the bill will enable these to be legally recognised & enforceable before the Tenancy Tribunal.

“The bill also implements changes in respect of liability for careless damage arising from the Osaki decision last year. This court ruling means landlords cannot recover the costs of damage, including the excess charge on any insurance policy. The changes are needed to ensure tenants have an incentive to take good care of a property, and for the landlord to have appropriate insurance.

“Under the bill, tenants will be liable for the cost of their landlord’s insurance excess up to a maximum of 4 weeks’ rent for each incident of damage caused by carelessness. A tenant remains fully liable where the damage is deliberate or a criminal act, and the landlord liable for fair wear & tear and damage beyond the control of the tenant, like a natural disaster.

“It also strengthens the law for prosecuting landlords who tenant unsuitable properties. The current jurisdiction of the Tenancy Tribunal is limited to residential buildings, meaning those who rent out unlawfully converted garages, warehouses or industrial buildings as living spaces can avoid accountability.”

Attribution: Ministerial release.

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RMA reform approved – but central issue of competence still needs work

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill – Environment Minister Nick Smith’s revision of the Resource Management Act – passed its third reading on Thursday, without the support of Act’s David Seymour or United Future’s Peter Dunne but courtesy of the Maori Party’s 2 votes.

Dr Smith, as usual, mentioned 2 factors at the heart of the changes – the exorbitant rise in Auckland house prices and the many voices demanding a freeing up of land supply.

Also as usual, he refrained from mentioning 2 other factors. The first has come in 2 parts – the immigration spike under Labour in 2003-04, which got supply & demand seriously out of kilter, followed by the longer run of high net immigration under National that started in late 2012 and was well underway in 2014.

The most important factor

The second, and I think most important factor in the whole resource management hubbub, is that the Resource Management Act has been widely condemned but the failure to balance supply & demand falls entirely to incompetence.

The first factor in that incompetence concerns the supply of potential residents. Natural growth is predictable and the supply of migrants can be controlled, at least to some extent. The return of Kiwis from a depressed Australian economy is outside the norm, but ought to have been taken into consideration in the allowance of other migration.

Both Labour in 2003 and National now have used immigration to boost the economy. Their consideration of the impacts has been negligible, until too late.

Through the Regional Growth Forum devised in 1996, expansion of Auckland’s urban footprint was anticipated to allow some of the growth to a population of 2 million over the next 50 years, but the notion of a compact city had arrived and the bulk of growth (70% of it) was expected to occur within the existing metropolitan urban limits.

Quite how another 200,000 homes were to be dropped into place was never quite worked out, but the fact that they’d be needed was evident over 20 years ago.

All very well, but Auckland had 7 territorial councils & one regional council, Auckland City followed by Manukau collected the bulk of the region’s business rates, and the fringe councils (including Waitakere) struggled to supply adequate infrastructure on a diet of residential rates.

The fringe councils looked for ways to increase their rating bases, such as encouraging business, and developers looked to the fringes for cheaper land for housing, only to find themselves entering an intense battle, certainly between regional & local politicians, sometimes also between the competing urges of different localities.

Attempts to expand those urban limits were contested by the Auckland Regional Council, which focused more on environmental protection, although expansion of the limits was envisaged.

The 2003-04 immigration spike necessitated more housing, but the supply was inadequate, and political thinking on what was required was abysmal.

None of the above involves hindsight. Certain measures were plainly required 21 years ago and after 5 years of strong growth – and some of the how-to is still awaiting a decision.

The ability to intensify development has been made easier by Auckland’s new unitary plan, but funding of infrastructure was an issue then and remains largely unresolved today. Sewage overflowed into the harbour then, the issue was recognised, and it still overflows.

Intensification will include more housing redevelopment, not necessarily medium-rise apartment buildings, in suburban streets. The supply of new suburban subdivisions has started via housing accords & special housing areas, but also through standard subdivision.

Smith sees many positive impacts

Enter Dr Smith & the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill. “The reforms in this bill will help increase the supply & affordability of housing, grow the economy with more jobs & higher incomes, support infrastructure investment and improve environmental management,” he said after the third reading was passed on Thursday.

The 700-clause bill makes 40 significant changes to the Resource Management Act, Public Works Act, Conservation Act, Reserves Act and the Exclusive Economic Zone (Environmental Effects) Act. They include:

  • National planning standards to reduce complexity & cost
  • Streamlined planning process to improve responsiveness
  • Discretion for councils to exempt an activity from consents
  • Strengthening of requirements to manage natural hazard risks
  • New 10-day consent category for minor activities
  • New requirements for councils to free up land for housing
  • More generous compensation for land required for public works
  • Better alignment with other acts like Reserves, Conservation & Exclusive Economic Zone
  • Collaborative planning process to encourage community-led solutions, and
  • Improved Maori participation arrangements.

“These reforms will reduce the number of consents required by thousands. Councils will have a new power to waive the need for consents for minor issues, and a new 10-day fast-track consent will be available. This boils down to things like homeowners wanting to build a deck having to consult only with an affected neighbour, and no consent being required for issues that involve minor or temporary rule breaches.

“This Bill is pivotal to resolving New Zealand’s long-term housing supply & affordability problems. The cost of a section in Auckland has increased 10-fold over the past 25 years, from $53,000 to $530,000, as compared to the 3-fold increase in the cost of building, from $120,000 to $360,000. The key solution is making sections easier to create and more affordable. This bill introduces a specific requirement on councils to free up land, removes appeals on residential developments, reverses the presumption in favour of subdivisions and removes the double charging system of financial & development contributions.”

Links:
Resource Legislation Amendment Bill

Text of bill & related supplementary order papers
Nick Smith booklet, 26 November 2015: The second phase of Resource Management Act reform

Earlier stories:
15 March 2017: Bill opponents talk “shambles”, not ideology
15 March 2017: RMA reform bill scrapes through second reading
6 March 2017: RMA amendment back for second reading
10 November 2016: 
National gets Maori agreement to advance RMA reforms
14 March 2016: 
Council says Government approach wrong on resource management reform
27 November 2015: 
RMA reform introduced

Attribution: Ministerial release, growth forum strategy.

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Newman fires up opposition to RMA fix-it law

In January, Building, Construction & Environment Minister Nick Smith wrote to National Party supporters trying to counter an attack on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill – the Resource Management Act (RMA) fix-it law – by former Act MP & founder of the NZ Centre for Political Research, Muriel Newman.

Dr Newman learned of Dr Smith’s memo in March and wrote scathingly about it on the Centre for Political Research’s website on 12 March.

She was joined by another former Act MP, Wellington public & commercial law specialist Stephen Franks, who described Dr Smith’s attempt at smoothing turbulent waters as “deceptive advice”.

Last week, Dr Newman took the campaign to a wider audience through Sunday newspapers, saying the centre she heads had asked Prime Minister Bill English to stop the bill in its tracks (it’s in the committee stage of the parliamentary process).

Is no consultation “ample”?

On her website she wrote: “Even before our ads have been published, they appear to have brought about a ‘charm offensive’ from the minister for the environment, who has sent out emails to everyone who has contacted him about the bill.

“What’s particularly bizarre in his new email is the claim that not only has there been ample public consultation on the iwi arrangements in the bill over the last 4 years, but that National even campaigned on them at the last election. What he is talking about, of course, are the old measures (iwi participation arrangements) that were originally in the bill.

“The new mana whakahono a rohe cogovernance provisions, that are the cause of so much concern, only made an appearance in public documents in 2016 – in a freshwater discussion paper. They weren’t included in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill until November last year, 8 months after public submissions had closed. As a result, there has been absolutely no opportunity for public input into the new statutory powers for iwi & hapu in the bill.

“However, this is politics, and it is important to note that the minister decided that the new mana whakahono a rohe agreements in the bill should be given a dual name, so they are now also called iwi participation arrangements – the same name as the old provisions that they replaced!”

Dr Newman, an Act list MP for the party’s first 3 terms, continued to campaign when she left Parliament, especially on Maori- & property-related issues, forming the Centre for Political Research (originally Debate) in 2005.

Stephen Franks – 2-term Act Party list MP, former chair of law firm Chapman Tripp, now running his own specialist public & commercial law firm in Wellington – wrote in an opinion piece for the centre on 12 March: “I’ve been sent an astonishing memo to caucus from the unfortunate minister now carrying this bill (Nick Smith). In my opinion it treats caucus with contempt. My corrections to it are set out below. It seems bizarre that National members are being obliged to support this bill so near to the election. Why stick up voters’ noses now some of the least defensible law-making National could design?”

And he concluded: “The provisions are a major constitutional change. They subordinate powers entrusted to elected local governments, in deliberately obscure words, to racially inherited power, beyond the reach of electoral recall.

“They breach a longstanding convention that treaty obligations ran between the Crown & iwi, so that private citizens & their property were not to be the victims of treaty claims & interventions based on race privilege. They draw iwi into complicity in trashing the classical property rights promised by article 2 of the treaty to all the ordinary people of New Zealand, in favour of exercise of chiefly powers by iwi authorities, and they negate the equal citizenship promised by article 3.”

And then there’s climate change

If you run down the recent entries on the Centre for Political Research website, you may land on another of Dr Newman’s favourite topics, climate change, where she wrote on 5 March: “Leading the charge is the United Nations, which raised the alarm in the early nineties by establishing the Framework convention on climate change that defined climate change as being caused by human interference with atmospheric composition.”

It’s worth correcting Dr Newman on this one, because her use of half a sentence is not just misleading, but plain wrong because it implies the UN saw no change not attributable to humans.

Here’s the full UN definition, with my emphasis on the half that she dropped: “’Climate change’ means a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”

Links:
Muriel Newman, 26 March 2017: National’s RMA changes – a major constitutional victory for iwi leaders
Muriel Newman, 12 March 2017: An abomination of a bill
Stephen Franks, 12 March 2017: Deceptive advice to National caucus
UN framework convention on climate change, 1992

Earlier stories:
15 March 2017: Bill opponents talk “shambles”, not ideology
15 March 2017: RMA reform bill scrapes through second reading
6 March 2017: RMA amendment back for second reading
10 November 2016: National gets Maori agreement to advance RMA reforms
14 March 2016: Council says Government approach wrong on resource management reform
27 November 2015: RMA reform introduced

Attribution: Centre for Political Research.

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Bill opponents talk “shambles”, not ideology

Opposition to the latest Resource Management Act reforms is less about ideology, more about competence, practicality & effects on process.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill scraped through its second reading in Parliament yesterday by a 2-vote majority, 61-59, courtesy of Maori Party support.

Building, Construction & Environment Minister Nick Smith has promoted the bill’s value, particularly in addressing Auckland’s housing shortage.

The rest of Parliament’s parties, however, reject that basis for the bill and criticise the bill’s structure.

Act MP David Seymour commented: “And you thought RMA reform couldn’t get any worse. The latest Resource Management Act reform won’t be any more effective than the previous 18 reforms to the act.

“Nick Smith is dreaming if he thinks the worst of RMA negotiations are behind him. The consensus from across the political spectrum and from submitters is that the proposed reform is a shambles, adding complexity instead of cutting bureaucracy.

“Our housing shortage is bad enough as it is. Adding more iwi consultation, cost & complexity to the development process would be disastrous for prospective homeowners. Therefore Act cannot support this bill.”

Mr Seymour said that, post-election, “a stronger Act Party will make National commit to fundamental RMA reform that simplifies processes, values property rights and gets houses built.”

Labour says housing crisis assertion wrong

The Labour Party said, in its select committee minority view: “The assertion that the bill is needed because the RMA is the cause of the Auckland housing crisis is wrong, and is no justification for this flawed bill. The following table shows that more new houses were consented in Auckland & New Zealand in 2004 than in 2016. The RMA was in force throughout.”

Labour continued: “The very broad range of submitters opposed to the bill included Local Government NZ and a great many regional & district councils, major land developers including Fulton Hogan, major corporates including Fonterra, infrastructure owners including airport & quarry owners, all environmental non-governmental organisations, the NZ Law Society and numerous others.

“Even amongst the minority of submitters who supported parts of the bill, many used guarded words like ‘we support the intent of the bill’ before criticising much of its detail.

“The bill, if passed, would add complexity to the Resource Management Act 1991 and make it less effective and more expensive to use, rather than better. Legitimate complaints by submitters include:

  • The draconian ministerial regulatory powers to override plans and control consents, and to limit rights of participation. These are tantamount to a return to the National Development Act 1979, and are on the spectrum of the patently excessive regulation-making powers abused under the former Economic Stabilisation Act 1987
  • The power to standardise plan formats & definitions inappropriately extends to the content & substantive provisions of plans
  • The rule-making powers of the minister are also far too broad
  • These 3 forms of ministerial powers are so poorly constrained and patently excessive as to be constitutionally outrageous
  • The bill also overrides – and allows the minister to further override – local & district council functions in such a broad & fundamental way that it overturns the traditional division of power & roles between central & local government
  • The limits to public notification & participation, including on the subdivision of land, are wrong. Those concerned include land developers, and the owners of existing infrastructure concerned about reverse sensitivity effects on their operations. Many submitters said that earlier changes to notification have worked in recent years, and that further change is unnecessary
  • The department said the regulatory powers that can limit rights of participation are intended to apply in urban areas, but the sections as drafted also apply to regional councils and could be used to stop people advocating against pollution of rivers
  • Water conservation orders are undermined
  • New provisions introducing unreasonably short time limits for some council processes will have the unintended consequence of councils making more activities discretionary rather than controlled. Overall this will complicate & delay consent applications rather than speed them up
  • The codification of collaborative processes is unnecessary, wrong in its detail and adds further complexity to the RMA
  • Plan-making processes are curtailed, with insufficient safeguards to ensure that single-step processes are fair & robust when appeal rights are abrogated
  • Appeal rights are curtailed, to the detriment of adversely affected private parties, councils, communities & the environment
  • The important experience & wisdom of the Environment Court is lost from many decisions
  • Many changes introduce more complexity to the RMA, through convoluted decision-making criteria & extra process alternatives. The multiple flow diagrams helpfully produced by the department to assist us illustrated how this bill makes the RMA processes more complex
  • There are a myriad other changes to the RMA & other acts being amended by the bill, many of which are wrong.

The Labour Party concluded: “Some of the changes proposed to national guidance through policy statements & environment standards are appropriate, but others are unnecessarily complex and will give rise to less consistency, not more.”

Greens’ analysis an indictment of ministerial & National performance

The Green Party – regarded by many in mainstream business as a fringe outfit to be disparaged – presented an analysis in its minority view which was an indictment of ministerial & National Party performance.

The Greens said: “The Resource Management Act is a crucial foundation of New Zealand’s environmental law & planning system. Changes to it should be based on sound analysis & evidence and have broad cross-party support so they are enduring. The bill has neither. Many of the changes appear driven by ideology & anecdote, rather than robust analysis & evidence.

“The bill attracted 647 unique submissions & 94 form-style submissions, many of them critical of its fundamental aspects. Many included detailed technical analysis of the bill’s clauses & their implications, and represented a significant investment of time & expertise by submitters.

“Resource users such as Fonterra, quarry operators, and infrastructure operators such as airports made similar points in opposition as environmental interests such as Fish & Game NZ, the Environmental Defence Society, and Forest & Bird.

“Federated Farmers, for example, described the proposed ministerial regulation-making powers as ‘excessive’ and the provisions which allow central government to intervene directly in local council plans as ‘heavy-handed’.

“Sir Geoffrey Palmer, presenting evidence for Fish & Game, described the regulation-making powers which would override the provisions of regional & district plans as a ‘constitutional outrage’. ‘Due process is replaced by executive fiat.’”

The Green Party said the bill’s changes put executive power & individual property rights ahead of community & environmental wellbeing: “They insert new processes for national direction, plan-making, consideration of land-use & other activities and public notification ,while previous changes in 2013 are still bedding in. The changes emphasise fast decision-making ahead of good outcomes. “The bill is likely to make the RMA & its implementation more complex & litigious, and increase costs for councils & users of the act.

“Limits on rights to appeal council decisions to the Environment Court restrict access to justice and the court’s ability to be a guardian of the RMA’s purpose of sustainable management and a check on poor decision-making.”

The Greens’ submission continued with extensive detail on the committee process, ministerial powers, national direction & plan-making before traversing more ideological issues such as public participation, the permissive approach to subdivision & residential activities, fast-track consenting, and the other acts of Parliament affected by the proposed amendment.

The party’s minority view concluded: “The bill is not fit for purpose. It significantly increases ministerial powers while removing or restricting basic rights of public participation. It will expedite development activities with few environmental safeguards and scant consideration of sustainable management. The bill puts private rights & development ahead of the public interest and environmental & community wellbeing. It should not proceed.”

Links:
Select committee’s commentary and the revised bill
Nick Smith booklet, 26 November 2015: The second phase of Resource Management Act reform

Related story today:
RMA reform bill scrapes through second reading

Earlier stories:
6 March 2017: RMA amendment back for second reading
10 November 2016: National gets Maori agreement to advance RMA reforms
14 March 2016: Council says Government approach wrong on resource management reform
27 November 2015: RMA reform introduced

Attribution: Ministerial & opposition releases, select committee report.

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RMA reform bill scrapes through second reading

The latest Resource Management Act reform bill – title, the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill – scraped through its second reading in Parliament yesterday by a 2-vote majority, 61-59.

Labour, the Greens, NZ First, David Seymour (Act) & Peter Dunne (United Future) all opposed it this time. At the first reading, Labour supported the bill’s introduction and NZ First abstained.

Building, Construction & Environment Minister Nick Smith introduced the reform to Parliament on 26 November 2015 and it had its first reading 7 days later. The local government & environment select committee reported it back to Parliament on 6 March.

Dr Smith said the intent was “to improve environmental management, help increase housing supply & affordability and support jobs & growth”.

He told Parliament: “The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill is the largest package of reforms to the Resource Management Act since it was first passed 25 years ago. It contains 40 proposals that make significant changes to 5 different acts.

“This reform is critical to addressing housing supply & affordability by making it easier, faster & less costly to create new sections. Section prices in Auckland have gone from $100,000 in 1990 to $530,000 today and are the core reason housing has become excessively expensive.

“It addresses this core issue by opening up land supply, reducing the time taken to get consents, reducing the cost of land subdivision and enabling the construction of infrastructure. Parties that are opposing this bill are blocking the very changes that will make housing more affordable.”

On the Maori Party’s agreement to support the bill, Dr Smith said: “The Maori Party has supported the bill to this stage, and we are continuing to work with them to ensure detailed changes as a result of the select committee process are consistent with their agreement with the Government. I will be meeting with the Maori Party co-leaders on ensuring we have got the detail right.”

“This second phase of the Government’s RMA reforms builds on the first, and will support the additional jobs, infrastructure & housing needed for a strongly growing & successful economy.”

Links:
Select committee’s commentary and the revised bill
Nick Smith booklet, 26 November 2015: The second phase of Resource Management Act reform

Related story today:
Bill opponents talk “shambles”, not ideology

Earlier stories:
6 March 2017: RMA amendment back for second reading
10 November 2016: National gets Maori agreement to advance RMA reforms
14 March 2016: Council says Government approach wrong on resource management reform
27 November 2015: RMA reform introduced

Attribution: Ministerial & opposition releases, select committee report.

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RMA amendment back for second reading

Parliament’s local government & environment committee reported back on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill today, and Environment Minister Nick Smith said it would go to a second reading this week.

Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage described the bill as “a charter for property developers with its permissive approach to subdivision. It encourages urban sprawl, ad hoc subdivision & development with little consideration of the impacts on neighbours, streams, beaches, transport & infrastructure provision.”

But Dr Smith said the amendment would “improve New Zealand’s environmental management, helps increase the supply & affordability of housing and supports jobs & growth. It contains 40 proposals that make significant changes to 5 different acts and is the most comprehensive package of reform to the Resource Management Act since its inception 25 years ago.”

It’s in the second phase of the Government’s resource management reforms, and has 12 significant provisions:

  • National planning standards to reduce complexity & cost
  • Streamlined planning process to improve responsiveness
  • Discretion for councils to exempt an activity from consents
  • Strengthening of requirements to manage natural hazard risks
  • New 10-day consent category for minor activities
  • New requirements for councils to free up land for housing
  • New provisions to enable stock exclusion from waterways
  • New provisions requiring decommissioning plans for offshore platforms
  • More generous compensation for land required for public works
  • Better alignment with other acts like Reserves, Conservation & the exclusive economic zone beyond New Zealand’s shores
  • Collaborative planning process to encourage community-led solutions, and
  • Improved Maori participation arrangements.

Dr Smith said the Maori Party had reached agreement with the Government to support the bill through all remaining stages in Parliament following detailed consideration of the initial policy and the inclusion of proposed changes to strengthen the original iwi participation agreement.

”The mana whakahono a rohe/iwi participation agreement provides a better framework for councils to meet their existing obligations to consult with local iwi. Many councils already have these agreements through Treaty settlements or good practice. The Government supports these provisions because we want iwi involved in how natural resources are managed and because formalising the process will help achieve better outcomes with less delays & costs.

“This is a huge bill and the Maori Party was not a member of the select committee. They need time to digest all of the select committee’s detailed changes to ensure they are consistent with their agreement with the Government. I will be meeting with the Maori Party co-leaders on ensuring we have got the detail right.”

Links:
Report on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (101-2) [PDF 1469k]
Resource Legislation Amendment Bill

Attribution: Ministerial & Green releases.

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Smith lists the initiatives to improve coping with quakes

Building & Construction Minister Nick Smith listed 12 initiatives this week, not just to rebuild after earthquakes but to learn from the events and improve New Zealand’s resilience to future earthquakes.

Dr Smith made his points on the steps being taken to improve management of earthquake risks in a Rotary address in Nelson, as local MP.

You can read his full address here: Better managing New Zealand’s earthquake risks

The Kaikoura earthquake on 14 November measured magnitude 7.8, making it the largest in New Zealand since 1855.

Dr Smith: “We are one of the most seismically active countries in the world and we need to be at the leading edge of protecting people, infrastructure & the economy from earthquakes.”

The initiatives, those already legislated and those still on the way:

  1. New Earthquake-prone Building Act

The first initiative is the new earthquake-prone building legislation passed by Parliament last May, which comes into effect in June this year.

The first major change in the new law is a nationally consistent approach. However, Dr Smith varied the timeframes for buildings to be assessed & upgraded relative to the variations in earthquake risk. In high risk areas like Wellington, upgrades must be done within 15 years, in medium risk areas like Nelson 25 years, and in low risk areas like Auckland 35 years.

We have set the standard of an earthquake-prone building as being one that is less than one third of the current seismic standard. It is not a guarantee of safety. It is a pragmatic balancing between cost & safety.

We have also introduced in the law the notion of priority buildings such as schools, hospitals & buildings on major pedestrian access ways and required that these be strengthened in half the standard times.

A further new requirement is that if a building owner is doing a substantial upgrade of an earthquake-prone building, they must simultaneously strengthen it to this minimum standard.

  1. Adding natural hazards to the RMA

The second major change is to the Resource Management Act, scheduled to be made law in March: “This is one of those areas where politics has got in the way of rational risk management.

The Act lists seven matters of national importance that must be addressed in every single plan and consent considered across the country… but there is no mention of natural hazards like earthquakes. This lacks common sense. New Zealand faces multiple natural hazard risks and it was a serious oversight that these risks are not a mandatory consideration for new developments.

“Let me give a practical example of why this law change is so important: The Bexley subdivision in Christchurch was approved under the RMA in the early 1990s despite publicly available reports identifying the low-lying areas as having a high risk of liquefaction in a moderate earthquake. The several-hundred-page council report on which this subdivision was approved systematically works through each of the issues identified in the principles section of the RMA as required legally. There are many pages on the landscape, cultural & vegetation issues, but the report is silent on the very significant earthquakes risks.

“The hundreds of Bexley residents whose lives were literally tipped upside down, and the taxpayers who ultimately paid out hundreds of millions from the subsequent red-zoning process, would have much preferred these risks were properly assessed in the first place.

“This important change to the RMA is in the substantive second phase bill of Government reforms due back from select committee in coming weeks and due to be passed into law in March.”

  1. Post-quake Building Act reform

Next, the management of buildings following a significant earthquake: “This involves real clashes of people’s relative rights, and decisions in a high risk aftershock environment where lives can be easily lost by the wrong decisions.”

Cabinet approved Dr Smith’s proposed revamp of the Building Act to deal with these issues a week before the Kaikoura quakes.

“The bill provides greater powers to get damaged buildings down more quickly, and provides a quite sophisticated balancing of rights between private property, safety & heritage issues. I will be introducing this bill into Parliament in March with the aim of having it as law by year’s end.”

  1. Improving consistency of building assessments

An associated area of work is improving the consistency of engineering assessments. New regulations will be finalised in April.

“This is relevant to the short sharp assessment done after an earthquake as well as in determining what buildings are earthquake prone.

“We have introduced a new guide for post-quake building assessment. Buildings are stickered as white, meaning OK for continued use, yellow for restricted access and red for unsafe. There was a lot of confusion during the Christchurch quakes by both engineers & the public on the old system, but the experience from the Kaikoura quakes is that we now have a system that is the world’s best practice, well understood and which strikes a better balance between risk & the need for communities to be able to move into recovery mode.

“The more complex job is the regulations currently being consulted on for the seismic assessment of earthquake-prone buildings. There is significant frustration from building owners that different engineers can give quite different assessments of the proportion of the new building standard that a building meets. There are real practical difficulties in making engineering assessments of buildings that may be 50 or 100 years old with very little knowledge of the standards of concrete, steel or construction in any records.

“We are currently developing regulations under this new law to get greater consistency in these assessments. The new regulations will be finalised in April.”

  1. Standards, training of engineers & accountability

This concerns regulations, ethics & training of engineering professionals, but also what requirements there are to pass on information about potentially dangerous structures and the question raised by the ability of an engineer to escape accountability by resigning from their professional association.

“We made an important change to the code of ethics last year that is pertinent to the tragic collapse of the CTV building in which 115 people were killed, 60% of the total toll from the Christchurch earthquake.

“Much has been written about the inadequacies of the design of this building constructed in 1986. I am hesitant to comment on the specifics with police due to announce a decision in the next few months on whether to prosecute the engineers responsible, albeit there is frustration that this decision is taking so long.

“The pertinent and relevant issue is that in 1993, when the building was for sale, it was assessed by consulting engineers as deficient in its seismic design. The client wisely opted not to buy the building on this advice, but the system failure was that this information was not passed on to the relevant building authority – in this case the Christchurch City Council.

“The problem here is that consulting engineers are bound by commercial contracts and the information belongs to their clients, and in this case the client had no interest beyond deciding not to purchase.

“Commercial interests & privacy concerns must in these circumstances take a back seat to public safety. That is why the code of ethics, with the support of the profession, was changed in July last year requiring engineers to pass on such information to relevant public authorities.

“A second issue that I am testing in the courts is the notion that professional accountability can be avoided by an engineer simply resigning from the professional body.

“The circumstances are that IPENZ (the Institution of Professional Engineers) appropriately initiated an investigation into the issues of engineering practice around the CTV building, but the process could not proceed simply by the engineer resigning. This not only deprives the public of a proper process of accountability but the profession of the critical learnings that must flow from such failures.

“The courts will determine a definition of what the current law states and, if it is found that accountability can be avoided by simply resigning, we will need to amend the law.

“Our government has also significantly lifted our investment in the training of professional engineers with over $90 million of additional funding. There are 2500 more students studying engineering mainly at Canterbury & Auckland Universities today than in 2008.”

  1. Powers for addressing newly identified risks

Strengthening how the Government & councils can respond to newly identified building risks: “We do not currently have in law the equivalent of a product recall system in our Building Act. An example of such a problem is where we find an engineer whose work is not up to scratch, as has recently occurred in Masterton.

“A prudent response is to require other building owners to have their building designs checked. The Government & councils can try to persuade building owners that this should be done, and generally, as in the Masterton case, owners have co-operated. Where we know a particular engineer’s work is flawed, we need to be able to check their other projects.

“Another example is the recent problem identified in the Statistics NZ building in Wellington, where 3 precast floor components collapsed. The preliminary investigation identified problems associated with the long duration and how ductile beams interacted with the precast floor slabs.

“Seismic building design is an evolving science and we will identify new risks like this that have not previously been sufficiently considered.

“This potential design flaw can be fixed, and the prudent response is to require all buildings recently constructed with these features to be checked and, where necessary, repaired.

“We are doing this in the Wellington area using the special Kaikoura earthquake powers, but this is an area where public authorities need wider powers to ensure our buildings are safe.”

  1. Tackling high risk parapets & façades post-Kaikoura

Dr Smith announced on Wednesday that an order-in-council would be issued for owners of 300 buildings in Wellington, Lower Hutt & Blenheim to be given a year to tie back unreinforced masonry façades & parapets, and that regulations would be put in place by the end of February. The Government will provide a 50% subsidy up to $15,000 for a façade and $10,000 for a parapet.

  1. Supporting heritage building upgrades

A new heritage earthquake upgrade incentive programme fund of $10 million has opened for the first round of bids.

  1. Improving tsunami warning systems

The areas most vulnerable to tsunamis are near major faults. Dr Smith said the risks were greatest where you have deep water rapidly become shallow, and confined bays that exacerbate wave height.

“The most effective strategy for reducing these risks is a well informed public & improved warning systems. The Ministers of Civil Defence and Science & Innovation announced a further $3 million investment in improving Geonet’s natural hazard monitoring in December, in response to concerns about incomplete & confusing information about the tsunami risk following the Kaikoura quake.

“The Government is also exploring a wider investment in smart-phone warning technology that would further improve our capacity to ensure people are better informed during such events.”

  1. Supporting innovative design

Dr Smith said the Government was stepping up its support for innovative design in seismic-resistant buildings: “The Earthquake Commission and the building & construction ministry [which as far as I can see is actually part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment] are funding new guidance for low damage building systems, including seismic isolation, buckling restrained braces and viscous damping. The Pres-Lam system is one of these, and the first building in the world to use it is the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

“We should not underestimate the economic opportunities from these technologies. Countries like China & Turkey, who have lost hundreds of thousands of citizens in quakes and who are becoming a lot more wealthy, are looking for these sorts of technologies to step up their building safety.”

  1. Investing in seismic research

Seismic research is one of the Government’s 10 national science challenges, “which is why we are lifting our investment in improved science & engineering to support better earthquake resilience. New engineering research facilities have been built at both Auckland & Canterbury Universities.

“The natural hazards platform has been created with $14 million/year of funding to support improved research into all aspects of seismic design.”

  1. National policy on natural hazards

Dr Smith raised the prospect of a national policy statement on natural hazards in 2015, but said in his speech this week the Ministry for the Environment would start work on it this year.

He commented this week on councils’ questionable appreciation of risks: “I am not satisfied that councils sufficiently appreciated the scale of the sort of natural hazard risks that they are responsible for. It can be tempting to ignore significant risks in the hope that nothing happens.

“A current example is the challenges in the booming tourism community of Franz Josef.

This is one of the highest earthquake risk areas in the world, with the main alpine fault running through the town and significant movement of this fault projected every 80 years. This risk is compounded by the landslide risks of the foreboding surrounding country and the wild & dangerous Waiho River.

“We can design buildings that can withstand substantial shaking but, if a fault line rips through a building, there is little prospect of it remaining safe. Council had proposed to designate the area to prohibit any new structures in this strip but has come up against considerable resistance from property owners. It is currently proposing to drop the hazard zone.

“In a place like Franz Josef, where there can be more than 1000 tourists staying/night, there can be a tension between the local business interests and the national interests in ensuring the prudent management of safety of our visitors. The Government is working with the Westland District Council on these issues, but the example highlights the need for clearer national direction.

“This year the Ministry for the Environment will be starting work on a national policy statement on natural hazards to support the changes in the RMA.

“The purpose will be in strengthening the requirements & legal responsibilities on councils to ensure we more prudently manage these risks. This is a major piece of work that will take some years to complete, but will lay the national foundations for better long-term management of earthquakes & other natural hazards.”

Related stories today:
Better managing New Zealand’s earthquake risks
Smith lists the initiatives to improve coping with quakes
Fast fix ordered for Wellington & Blenheim unreinforced masonry

Earlier stories:
18 November 2016: Ministry to investigate buildings’ performance in quake
15 August 2016: Property Council calls Government’s new heritage support fund “underwhelming”
17 April 2016: QuakeCore lab opens
3 September 2015: Property Council suggests measures to help quake-affected owners
3 September 2015: Government bows to quake survivor’s submissions
14 August 2015: Smith talks up firmer hand on environmental rules
3 July 2015: Council falls into line on quake-prone checks
25 June 2015: Select committee seeks feedback on quake-prone buildings bill changes
20 May 2015: Changes proposed for managing buildings in emergencies
10 May 2015: 
Government eases quake strengthening targets
7 March 2014: Quake-prone buildings bill introduced

Attribution: Smith speech.

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Better managing New Zealand’s earthquake risks

Building & Construction Minister Nick Smith delivered a comprehensive address this week to a local audience – he’s also Nelson’s MP – on the steps being taken to improve management of earthquake risks.

I’ve pulled out his key points to highlight them in a separate item. This is his full address, unedited:

A big worry in this Trump era of modern politics is that complex issues are dumbed down to 140 character tweets. The beauty of this annual opportunity you give me as Nelson’s MP is to give a far more considered and thorough account of a topical issue. The focus of this 22nd Rotary address is the steps we are taking to improve New Zealand’s management of earthquake risks.

We were dubbed the Shaky Isles 170 years ago and at two minutes past midnight on November 14 we got another harsh reminder of why. That Kaikoura quake was the largest in New Zealand since 1855. We are one of the most seismically active countries in the world and we need to be at the leading edge of protecting people, infrastructure and the economy from earthquakes.

The challenge in Government is that there are all sorts of risks to manage – financial, terrorism, biological, trade, climate change, fire, and cyber-security, as well as the natural risks of floods, volcanic eruptions and cyclones, as well as earthquakes. We cannot pretend that Government can eliminate these risks and we will always be limited in the resources we have to reduce them. My long term ambition as a Minister and as a rare engineer in Parliament is to try and ensure as a country we manage these risks and allocate resources based on science-based risk assessment. Politics and rational science are not close relatives but tonight is an attempt to bring them closer together.

It is worth recalling our history of seismic events. We have had eight fatal earthquakes post-1840, or about one every 20 years. While it is true that two majors inside six years is unusual, we should treat the 40-year lull between Inangahua and Christchurch as unusually long.

There is no evidence the frequency of earthquakes in New Zealand has changed. GNS measures about 15,000 a year of which 150, or one every three days, is felt. What has been unlucky is that we have had major quakes close to major population centres where the effects are so much greater.

It is useful to compare the risks to life from earthquakes to other risks. Our history points to an average loss of three lives a year from earthquakes, as compared to 300 a year from road accidents, 120 a year from drowning and 30 a year from house fires. You can see in these numbers why I placed huge importance in getting a new law through Parliament last year requiring smoke alarms in rental properties, when the costs are so small in comparison to earthquake strengthening and the number of lives saved so much greater. These stats are not to discount the risks from quakes, but to keep the relative risk in perspective.

Average expected fatalities are just one factor to take into account in determining priorities. Earthquakes will cost New Zealand close to $50 billion in both public and private sector costs this decade, of which the Government’s share is about $20 billion – $18 billion for Christchurch and $2 billion for Kaikoura.

The loss of life from earthquakes in New Zealand pales by comparison internationally. The 185 deaths in Christchurch compares to 230,000 in the 2004 Boxing Day quake and tsunami in Indonesia, the 160,000 killed in Haiti in 2010, the 16,000 killed in the Tohoku quake in Japan of 2011 and the 70,000 killed in Sichuan quake in China in 2008.

It is of note that the last decade has been the deadliest on record for earthquakes globally and that fatalities have been on the rise over the past half century.

The big killers are building failures and tsunamis. The reason for the significant rise is not any increase in seismicity but many more people living in the cities and in coastal areas. Improved building seismic resilience and better managing tsunami risks are the issues we should focus on to reduce future fatalities.

New Zealand’s comparatively low level of fatalities despite being one of the most seismically active areas of the world is due to both our relatively low population density and the huge improvements in building standards over the past century.

The Christchurch and Napier earthquakes were similarly sized quakes but whereas one in 100 died in Napier, in Christchurch one in 2000 died. This 95 percent reduction in fatalities can largely be attributed to the huge improvements in buildings’ seismic resistance. To put it another way, there would have been about 4000 fatalities in Christchurch were building standards left as they were in 1931. The key issue for my Building Minister’s role is how we further improve our engineering and building standards into the future.

Seismic science & engineering

It is not my intention to spend too much time on the seismic and engineering sciences, but there are a few core facts needed to explain the Government’s priorities and direction of policy.

The first is to communicate the scale of energy release in a seismic event that makes designing and constructing earthquake resistant buildings so challenging.

The Richter scale used to report earthquakes is logarithmic. An increase from a 5 to a 6 magnitude quake actually represents a 32-fold increase in the energy being released.

To get some sense of scale, the Christchurch 2011 quake at a 6.3 involved a release of energy equivalent to four Hiroshima atomic bombs. The Kaikoura earthquake at 7.8 was 180 times more powerful and the equivalent of 800 Hiroshima bombs. But the magnitude 9, mega thrust Tohuku earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 was 80 times stronger again and the equivalent of 60,000 Hiroshima bombs.

So my first point is that earthquakes involve the release of phenomenal energy and that we cannot make our buildings totally safe.

The Christchurch earthquake was comparatively small and made deadly not by its size but by its location. We need to be prepared for the worse scenario of a Kaikoura or Tohoku scale quake close to a major city.

The analogy I would make to improved building design is the improvements made in vehicle standards.

Cars today are not 100 per cent safe in a crash but the risk of fatality has been made an order of magnitude better by smart design.

The challenge with buildings is more difficult because cars generally last 15 years, whereas buildings last 100, buildings are generally one off designed whereas cars are massed produced and accidents occur far more frequently than earthquakes, enabling design lessons to occur far more frequently. The common feature is that while we can make buildings a lot safer, a big enough crash or quake will still result in fatalities. My greatest concern is about the thousands of vintage buildings still in use that pose the most risk.

The second important scientific fact relates to the cause and probability of earthquakes.

We heard all sorts of phantom theories about earthquakes being triggered by the phase of the moon, by oil exploration activity and from Destiny’s Brian Tamaki that sexual sinning was the cause. Earthquakes are caused by the sudden movement along faults of the earth’s tectonic plates and the timing cannot currently be predicted beyond probability estimates.

I was particularly offended by the moon-man, who caused widespread alarm in 2011 when he publically predicted a major shake at the Sign of the Kiwi on Christchurch’s Port Hill’s at a particular date and time. I was part of Skeptics New Zealand’s protest on site to highlight the nonsense of such pseudo-science. Extensive studies have shown no correlation between phases of the moon and earthquakes.

The science does, however, tell us two things about the probability of earthquakes.

There are no surprises that the risk of earthquakes varies significantly with geography, i.e. that Wellington is much more prone than Auckland but the scale of difference needs highlighting.

We would expect a significant earthquake of intensity MM8 in Wellington about once every 120 years, in Christchurch or Nelson every 720 years, in Dunedin every 1700 years and in Auckland once every 7400 years.

For the record, the most high risk earthquake locations are Arthurs Pass, Hanmer Springs, Hokitika, Masterton and Kaikoura.

The importance of this is that we need to focus our policies on the areas of greatest risk and avoid imposing excessive costs in areas like Auckland and Dunedin, where the seismic activity is low.

The second factor about the timing of earthquakes that we know is that they are much more likely after a significant quake. One of the worst psychological impacts of earthquakes is the long tail of aftershocks that can last several years. There is nothing more soul destroying than fixing the sewer pipe or removing the liquefied silt only to have it re-break and re-appear time and time again.

The last technical issue I want to cover is an explanation of why some buildings failed and others did not in the Kaikoura earthquake.

People have been both mystified and unnerved by the fact that many older buildings labelled as earthquake prone had minimal, if any, damage in Wellington, while other new modern buildings had life-threatening partial failures.

The explanation for this lies in the way the frequency of shaking interacts with the natural frequency of a building.

Every building has a natural frequency. If you give it a strong enough shove, it will naturally rock back and forward with a particular frequency. A short building may have a period of 0.2 seconds, but a tall building may be at over 2 seconds per sway. If the frequency of the earthquake’s shaking coincides with the building’s own frequency, it will experience much more extensive damage.

An earthquake will typically release a whole lot of shaking frequencies, but the short sharp shaking abates in close proximity to the quake. So the Kaikoura earthquake in Wellington had strong frequency shakes in the range of 0.8-1.2 seconds that lasted for an unusually long time. That affected buildings in the five to ten storey range. For these buildings, the earthquake was stronger and longer than the design standards required. But these same buildings would not be the most vulnerable in a major quake close to the city. The one and two storey, unreinforced masonry buildings that were untouched by the Kaikoura quake would be more likely to be hugely damaged and cause significant loss of life in a closer quake.

The Government has been severely tested by the challenges of the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes and, while some mistakes have been made, I think history will judge our Government well. I particularly give tribute to Gerry Brownlee who, through the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes, has done the lion’s share of the work.

We have poured in billions of dollars, passed special pragmatic laws to facilitate the rebuild, bailed out failed insurers to protect householders and acted decisively on getting infrastructure quickly fixed.
The responsibility is not just to rebuild but to learn every possible lesson so as to improve our resilience as a country to future earthquakes. Tonight I want to outline a dozen initiatives we are taking to achieve this:

  1. New Earthquake Prone Building Act

The first is the new earthquake prone building legislation passed by Parliament last May which comes into effect in June this year.

From a policy perspective, it is relatively easy to pass laws and regulations on what you require of newly constructed buildings, but it is a far more difficult job in requiring existing building owners to upgrade. The vast bulk of seismically active countries have no legal requirement for older buildings to be upgraded with the exception of the State of California.

However, this is where the greatest gains are to be made in safety. Old buildings, those built before the development of seismic design standards, particularly those of unreinforced masonry, are responsible for the vast bulk of the thousands of people who die each year in earthquakes around the world.

The first major change in the new law taking effect this year is a nationally consistent approach. The Royal Commission into the Canterbury Earthquakes rightly concluded that for each of our 68 councils to have different definitions and different methodologies was inefficient and ineffective.

An innovation I added to the law is varying the timeframes for buildings to be assessed and upgraded relative to the variations in earthquake risk. In high risk areas, like Wellington, upgrades must be done within 15 years, in medium risk areas like Nelson 25 years and in low risk areas like Auckland 35 years.

We have set the standard of an earthquake prone building as being one that is less than one third of the current seismic standard. It is not a guarantee of safety. It is a pragmatic balancing between cost and safety.

We have also introduced in the law the notion of priority buildings such as schools, hospitals and buildings on major pedestrian access ways and required that these be strengthened in half the standard times.

A further new requirement is that if a building owner is doing a substantial upgrade of an earthquake prone building, they must simultaneously strengthen it to this minimum standard.

These new frameworks for strengthening older buildings are the most comprehensive of any country in the world.

  1. Adding natural hazards to the RMA

The second major change is to the Resource Management Act.

This is one of those areas where politics has got in the way of rational risk management.

The Act lists seven matters of national importance that must be addressed in every single plan and consent considered across the country. It includes such things as natural character, landscapes, protecting flora and fauna, Maori culture and customary rights, public access along rivers and lakes and historical heritage but there is no mention of natural hazards like earthquakes. This lacks common sense. New Zealand faces multiple natural hazard risks and it was a serious oversight that these risks are not a mandatory consideration for new developments.

Let me give a practical example of why this law change is so important.

The Bexley subdivision in Christchurch was approved under the RMA in the early 1990s despite publically available reports identifying the low lying areas as having a high risk of liquefaction in a moderate earthquake. The several hundred page council report on which this subdivision was approved systematically works through each of the issues identified in the principles section of the RMA as required legally. There are many pages on the landscape, cultural and vegetation issues but the report is silent on the very significant earthquakes risks. The hundreds of Bexley residents whose lives were literally tipped upside down, and the taxpayers who ultimately paid out hundreds of millions from the subsequent red zoning process, would have much preferred these risks were properly assessed in the first place.

This important change to the RMA is in the substantive second phase bill of Government reforms due back from Select Committee in coming weeks and due to be passed into law in March. Opposition parties will find all sorts of trivial reasons to try to block this bill, but this fundamental change to requiring proper assessment of natural hazards like earthquakes when doing developments is essential.

  1. Post-quake Building Act reform

A third area of reform in which we need to do better is in the management of buildings following a significant earthquake.

This involves real clashes of people’s relative rights, and decisions in a high risk aftershock environment where lives can be easily lost by the wrong decisions.

You have people wanting to get access to their personal property and business records, sometimes in buildings that are perfectly safe except for an adjacent building that may pose a risk. You have engineers working hideous hours making dozens of critical decisions often with limited information. You have private property owners, often in complex body corporate structures offended by officials having powers to demolish their most valuable asset. Add to the mix heritage issues and the inherent stresses people are under post-quake and you have an explosive mix of competing interests.

In November, only a week prior to the Kaikoura quakes, Cabinet approved my proposed revamp of the Building Act to deal with these issues.

The Bill provides greater powers to get damaged buildings down more quickly, and provides a quite sophisticated balancing of rights between private property, safety and heritage issues. I will be introducing this Bill into Parliament in March with the aim of having it as law by year’s end.

  1. Improving consistency of building assessments

An associated fourth area of work is improving the consistency of engineering assessments. This is relevant to the short sharp assessment done after an earthquake as well as in determining what buildings are earthquake prone.

We have introduced a new guide for post-quake building assessment. Buildings are stickered as white, meaning OK for continued use, yellow for restricted access and red for unsafe. There was a lot of confusion during the Christchurch quakes by both engineers and the public on the old system, but the experience from the Kaikoura quakes is that we now have a system that is the world’s best practice, well understood and which strikes a better balance between risk and the need for communities to be able to move into recovery mode.

The more complex job is the regulations currently being consulted on for the seismic assessment of earthquake-prone buildings. There is significant frustration from building owners that different engineers can give quite different assessments of the proportion of the new building standard that a building meets. There are real practical difficulties in making engineering assessments of buildings that may be 50 or 100 years old with very little knowledge of the standards of concrete, steel or construction in any records.

We are currently developing regulations under this new law to get greater consistency in these assessments. The new regulations will be finalised in April.

  1. Standards & training of engineers

The fifth area of reform is in respect of the regulations, ethics and training of engineering professionals.

We made an important change to the code of ethics last year that is pertinent to the tragic collapse of the CTV building in which 115 people were killed, 60 per cent of the total toll from the Christchurch earthquake.

Much has been written about the inadequacies of the design of this building constructed in 1986. I am hesitant to comment on the specifics with Police due to announce a decision in the next few months on whether to prosecute the engineers responsible, albeit there is frustration that this decision is taking so long.

The pertinent and relevant issue is that in 1993, when the building was for sale, it was assessed by consulting engineers as deficient in its seismic design. The client wisely opted not to buy the building on this advice but the system failure was that this information was not passed on to the relevant building authority – in this case the Christchurch City Council.

The problem here is that consulting engineers are bound by commercial contracts and the information belongs to their clients, and in this case the client had no interest beyond deciding not to purchase.

Commercial interests and privacy concerns must in these circumstances take a back seat to public safety. That is why the Code of Ethics, with the support of the profession was changed in July last year requiring engineers to pass on such information to relevant public authorities.

A second issue that I am testing in the courts is the notion that professional accountability can be avoided by an engineer simply resigning from the professional body.

The circumstances are that IPENZ appropriately initiated an investigation into the issues of engineering practice around the CTV building, but the process could not proceed simply by the engineer resigning. This not only deprives the public of a proper process of accountability but the profession of the critical learnings that must flow from such failures.

The courts will determine a definition of what the current law states, and if it is found that accountability can be avoided by simply resigning, we will need to amend the law.

Our Government has also significantly lifted our investment in the training of professional engineers with over $90 million of additional funding. There are 2500 more students studying engineering mainly at Canterbury and Auckland Universities’ today than in 2008.

This policy of expanding our engineering training is playing out locally where NMIT established a diploma engineering programme here in Nelson in 2015.

  1. Powers for addressing newly identified risks

A sixth area of work is strengthening how Government and Councils can respond to newly identified building risks.

We do not currently have in law the equivalent of a product recall system in our Building Act.

When a safety fault is found in a car or appliance, like a smart phone, you will have the product recalled, checked and fixed, usually by the manufacturer. The building sector is structured very differently, but the same sort of problems can arise.

An example of such a problem is where we find an engineer whose work is not up to scratch as has recently occurred in Masterton.

A prudent response is to require other building owners to have their building designs checked. The Government and Councils can try to persuade building owners that this should be done, and generally as in the Masterton case, owners have cooperated. Where we know a particular engineer’s work is flawed, we need to be able to check their other projects.

Another example is the recent problem identified in the Statistics New Zealand building in Wellington where three pre-cast floor components collapsed.

The preliminary investigation identified problems associated with the long duration and how ductile beams interacted with the pre-cast floor slabs. Seismic building design is an evolving science and we will identify new risks like this that have not previously been sufficiently considered.

This potential design flaw can be fixed and the prudent response is to require all buildings recently constructed with these features to be checked and where necessary repaired.

We are doing this in the Wellington area using the special Kaikoura earthquake powers, but this is an area where public authorities need wider powers to ensure our buildings are safe.

  1. Tackling high risk parapets & façades post-Kaikoura

A seventh new initiative I am announcing today is in response to the heightened risk from the Kaikoura earthquake of aftershocks.

The seismic advice is that Wellington, Lower Hutt and Blenheim are currently exposed to eight times the normal risk of a quake. This heightened risk will abate to about twice the norm by year’s end and to normal levels not until 2020.

A scenario is possible as in Christchurch where an aftershock occurs in this period close to one of these centres causing significant loss of life.

The New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering presented me with a proposal in December for us to respond to this risk by requiring and helping fund urgent upgrades of those parapets and facades on high risk unreinforced masonry buildings. These are the buildings that killed 39 people in Christchurch and for which relatively minor engineering works at a cost of around $20,000 to $30,000 per building can help mitigate the potential of these parapets and facades to fall.

Today I have announced that the Government will pass an Order in Council requiring all Earthquake Prone unreinforced masonry building owners with street facing facades and parapets in high occupation areas to tie back these features within 12 months in the areas of Wellington, Blenheim and Lower Hutt.

The Government has also set aside a fund of $3 million to assist with this cost which, combined with councils, we will be offering a dollar for dollar subsidy. We are also using the Hurunui/ Kaikoura Earthquake Recovery Act powers to exempt this tie back work from requiring building and resource consents if carried out by a properly qualified engineer. My Ministry is assisting this work with standardised designs that can be quickly implemented.

This is the sort of pragmatic, fast footed response we need to wisely manage these complex risks in the aftermath of a big shake.

  1. Supporting heritage building upgrades

This is paralleled by our eighth initiative as a Government to support heritage-building upgrades with a new Heritage Earthquake Upgrade Incentive Programme fund of $10 million.

Communities across New Zealand, particularly in those higher earthquake prone provincial areas, face difficult choices about what heritage to keep and what for safety reasons needs to come down.

This fund, championed by Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry and currently open for the first round of bids, is about the Government sharing in the cost burden of making some of these heritage buildings safe.

  1. Improving tsunami warning systems

Most of this presentation has focussed on improving the safety of buildings.

The past decade has seen heightened concerns about the risk of Tsunami. The areas most vulnerable are those coastal areas close to major faults and the risks are greatest where you have deep water rapidly become shallow and confined bays that exacerbate wave height.

The most effective strategy for reducing these risks is a well-informed public and improved warning systems.

You will have seen the increased advertising by civil defence alongside “drop, cover, hold” with tsunami information advising people that if in a coastal area, during a long or strong earthquake to make immediately for higher ground.

In December, the Ministers of Civil Defence and Science and Innovation announced a further $3 million investment in improving Geonet’s natural hazard monitoring. This was in response to concerns about incomplete and confusing information about the Tsunami risk following the November 14th Kaikoura quake.

The Government is also exploring a wider investment in smart phone warning technology that would further improve our capacity to ensure people are better informed during such events.

  1. Supporting innovative design

The Government is also stepping up its support for innovative design in seismic resistant buildings.

New Zealand has a proud heritage in this area with the William Clayton building in Wellington being the first in the world to use base isolation technology – a feature now used in thousands of buildings worldwide.

EQC and my Ministry are funding new guidance for low damage building systems including seismic isolation, buckling restrained braces, and viscous damping. The Pres-Lam system is one of these and the first building in the world to use it is the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

We should not underestimate the economic opportunities from these technologies. Countries like China and Turkey, who have lost hundreds of thousands of citizens in quakes and who are becoming a lot more wealthy, are looking for these sorts of technologies to step up their building safety.

  1. Investing in seismic research

Seismic research has also identified as one of the Government’s 10 National Science Challenges which is why we are lifting our investment in improved science and engineering to support better earthquake resilience.

New engineering research facilities have been built at both Auckland and Canterbury Universities.

The Natural Hazards Platform has been created with $14 million a year of funding to support improved research into all aspects of seismic design.

  1. National policy on natural hazards

The 12th national initiative I want to mention is the importance of stronger national direction on natural hazard’s management.

I am not satisfied that councils sufficiently appreciated the scale of the sort of natural hazard risks that they are responsible for. It can be tempting to ignore significant risks in the hope that nothing happens.

A current example is the challenges in the booming tourism community of Franz Josef.

This is one of the highest earthquake risk areas in the world, with the main alpine fault running through the town and significant movement of this fault projected every 80 years. This risk is compounded by the landslide risks of the foreboding surrounding country and the wild and dangerous Waiho River.

We can design buildings that can withstand substantial shaking, but if a fault line rips through a building, there is little prospect of it remaining safe. Council had proposed to designate the area to prohibit any new structures in this strip but has come up against considerable resistance from property owners. It is currently proposing to drop the hazard zone.

In a place like Franz Josef, where there can be more than 1000 tourists staying a night, there can be a tension between the local business interests and the national interests in ensuring the prudent management of safety of our visitors. The Government is working with the Westland District Council on these issues but the example highlights the need for clearer national direction.

This year the Ministry for the Environment will be starting work on a National Policy Statement on National Hazards to support the changes in the RMA.

The purpose will be in strengthening the requirements and legal responsibilities on Councils to ensure we more prudently manage these risks. This is a major piece of work that will take some years to complete but will lay the national foundations for better long-term management of earthquakes and other natural hazards.

Nelson Cathedral strengthening proposal

I want to conclude this nationally focussed speech on earthquake hazards with a local initiative. We, like many centres across New Zealand, need to be upgrading our building stock in preparation for the earthquake that one day will strike.

We need to make some hard choices about which buildings are uneconomic to maintain and which have sufficient heritage and other community values that we need to strengthen.

We are making good progress. Ten years ago I outlined a plan with council and community groups to progressively upgrade our three iconic arts facilities – the Theatre Royal, the Suter Art Gallery and the Nelson School of Music. Two are complete with Council and Government support and the latter is well underway and due for completion in September. I also note progress with privately owned buildings with a number in the CBD like Trathen’s coming down and being replaced. This is to be welcomed, despite the loss of heritage.

I also commend the council for the courage and commitment in seeing through the substantial upgrade and strengthening of the Trafalgar Centre due for reopening in February.

Today I want to encourage our community to join me and the Anglican Church in a campaign to strengthen our iconic Christ Church Cathedral.

I rate our Cathedral as Nelson’s most important building, a landmark that helps define our heritage. It sits in the iconic position at the head of Trafalgar Street with the Church Steps serving as civic central where generations have seen off our servicemen to war, where we have greeted Royalty, where we protest, where we celebrate our victories and mark significant centenaries. I rate our Christmas Eve carols attended by thousands amongst our treasured annual events. The Nelson Cathedral is now, with the demise of the cathedral in Christchurch, the most visited in New Zealand.

The problem is that this 1929 building is earthquake prone, and could in a significant event suffer the same fate as Christchurch’s cathedral. A closer quake like Kaikoura’s would be likely to bring down the tower and do substantial damage to the nave.

I want to make clear that the Cathedral is not unsafe to occupy – it is not as earthquake prone as the likes of the School of Music or Trafalgar Centre that needed to be temporarily closed. But it is at risk of significant damage, and having seen the pain in Christchurch over theirs, I would much prefer we strengthen ours ahead of any such major quake.

The cost of strengthening our Cathedral up to about 80 percent of the new Building Standards would be between $5 million and $8 million according to preliminary work – a fraction of what it would cost for a replacement building. I also note that the building is currently uninsurable.

There may be those who will argue that this is a problem of the Anglican Church and Nelson diocese. I do not share that view. This building has a wider civic role and the Church generously opens it to visitors and all manner of community events. The Suter Art Gallery, School of Music, and Theatre Royal are all privately owned by trusts but received both taxpayer and ratepayer support for upgrading.

I am working with the Church Trustees and, in partnership with the council, I would like to work towards establishing a fundraising trust to help protect this valued part of our beautiful city. We should set a target of having this strengthening work done within five years, i.e. by 2022. That’s a prudent time frame that is realistic about the cost but also about the risk.

Conclusions

I thank you again for this opportunity to address an issue of importance in some depth. Our high seismic risk is the flip side of living in a country with such magnificent mountains, lakes and scenery that makes us the envy of the world.

The initiatives I have outlined tonight on the Government’s work programme for improving New Zealand’s management of seismic risks this year are ambitious.

The changes to our building and resource management laws are the most significant in decades. The new regulations on building assessments and natural hazard management will challenge our councils, engineering and planning professions. The new funds for unreinforced masonry façades and heritage buildings, and engineering training and research, will help improve safety.

This package of changes will save hundreds of Kiwi lives in future quakes and put New Zealand at the leading edge in earthquake preparedness.

My last point re-emphasises where I began.

We cannot eliminate all the risks that come from nature’s annual cruel game of seismic roulette and another Napier, Christchurch, Kaikoura or an even more devastating quake will strike again in the future.

But with smart science, innovative engineering and pragmatic policies, we can reduce the loss of life and the cost. That is what we owe future generations from our experiences from Christchurch and Kaikoura.

Related stories today:
Better managing New Zealand’s earthquake risks
Smith lists the initiatives to improve coping with quakes
Fast fix ordered for Wellington & Blenheim unreinforced masonry

Earlier stories:
18 November 2016: Ministry to investigate buildings’ performance in quake
15 August 2016: Property Council calls Government’s new heritage support fund “underwhelming”
17 April 2016: QuakeCore lab opens
3 September 2015: Property Council suggests measures to help quake-affected owners
3 September 2015: Government bows to quake survivor’s submissions
14 August 2015: Smith talks up firmer hand on environmental rules
3 July 2015: Council falls into line on quake-prone checks
25 June 2015: Select committee seeks feedback on quake-prone buildings bill changes
20 May 2015: Changes proposed for managing buildings in emergencies
10 May 2015: Government eases quake strengthening targets

7 March 2014: Quake-prone buildings bill introduced

Image above: Dr Smith in charge of a digger last October.

Attribution: Full speech.

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