Wellington quake risk buildings

March 7th, 2011 at 4:37 pm by David Farrar

Ohariu MP did a good public service by getting the WCC to release a list of buildings that may not fully comply with modern standards (note some may now comply, so don’t make hasty decisions based on this info – ask landlords for more info).

has put those buildings onto a map, which makes it very easy to use.

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52 Responses to “Wellington quake risk buildings”

  1. Shunda barunda (2,977 comments) says:

    All I can say is BLARR-DEE HELL!!

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  2. annie (540 comments) says:

    Time to bulldoze Te Aro, then? Or bankrupt ourselves getting the old dungers back up to an inadequate percentage of current new building safety standards.

    I mean, as Shunda said, bloody hell! Thank you, Google street view! I won’t be going near any businesses in these buildings again.

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  3. big bruv (13,690 comments) says:

    Shit!….I do miss Wellington but after looking at that map I am kinda glad I no longer live there.

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  4. adze (2,082 comments) says:

    Far out, glad I don’t live downtown then… mind you I’m not sure I would trust my current flat in a decent earthquake either.

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  5. tristanb (1,133 comments) says:

    I guess this is similar to the 400-building Auckland list that Len Brown has forbidden from being released from a public register.
    (see http://www.nzherald.co.nz/earthquakes/news/article.cfm?c_id=184&objectid=10710233 )

    I really hate Len Brown’s secrecy – makes him look shifty.

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  6. Nick R (505 comments) says:

    I note they say the council is only assessing 3,800 buildings. Does anyone know how they arrived at this figure or how they choose which buildings they will assess? It must mean there are a lot of buildings which the Council is not assessing at all.

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  7. davidp (3,574 comments) says:

    My office at 326 Lambton Quay is prone according to Dunne’s list, but doesn’t appear on the map. In fact only one building on the Quay is prone according to the map. I think something is wrong with the map.

    There are thousands of people living in the city center these days. I fear that WCC is going to wipe out the equity people have in their homes, bankrupting many. If that is the case then it will be back to the 1970s because it’ll be a brave person who dares to buy an apartment in central Wellington.

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  8. Caleb (479 comments) says:

    After all these years you would think the EQC would have come up with a strategy to get these buildings up to strength.

    Cheap loans to building owners or setup a company to do the work.

    Got to be a better option than wait for a big quake to hit Wellington and then pick up the pieces.

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  9. Shunda barunda (2,977 comments) says:

    The difference between Christchurch and Wellington is that an earth quake could be right under the CBD in Wellington and be a mag 7.
    This situation should simply not exist in 2011, they have had decades to address these issues.
    If a large earthquake happens in Wellington near midday there will likely be thousands of casualties, perhaps many thousands.
    Time for some decisive leadership.

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  10. Nicola Wood (57 comments) says:

    I see that Victoria University’s Kelburn Campus is included in this. Scary stuff.

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  11. Pete George (23,427 comments) says:

    Shunda, the government nor the local council can’t just suddenly force every building owner to upgrade to a certain standard. Nor can they pay for the upgrades.

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  12. Brian Smaller (4,037 comments) says:

    The building I work in when I am in Wellington is 14 stories tall and perched on stilts on the side of a bank made of clay above Lampton Quay. I always just assumed a decent quake would probably kill me if it hit central town.

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  13. Shunda barunda (2,977 comments) says:

    Shunda, the government nor the local council can’t just suddenly force every building owner to upgrade to a certain standard. Nor can they pay for the upgrades.

    Then everybody in Wellington needs to accept what will happen in a large earthquake.
    It will be exponentially worse than Christchurch.

    There has been enough time to sort this out Pete.

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  14. capitald (72 comments) says:

    Luke is a great guy, he has done everyone an excellent service by putting all this government data into something meaningful. Well done Luke!

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  15. ciaron (1,419 comments) says:

    Upgrading old buildings is cost prohibitive.
    Constructing new buildings to 1/2500 APE is cost prohibitive
    Normal buildings are only designed to 1/500 APE (wind, rain/snow & seismic events)
    Normal buildings only have a 50yr design life.

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  16. Caleb (479 comments) says:

    Why not put some pressure on landlords to fix the problem.

    Its hardly going to be an accident when another big quake hits and all the old, un-strengthened buildings fall down.

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  17. ciaron (1,419 comments) says:

    Why not put some pressure on landlords to fix the problem.

    Ok, lets say you own a property which you lease as commercial/office space, The property is an older (1930-40’s) building with two tenants (upstairs/ downstairs), the property is worth 1.2 mill of which 70% is mortgage and when all is said & done you see maybe 3-4k per month.

    The tenants come to you and say they don’t feel comfortable being in an old building now and would like you to do some improvements. You’re a reasonable guy, so you call a structural engineer. He does a desktop study on feasibility & cost of bringing the building up to 50% and 75% of the New Building Standard. In short, he recommends significant works which will require your tenants to vacate the premises for 6-8 months, although in reality this will probably be more like 10, and will cost around 600k.

    So, do you:
    A: Take the hit, do the work and extend the mortgage for another 25 years.
    B: Now you know what’s involved, sell up before the property value goes through the floor.
    C: Tell the tenants you’re comfortable with it and if they don’t like it they can fuck off.

    And remember, whatever you chose, at the end of the month the engineer will send you a bill for between 2-4k

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  18. davidp (3,574 comments) says:

    ciaron>Ok, lets say you own a property which you lease as commercial/office space

    Probably half the buildings listed will be apartment conversions that were standards compliant at the time of the conversion. Take your $600k, split it five ways, and get everyone to move out of their homes for 10 months. This is going to depopulate the city center and wipe out the equity of a lot of people.

    Developers will make a killing tho. There’ll be a glut of worthless property on the market.

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  19. ciaron (1,419 comments) says:

    @ davidp; I wasn’t talking specifically about Wellington property, merely how stupid it is to “put some pressure on landlords to fix the problem”, because 9 times out of 10, the landlord will simply walk away when cornered into making an investment unprofitable, and believe me, making a listed building seismically compliant will cost close to whatever the building’s value (or damn near bankrupt you) by the time you’re finished, and the landlord will never recover that cost.

    On the plus side all those whinging people with nothing better to do can buy all those historic buildings with their own money cause no one in their right mind would touch them as an investment now.

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  20. Shunda barunda (2,977 comments) says:

    So it’s settled then.
    Economic/private property values trump human life.
    The insurance will pay when the quake happens, and if not the (remaining) tax payers will pick up the bill.
    Wellington will be rebuilt by the same people, the families of the dead will understand, and we will all go on our merry way.

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  21. Mr Nobody NZ (397 comments) says:

    Does anybody know now that these buildings have been identified as at risk of collapse in an Earthquake what liability the owners/council have if they do nothing and deaths/injuries later occur in an earthquake event?

    Carion surely now that this risk has been identified new potential owners must be advised of this in advance which would prevent a lot of current land lords walking away from their obligations?

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  22. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    If there’s a major earthquake in Wellington I suggest that the most damage will happen in the Hutt Valley and Kilburnie. That is where the liquefaction risk is highest. The majority of the CBD is built on basement rock and therefore does not require the buildings to be as strong since there is no soil amplification risk. I still wouldn’t want to be there though.

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  23. ciaron (1,419 comments) says:

    If the buildings comply with council regulations then none.

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  24. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    ciaron – it’s all about risk. If you choose to pay a lower rent for office space in a higher risk building, then you can expect a higher chance of that building collapsing in a big earthquake. Or put it another way – are the businesses in those buildings prepared to pay more rent (and that could be 2-3 times the rent, depending on how this problem plays out) to move to a lower risk building?
    There are also many other risks besides earthquakes. The building could have really wide fire escapes, making it more suitable for a nightclub where that is a more serious risk. Or the risk could be business related – if you’re not where your clients are then you might as well not bother. In that situation you might be prepared to pay more rent so that the landlord can refurbish the building.

    Basically, if people are that concerned about it then the market will sort the problem out. What I hope comes out of this is that councils will abandon their forced densification programs and let urban sprawl continue.

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  25. ciaron (1,419 comments) says:

    @ gazz; I’m a structural technician with a minor in Geotechnical engineering. I was part of the Sept 4 response and have been doing level 2 assessments since the 24th. I know about risk. (hint: references to Annual Probability of Exceedance in my 8:10)

    You really should have addressed your comment to Shunda & Mr NobodyNZ, you answer them very well :)

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  26. slightlyright (93 comments) says:

    I’m shocked to see the Wellesley has been issued a notice, its a beautiful old building thats had a heap of money spent on it recently to do it up, surely its earthquake proof?

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  27. ciaron (1,419 comments) says:

    earthquake proof…. no such thing, just degrees of acceptable damage.

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  28. Shunda barunda (2,977 comments) says:

    @ gazz; I’m a structural technician with a minor in Geotechnical engineering. I was part of the Sept 4 response and have been doing level 2 assessments since the 24th.

    So you are a witness to the destruction in Christchurch and you still argue that nothing can be done in Wellington?

    What is the answer then, just let everything fall down?

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  29. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    Ohariu MP Peter Dunne did a good public service…

    I disagree.

    If he truly wanted this list done, he wouldn’t have waited until a national tragedy to make this political point. He could have asked for this using a bit of foresight and vision years ago. To me, he has used a national tragedy to make the headlines.

    Anyone can react to an event and call for change.

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  30. Shunda barunda (2,977 comments) says:

    Anyone can react to an event and call for change.

    So? Isn’t that what is supposed to happen after a natural disaster.
    “Dull as ditch water Dunne” type politicians have their uses.

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  31. Pete George (23,427 comments) says:

    What is the answer then, just let everything fall down?

    It’s much more risky driving on the highway. Should “they” put more priority on crash proofing every highway?
    Ban smoking altogether? Ban high sugar foods and drinks, high fat foods? Severely limit alcohol use?
    All would save many more lives at lower cost.

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  32. davidp (3,574 comments) says:

    Shunda barunda>What is the answer then, just let everything fall down?

    Do nothing. Over time buildings will reach their design life and be replaced. This will be a gradual process. If you essentially condemn nearly 1000 CBD buildings overnight then the economic consequences will be about the same as a Christchurch-sized earthquake, just without the loss of life. Can we afford another $15bn to rebuild Wellington over the next 5 years?

    I’m wondering about all the hill side properties in Wellington. There are tens of thousands that I would have assumed were at risk of landslides in an earthquake. Why are so few suburban houses on Dunne’s list?

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  33. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    @Shunda, yes, that’s exactly what happens. That’s the problem. It’s reactionary, like sheep following the shepherd. We need more shepherds.

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  34. Shunda barunda (2,977 comments) says:

    Ok guys, no more complaining about heritage buildings then, they should all be preserved as is.

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  35. Shunda barunda (2,977 comments) says:

    It’s much more risky driving on the highway.

    That depends on how you look at it. The overall statistics may indicate a certain risk factor, but the individual can greatly increase their personal safety on the highway by being aware of the risks and taking defensive measures.
    The same individual having arrived safely at work can do nothing about the building falling down with them inside it.

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  36. davidp (3,574 comments) says:

    Shunda barunda>The same individual having arrived safely at work can do nothing about the building falling down with them inside it.

    Of course they can. Two options:

    1. Work for an employer who are located in a building that makes you happy.

    2. Move somewhere safer. Wellington is always going to be sitting on a fault line, with a coast at risk of tsunamis, with hills that will be prone to landslides.

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  37. Shunda barunda (2,977 comments) says:

    True David, true.

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  38. Pete George (23,427 comments) says:

    Shunda, if you owned a house and were told it would cost $100k to upgrade it to BigOne resistant standards what would you do?

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  39. ciaron (1,419 comments) says:

    So you are a witness to the destruction in Christchurch and you still argue that nothing can be done in Wellington?

    What I am saying that with regard to earthquakes & building design, there’s only so much you can do. You are aware that by rights (in terms of design capacity) this earthquake should have done significant damage (I mead buildings written off) to every non CD/Hospital/Police/School/fire Station in the Christchurch CBD? It would simply cost far to much to design (or retrofit) every structure (nationwide) for a 1/5000 year event.

    What is the answer then, just let everything fall down?

    Well WRT heritage buildings, It is always very difficult to do the work required and keep both the owner & the council happy. Perhaps now there will be an adjustment in the market that encourages new owners to do the work and councils to be more realistic in what they allow to be done. I think you will find that as the assessment process continues and the detailed reports start coming together, that even newer buildings, and especially those that have an overly eccentric centre of torsional resistance will be having some work done. I have only a very basic grasp of statistical probability, but I’ll have an ask around today on weather these two events increases or decreases the likelihood of a similar event in Wellington.

    As Gazz said last night, It’s all about risk. Or think of it this way: You live somewhere a bit dodgy and you need a bullet proof car, it costs $x. The dealer says it’s good for small arms fire, but if you want he has one that can handle 50cal and it’s going to cost $3x, then if you want the one that will shrug off an RPG that will cost $5x. You take a risk that you’re not going to see 50cal fire and go for the small arms option, because that’s the most likely event you’re going to see.

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  40. Bobbie black (507 comments) says:

    Jesus, that is scary.

    I think Kiwis will need to start buying sections and living in tents and caravans and hope they don’t suffer from liquidation and their sections don’t halve overnight.

    Is the shed at White Rock still safe?

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  41. RRM (9,771 comments) says:

    In reading this list, you may find it helpful to understand

    (1)
    That a “potentially earthquake prone” building in the terms of this list is a building that has 33% or less of the capability to resist earthquake actions, of a new building designed to the current design codes.

    (2)
    That this is evaluated by an agent of the council viewing your building from the street, maybe in conjunction with reading whatever plans and drawings exist in WCCs archives, and filling in an elaborate tick-sheet which leads to a conclusion about the building’s structural capability.

    Shunda barunda (1,609) Says:

    There has been enough time to sort this out Pete.

    Shunda, the ONLY why reason this list exists, [and the only reason Dunne was able to heroically “demand” its release (lol) is because WCC has for several years now been pursuing a programme of assessing all significant buildings in this town.

    # Nick R (96) Says:
    I note they say the council is only assessing 3,800 buildings. Does anyone know how they arrived at this figure or how they choose which buildings they will assess? It must mean there are a lot of buildings which the Council is not assessing at all.

    Nick R, WCC are assessing every building over a certain size, and with more than 3 tenancies in it. They are not assessing free-standing private houses, but they are assessing house-sized buildings with 3 or more flats in them.

    Mr Nobody NZ (293) Says:

    Does anybody know now that these buildings have been identified as at risk of collapse in an Earthquake what liability the owners/council have if they do nothing and deaths/injuries later occur in an earthquake event?

    Mr Nobody,
    You would need to check the WCC website but IIRC property owners have a certain amount of time, once they receive notice that their building has been assessed as potentially earthquake prone, to engage an engineer if they want to have their own detailed assessment done. Quite often these assessments can prove that the building is in fact not earthquake prone (in the terms this process describes it) and the building is therefore removed from the list. Once this time elapses, WCC adds the building’s earthquake prone status to the LIM report. The owner also then has xx number of years to carry out strengthening work or demolish the building.

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  42. nasska (11,136 comments) says:

    Thank you all……one of the most informative threads I’ve ever followed.

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  43. davidp (3,574 comments) says:

    ciaron>and especially those that have an overly eccentric centre of torsional resistance

    Don’t suppose you could explain what that means?

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  44. reversespin (69 comments) says:

    Great thread.

    @DPF- You are right, this is a great public service. Peter Dunne has done the right thing by his constituents and Wellingtonians in general. This is the kind of thing that gets you re-elected for 25+ years, as an electorate MP.

    @Gooner says – “He could have asked for this using a bit of foresight and vision years ago.”

    I seem to recall he has, at least twice, as far back as the late 90’s. I think Peter Dunne has treated it as a bit of a hobby-horse over the years. This is not a one-off, knee-jerk reaction to an event. He has a record on this.

    @DavidP – I agree with you on most points. I don’t think we should be ripping down buildings and wiping out equity in the property market, but it is only fair that people know what they are working/living in.
    However, it is not “Dunnes list” – it is a list produced by Wellington City Council, which (I hope!!) is a public document. Minor point, I guess. Also, it is only of commercial buildings (I think), so that is why there are no residential houses on it.

    @Luke – great work on the map. Top stuff.

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  45. davidp (3,574 comments) says:

    reversespin>Also, it is only of commercial buildings (I think), so that is why there are no residential houses on it.

    It includes residential apartment buildings. I suspect (altho I haven’t walked the street, map in hand) that many/most of the Te Aro buildings are apartment conversions.

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  46. reversespin (69 comments) says:

    @davidp – Yep, it appears that there are a few buildings used for residential purposes. Good point. Maybe they were formally commercial buildings, or designated as such by the WCC. Only one way to find out – ask the WCC……..it is their list!!!

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  47. BlueDevil (92 comments) says:

    I am happy to be corrected but I understand that the unreinforced brick building like the ones that fell down in Chch were removed (or strenthened , like the Hunter Building at Vic uni) in the 1970/80’s. This list is the next layer up ie building that are between 30-50% of the current code. They are still risky but they are stronger than the buildings in Chch.

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  48. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    davidp – it’s basically a measurement of how much a building will twist

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  49. Mark (1,471 comments) says:

    Interesting issues arise when an employee asks his/her boss “is our building safe?”. The employer checks with the landlord and finds out that the building is not designed to the current code and in fact has been issued with a notice requiring the building to be strengthened. What responsibility does the employer then have to the employee in respect of providing a safe working environment under the Health and Safety Act.

    Second part to that is can the landlord hold onto the tenant under a lease contract when in fact the building is not deemed by the council to be a safe working environment.

    This has the potential to be a can of worms for property owners and employers.

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  50. ciaron (1,419 comments) says:

    Gazz & davidp, not a measurement as such, but the point about which a floor will rotate. For instance, a building with equally sized structural walls on all sides will rotate roughly about its geometric centre, where as a building with a shear core (lifts & stair wells) on one wall with perimeter columns will have a rotation point closer to the stiffest element (shear core), meaning the columns will experience a fair amount of bending, and that should be considered in the design.

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  51. willtruth (245 comments) says:

    I thnk it was a premature move by the attention seeker Dunne. Are people aware that the WCC made this list without actually inspecting the buildings? They just looked at them from the street. That’s fine as an initial exercise, but it shouldn’t be released publicly till its confirmed. How would you feel if your biggest asset had its value decimated by such a cursory exercise, with no right of rebuttal?

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  52. Luke H (73 comments) says:

    davidp points out the buildings on Lambton Quay weren’t displaying properly on the map. I’ve identified the problem and fixed it. Cheers davidp!

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