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Failure of Stats building prompts action

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 31/03/2017

New Zealand is tweaking its building rules again as it becomes clear people could have died in a modern Wellington waterfront office building had the 7.8 Kaikoura quake struck during the day.

Statistics House partially collapsed after the quake in the middle of the night on November 14 last year, and an independent report released on Friday confirms there could have been deaths had it happened during the day.

Housing and Building Minister Dr Nick Smith is moving to tweak two building standards and is asking the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment if it needs more powers under the Building Act. Similar buildings are also being checked.

Engineers say the quake has revealed how buildings perform in a long and strong quake.

Shorter and stiffer buildings in Wellington only experienced shaking about one-third of building code but mid-sized buildings with flexible frames and precast floors were tested to their limits.

The pre-cast floor system can move too far apart, potentially causing parts of the floor to lose their support and collapse.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson hopes the insights in the investigation will prevent future failures of this kind.

"I remain forever grateful that the quake struck after midnight when no one was in Statistics House."

Labour MP for Wellington Central Grant Robertson says there's no doubt if the earthquake had been just after midday rather than just after midnight, people would have died in Statistics House.

Labour support the recommendations that there needs to be a review of design standards, updating of building laws and, investigation of buildings of a similar design and age.

The report also shows that in 2013 the owners of the building, Centreport, received a report recommending strengthening of floor units at the four corners of the building.

This work had been completed on one floor by the time of November's quake and that floor did not sustain damage.

"Why had that work, identified as 'critical', not been done in the three years before November's quake? Why were staff still working in the building when 'critical' work had not been fully completed? This could have had catastrophic consequences if people had been at work during that time," Mr Robertson says.

The report also highlighted the issue of buildings being in a basin.

"Wellingtonians also deserve to know what consideration has been given to the so-called "basin-edge" effect that causes amplification of ground shaking in this part of the city. We need reassurance that buildings constructed in this space have been designed with the specific geology in mind."

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