New regulations have been approved under the Resource Management Act that provide a national approach to the use of poisons like 1080 and brodifacoum, Environment Dr Nick Smith announced today.
“Pests like stoats, rats and possums kill 25 million native birds a year, and if we are serious about ensuring the survival of species like Kiwi, we need to use effective and efficient poisons like 1080,” Dr Smith says.
“This new approach standardises the rules for using such poisons rather than the current system of different rules in different regions. This change will reduce costs and delays for operators, ensure consistent conditions throughout the country, reduce mistakes from misunderstanding rule differences and allow best practice approaches to be used.
“The change will not increase any of the risks around the use of these poisons, which are effectively managed by the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996. It is expected to save $11 million over the next 20 years, enabling more pests to be controlled and more species saved.”
This change was advocated for by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who was concerned about the duplication and inconsistency of the differing regional rules. The proposal was consulted on last year, with 70 per cent of submissions favouring the change. The new national regulations come into effect on 1 April 2017.
Dr Smith made the announcement while visiting Tiritiri Matangi Sanctuary in the Hauraki Gulf as part of National’s annual Bluegreens Forum.
“I know there is opposition to poisons like 1080 and brodifacoum but they are essential tools to saving New Zealand’s natural heritage. Islands like Tiritiri Matangi are only so prolific in birdlife because of the use of these poisons in the past. These new regulations will help us create more special sanctuaries for the future and contribute to the Government’s goal of a Predator Free NZ by 2050.”
Further information on the regulation is available at www.mfe.govt.nz
A major new campaign to stop people littering aims to change behaviour and to educate people, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith and Parliamentary Private Secretary Scott Simpson announced today at National’s Bluegreen Forum in Auckland.
“Litter is a risk to New Zealand’s clean green brand and the best solution is where everyone responsibly disposes of their waste. That is why the Government is investing $3 million in a behavioural change campaign, the development of education materials and a national litter survey to help ensure we keep New Zealand beautiful.”
“The environmental harm from litter is not just the aesthetics but the harm plastic, paper and cans can do our waterways, marine environment and to wildlife. There is also the risk to New Zealand’s clean green brand.”
The ‘Do the Right Thing’ initiative will be funded through a grant to Keep New Zealand Beautiful from the Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund. This is the most generous support the Government has ever given Keep New Zealand Beautiful. The criteria for the fund was changed in 2016 by the Government to included improved litter management. The education component will be run through the Enviroschools organisation and the information campaign aligned with the Packaging Forum.
“Keep New Zealand Beautiful is an iconic kiwi institution and it is fitting in its 50th year we back this trusted name and organisation with the job of getting Kiwis to ‘Do The Right Thing’,” Dr Smith says.
“This funding includes support for national litter survey data. This will enable areas to celebrate being New Zealand’s tidiest kiwis and for those being the worst to be shamed into lifting their game. This data will be used to recognise at the Green Ribbon Awards those groups and communities that best live up to the Keep New Zealand Beautiful ambition.”
For more information on the Waste Minimisation Fund visit http://www.mfe.govt.nz/more/funding/waste-minimisation-fund/about-waste-minimisation-fund
For more information about Keep New Zealand Beautiful visit http://www.knzb.org.nz/
Claims by some organisations that the Government’s proposed standards for improving water quality are lower and accept a higher chance of infection are incorrect, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.
“The 2003 Ministry of Health guideline of not swimming when the level exceeds 540 E. coli/100ml remains. The 2014 NPS included in bold the statement that this is the ‘minimum acceptable state’ for swimming and it remains so.
“The confusing feature of the 2014 table is that it mixes the concepts of swimmability and wadeability. The 260, 540 and 1000 E. coli/100ml annual medians are all in respect of the wadeable standard. The new attribute state table applies only to swimmability and focuses on the proportion of time a water body exceeds the 540 E. coli/100ml standard, with A (blue) exceeding this less than 5 per cent of the time, B (green) between 5 and 10 percent of the time and C (yellow) 10 to 20 per cent of the time. The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) website further clarifies that to meet the A, B and C attribute states, the annual median needs to be less than 130 E. coli/100ml. This means the infection rate for more than half of the time would be less than one in 1000.
“A good example to illustrate the better approach of the new table is the Hutt River below Silverstream, for which we have E. coli data for the past decade. It has an annual median E. coli of 100/100ml yet it exceeded the 540 E. coli/100ml 15 per cent of the time. The 2014 NPS that focussed on wadeability would have assigned it an A attribute state but gave no information on its swimmabilty. The 2017 NPS that is focussed on swimmability gives it a C attribute state. The new approach is consistent with the Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) website that today and for more than the last month has described this spot as swimmable.
“It is grossly incorrect to claim that a swimmer in the Hutt River (classed as C/yellow), would have a one in 20 chance of becoming unwell. The river has less than 130 E. coli/100ml for more than half the time, when the infection rate is less than 1:1000. It is only on those occurrences 15 per cent of the time when it exceeds 540 E. coli/100ml that the chance of infection gets to 1:20. I am also advised that the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Health joint guidelines were deliberately precautionary.
“There are three good reasons for the new and more sophisticated NPS table being proposed on Human Health for Recreation. The first is that the focus is on swimmability rather than wadeability. The second is that it connects with the real-time information available on the LAWA website on where people can swim. The third advantage is that it is consistent with the international risk levels for swimming accepted by the World Health Organisation, the European Union and the United States.
The Government today announced a target of 90 per cent of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers meeting swimmable water quality standards by 2040, alongside releasing new policy, regulations, information maps and funding to help achieve the new goal.
“This ambitious plan to improve the water quality in our lakes and rivers recognises that New Zealanders expect to be able to take a dip in their local river or lake without getting a nasty bug,” Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.
“The plan is backed up by national regulations requiring stock to be fenced out of waterways, new national policy requirements on regional councils to strengthen their plan rules on issues such as sewage discharges and planting riparian margins, a new Freshwater Improvement Fund and new maps that clearly identify where improvements are needed.
“This 90 per cent goal by 2040 is challenging and is estimated to cost the Government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the next 23 years. It will make us a world leader in water quality standards for swimming, and that’s important for New Zealand’s growing tourism industry. It will return our rivers and lakes to a standard not seen in 50 years while recognising that our frequent major rainfalls mean a 100 per cent standard is not realistic.”
The target covers the length of rivers over 0.4m deep and the perimeters of lakes greater than 1.5km, which total 54,000km. The plan is about improving the frequency that we can swim in our lakes and rivers, noting that even our cleanest rivers breach swimming water quality standards during storms.
The swimmable target is based on meeting the water quality standard at least 80 per cent of the time, in line with European and US definitions. Currently 72 per cent by length meet this definition, and the target is to increase that to 90 per cent by 2040. This means an additional 10,000km of swimmable rivers and lakes by 2040, or 400km per year.
“The maps I am releasing today provide the most comprehensive and consistent information on water quality for swimming of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes ever published. These will help focus councils and communities on improving their local water quality, as well as help people make decisions about where they can safely swim. The maps are connected to the Land, Air, Water Aotearoa website that provides real-time information on water quality, which is particularly relevant for the fair and intermittent categories.
“The challenge of improving water quality varies significantly across New Zealand. This plan requires improvements in water quality across all regions and all categories. The target not only requires an improvement in areas that are swimmable, ie into the fair category, but also rivers and lakes being moved from fair to good, and good to excellent. Regional targets to achieve the national goals are to be worked through with regional councils by March 2018. Some regional targets will need to be greater than the 90 per cent and others, where it is more difficult to achieve, will be less.
The National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater Management is being strengthened to support the new 90 per cent by 2040 swimmability target, as well as changes to address the issues of ecological health and nutrients by:replacing “wadeable” with “swimmable” adding macroinvertebrate monitoring for ecological health strengthening references to “Te Mana o te Wai” clarifying the consideration of economic opportunities requiring instream limits for nitrogen and phosphorus clarifying inclusion of coastal lakes and lagoons clarifying the policy on exceptions strengthening the requirement for monitoring and improving quality.
“The new regulations on excluding stock from waterways are an important part of this plan to improve water quality. The rules progressively apply to dairy, pig, dairy support, beef and deer farms from this year to 2030 relative to the steepness of the country, at an expected cost of $367 million,” Dr Smith says.
“We are today opening bids for the new $100m Freshwater Improvement Fund and announcing the eligibility and assessment criteria, which closes on 13 April. This comes on top of the $350m already committed by the government, of which more than $140m has been spent on specific river and lake clean-ups.
“This is the third phase of the Government’s work programme to improve New Zealand freshwater management and builds on the NPS introduced in 2011 and the National Objectives Framework in 2014. I commend and acknowledge the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group and the Land and Water Forum, who have worked tirelessly in assisting with these policy developments.”
The detail of the NPS and Stock Exclusion Regulations are open for consultation until 28 April 2017.
Boards of Inquiry have been appointed to decide on two significant Auckland roading projects in a move which will get a decision by the end of the year, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry announced today.
“These two major Auckland roading projects involve an investment of $2.2 billion and are best determined by the special Board of Inquiry process introduced to the Resource Management Act in National’s first phase of reforms. This will provide a robust process, a fair say for communities and a timely decision. The Boards we are appointing have the skills and experience to deliver the decisive leadership Auckland’s transport issues require,” Dr Smith says.
The $700 million Northern Corridor project will complete Auckland’s Western Ring Route. It will establish motorway interchange connections between SH1 and SH18, and capacity and safety improvements on SH1 from Constellation Drive to Oteha Valley Road and on SH18 between SH1 and the Albany Highway.
The Northern Corridor Improvements Proposal has been determined as a project of national significance by Dr Smith, as Minister for the Environment, on the recommendation of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). Dr Smith has appointed Environment Judge Melanie Harland (chair), resource management consultant Conway Stewart and civil engineer Nigel Mark-Brown to the Board of Inquiry to consider the New Zealand Transport Agency’s (NZTA) application for six notices of requirement and 25 resource consents for the project.
The $1.5 billion East-West Link roading proposal involves the construction of a new four-lane arterial road between State Highway 20, the Neilson Street Interchange and State Highway 1 at Mt Wellington.
The East-West Proposal has been jointly determined as a project of national significance by Dr Smith and the Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry. The Minister of Conservation is involved because the project includes the reclamation of 18 hectares of the Mangere Inlet. The Ministers have appointed retired High Court Judge Hon Dr John Priestly QC (chair), environment management consultant Michael Parsonson, civil engineer Alan Bickers and independent hearings commissioner Sheena Tepania to consider NZTA’s application for two notices of requirement and 23 resource consents for the project.
“There is an additional sensitivity for development projects that impact on the coast and estuaries which must be carefully considered alongside the transport needs of a growing city. This Board is appropriately skilled to make a good decision on this significant and important project for Auckland,” Ms Barry says.
The two projects are part of the Government’s wider accelerated Transport Programme which is focused on congestion relief, supporting economic growth and improving safety. The Board of Inquiry process has been previously used on projects such as the Waterview Connection and the Puhoi to Wellsford highway upgrades.
“The decisions on these huge transport projects are critical to Auckland’s future. The Board of Inquiry process does ensure a timely decision but is not a guarantee as to the outcome. I strongly encourage Aucklanders to engage in this process to ensure we get a good decision and the detail right,” Dr Smith concluded.
Public consultation has opened on proposed legislation to fast track the redevelopment and regeneration of urban areas to better meet housing and commercial needs, Building and Construction Minister Dr Nick Smith says.
“New Zealand needs Urban Development Authority (UDA) legislation to enable faster and better quality regeneration in our major cities. These new authorities need the power to assemble parcels of land, develop site specific plans, reconfigure infrastructure and to construct a mix of public and private buildings to create vibrant hubs for modern urban living,” Dr Smith says.
“These reforms are part of the solution to Auckland’s growth pressures over housing and infrastructure. UDAs would enable major redevelopment projects like those proposed or under way in areas such as Hobsonville, Tamaki, Three Kings and Northcote to occur three to five years faster.
“The international experience in cities like London, Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto and Singapore is that UDAs can create vibrant, new suburbs, with greater gains for housing, jobs and amenities than through usual incremental, piecemeal redevelopment.
“The key to the success of UDAs is in how they interact with councils and businesses. We are proposing a model of UDAs which requires the support of both central and local government, and one that maximises the role of the private sector in development.
“This proposal for UDAs was recommended by the Productivity Commission. It is part of the Government’s wider range of reforms to grow housing supply and will complement initiatives such as the Housing Infrastructure Fund, reforms to the Resource Management Act, the National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity, the Crown Land Programme and the KiwiSaver HomeStart scheme.
“The growth of New Zealand cities has historically been dominated by new greenfield developments on the perimeter of our cities. This reform is about providing new tools to enable redevelopment of existing areas in cities like Auckland and Wellington in a way that provides more housing, better infrastructure and a stronger community.”
Consultation closes on 19 May 2017. The Government’s discussion document and more information can be found at http://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/housing-property/consultation/urban-development-authorities
Building activity is at a record high, topping $19 billion for 2016 after five straight years of strong growth, Building and Construction Minister Dr Nick Smith says.
“This is the longest and strongest growth phase in building activity in New Zealand history. It involves record levels of investment in homes, commercial buildings and infrastructure. The total value of consents in 2016, at $19b, is the highest ever and 30 per cent more than the previous peak last decade, in inflation adjusted terms,” Dr Smith says.
“I am particularly encouraged by the ongoing strong growth in residential building activity, that has increased 19 per cent nationally and 27 per cent in Auckland over the past year. This is the fifth straight year of strong growth. You cannot grow a sector as large or as complex as building at more than about 20 per cent compound per year without incurring problems with quality.
“The number of homes being built in 2016 - 29,970 nationally and 9930 in Auckland - is more than double that of five years ago and is the highest since 2004. This growth gives me confidence we will have the number of homes increasing in line with population growth by the end of the year.
“This ongoing strong growth shows the Government’s programme to increase housing supply is working. We have aggressively increased land supply with Special Housing Areas in the short-term, changes to Auckland’s planning in the medium term, and the National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity and Resource Management Act reforms in the long term.
“We have complemented this with the Crown Land Programme and a record level of direct Government projects to build homes, such as Hobsonville. We’ve also provided record levels of assistance for first-home buyers with the KiwiSaver HomeStart scheme, which has helped more than 20,000 people into their first home with about $500 million in KiwiSaver withdrawals for a deposit.
“This Government is step by step, development by development, getting on and addressing New Zealand’s housing challenges.”
High-growth councils have until 31 March to submit final proposals for a share of the $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund, Infrastructure Minister Steven Joyce and Building and Construction Minister Dr Nick Smith say.
“Council constraints in financing the necessary infrastructure - the water supply, storm water, waste water and roading - can slow down the opening up of new housing areas, which is why the Government announced the Housing Infrastructure Fund last year,” Dr Smith says.
“Eligible councils have already given us an early indication of their interest, with indicative proposals in late 2016 amounting to $1.79 billion for infrastructure. Depending on which final proposals are supported, the Fund could potentially support about 50,000 new dwellings”.
Ministers have encouraged councils to be more ambitious in their final proposals.
“Only a small number of the 17 proposals received through the expressions of interest phase would result in projects being advanced earlier than previously planned by the councils,” Mr Joyce says.
“We want to see more ambitious projects that will have a greater positive impact on housing supply over the next five years.”
Dr Smith says the process for councils to secure funding has been undertaken in two steps to accommodate the local body elections late last year.
“This has enabled councils to ‘test drive’ and refine their ideas before the final proposal stage,” Dr Smith says.
“The final proposals will be assessed by an independent panel, with priority given to those initiatives that enable the most new housing. We expect to announce the final allocations later this year.
“The Housing Infrastructure Fund is part of the Government’s comprehensive plan to grow additional housing supply alongside Special Housing Areas, the new Auckland Unitary Plan, the National Policy Statement on Urban Development, reforms to the Resource Management Act, the Crown Land Programme and the HomeStart scheme. We have been successful in more than doubling the house build rate from 15,000 to more than 30,000 a year.
“This initiative on infrastructure funding is to ensure this strong growth in new house supply continues.”
Councils have until 31 March to submit final proposals. More information is available here.
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 AND 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. STANDARDS AND 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.
6. 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.
7. TACKLING HIGH RISK PARAPETS AND FACADES 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.
8. SUPPORTING HERITAGE BUILDINGS 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
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.
Unreinforced masonry facades and parapets posing a risk to the public in areas like Wellington with a heightened risk of an aftershock from the Kaikoura earthquake need to be secured within a year, Building and Construction Minister Dr Nick Smith has announced.
“The Kaikoura Earthquake has significantly increased the seismic risks in Wellington, Lower Hutt and Blenheim during the next three years. The prudent response is to require and to assist building owners of these high-risk, unreinforced masonry parapets and facades to secure them urgently. The tieback work comes at a cost of about $20,000-$30,000 but significantly reduces the risk of fatalities in an earthquake,” Dr Smith says.
The Government is using its powers under the Hurunui/Kaikoura Earthquakes Recovery Act 2016 to require building owners to do the work within 12 months. The Government and councils are also providing a 50 per cent subsidy for the work up to a maximum grant of $15,000 for a façade and $10,000 for a parapet to help building owners with the cost.
“Falling unreinforced masonry facades and parapets pose a major risk to people on the street during an earthquake. We saw the terrible harm that can be done when 39 people were killed by unreinforced masonry in the 2011 Canterbury earthquake.
“I appreciate the cost this new requirement imposes on building owners, which is why the Government has established a $3 million fund that will, with councils, cover up to half the cost of the securing work. I call on building owners to make use of the fund and carry out the necessary work on their building to reduce this risk.”
The Government will also be using its powers under the special law to exempt the work to secure these facades and parapets from requirements to gain resource and building consents providing the work is overseen by a qualified engineer. The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will be providing guidance on securing parapets and facades to facilitate the work being completed as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
“This initiative has come about as a consequence of recommendations by the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineers in a report prepared for me in late December about the heightened risk following the Kaikoura earthquake. It is estimated that there are about 300 buildings in this high-risk category. I also acknowledge the strong support from the affected councils for this urgent safety initiative,” Dr Smith says.
“This is about taking a prudent and pragmatic approach to the aftershock risks from the Kaikoura earthquake, while acknowledging we cannot remove all the risks. The initiative complements the checks being made on buildings following the preliminary investigation into the Statistics New Zealand building and the long-term upgrade requirements in the new Earthquake Prone Buildings Act. It shortens the usual timetable for addressing these high-risk buildings but also provides taxpayer and ratepayer support to help fund half the cost for the urgent work.”
The regulations are to be put in place by the end of February in consultation with the councils and the fund will be administered by MBIE. More information is available at: www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/building-construction/safety-quality/improving-seismic-performance-of-unreinforced-masonry-buildings