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Insurance Council questions seismic restraint compliance in Wellington's quake-damaged buildings

Wednesday 23rd November 2016

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The Insurance Council says buildings in Wellington damaged in the Kaikoura earthquake may not have complied with guidelines for non-structural, seismic restraint such as ceiling support systems.

The council cited the Bank of New Zealand building in CentrePort's Harbour Quays precinct on the Wellington waterfront, which was damaged in the Seddon earthquakes of 2013 and had to be vacated as ceiling panels collapsed. Reports at the time said air conditioning ducts, wiring tracks and pipes broke loose and ceilings collapsed onto desks following the magnitude 6.5 quake that rocked Wellington's CBD in July 2013. The building is among about 20 in the city shut after the quake.

The council "believes a significant cause of damage to commercial property buildings following the 14 November Kaikoura earthquake series is a failure to comply with non-structural, seismic restraint guidelines," chief executive Tim Grafton said in a statement. 

“Following the Canterbury earthquakes, a significant amount of the commercial property damage was due to the failure of these non-structural seismic restraints" and as a consequence, the council had made submissions to the parliament's local government and environment select committee in 2014 and 2015 "to draw attention to the problem," he said. "We hope that following the most recent earthquakes there will be renewed attention brought to the issue."

Grafton said there is a strong focus on engineering sign-off of structural elements in buildings "but there is little or no monitoring or thorough inspection of the non-structural elements,”

The council has recommended to the parliament that territorial local authorities include non-structural seismic restraints as part of building warrant of fitness inspections and should be certified as compliant by engineers on completion of new buildings.

Last week, Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith said the government was investigating the performance of buildings including the extensively damaged Statistics House, which is near the BNZ building in Harbour Quays. Customs New Zealand's head office, waterfront offices of the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the High Court, the NZ Defence Force headquarters and the British High Commission are among other buildings closed by the quake, while the former Deloitte House at 61 Molesworth Street is to be demolished.

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