So, it’s been a long time since the Royal Commission on the Canterbury Earthquakes released their findings, and the Government released their findings (which differed just a litle in a few key areas). Seeing as there is so much bad news going on at the moment, my guess is that the Government will do a major news release this week, perhaps even today, to take the mind of the populace off the ongoing spy scandals, tainted milk scandals, David Bain sandles, etc. If I was them, I’d be looking for a good news story that shows a positive government, well in charge of a situation: it must be time for a response on the Building Act. What better than to get the Minister in charge of happy Gay rainbows in Pakuranga, Mr Williamson, to announce that we don’t need to strengthen buildings to 67% of NBS, but to settle for 33% instead?

Engineers have been pushing for a different rating system, involving rating buildings on their Ultimate Limit State instead of rating against an arbitrary (and potentially changing) NBS, but I reckon that the concept of 33% and 67% is now so ingrained into people’s heads, that it will be left as is. There were 180-odd recommendations in the Royal Commission report, and most of them will have just been adopted wholesale I’m sure, as they’re quite technical and nerdy, and the average Government Minister hasn’t the faintest clue what they’re on about. But there will have to be some key new areas where the Government can appear to be taking the lead, throwing their weight around and showing that they are still the boss. Personally I think that Key has now lost that moral high ground, the further he sinks into the mud of spooks and spying, casinos and dodgy back room deals, and I’m not sure that English or Brownlee ever had any gravitas in the first place, so I’m picking that either Williamson or the Minister for Everything, Mr Joyce, is going to be filling the airwaves pretty soon. Major News Initiative ahead!

So what might that good news area be? For a government keen on setting a good example, being seen to implement some methods of protecting Jo and Jenny Bloggs is of paramount importance. More regulation is clearly needed, to stop the likes of dodgy contractors and consultants having a part in our cities. More signage may be a good one: compulsory stickering of buildings EQ strength ratings? We suggested (back in March 2011) that a new way of colour coding buildings should be developed, and that still seems just as relevant today. A large prominent number next to that would also be a good idea. People can decide for themselves. It’s not unlike the Energy Star system for Fridges etc, with the efficiency rating proudly displayed, or the NCarb ? System for vehicles, noting how many miles per gallon and airbags per passenger – we live in a society where A) Big Brother looks over you (don’t we know THAT now…) and B) Big Sister looks after you and keeps you safe. A good answer to actually Doing Something is just to announce that the issue will be solved by more publicity and more signage.

Speaking of Safety, it surely must also be time for a response by the Government on Pike River as well, along with other disasters like the Canterbury Quakes. While I think that the Gov has just been waiting for a chance to find a quiet spell in which to release some recommendations there as well, with the latest botulism baby powder scandal rocking the nation this week, it looks like it is going to be hard to find a foothold in which to secure some good news time. But they can’t wait for ever. Expect a major shake up and release of info there as well.

The question for me is, how involved do architects want to be involved, in all of this. So far, it’s all very engineering led. Are architects ready to be seen as the white knights, riding in to sort out the mess left by errant engineers and counter-productive clumsy contractors? Or do we just continue to hide in a corner with a pillow over our heads, chanting La la la la and hoping that we never get the finger pointed at us?

Post script update in response to Starkive:
All Williamson has effectively said is:

“We’ll do everything they suggested, but stick it out 5 years further because that is what people have asked us to do. All the other tricky bits that need decisions, we’ll put off till a later date, when we probably won’t be in power, and Labour / Greens can catch the flack.”

Body Corporates have made a very clear case to the Government that the current situation is unworkable with regard to apartment dwellers. Bodies Corporate are forbidden by law from taking out a mortgage, due to the rather silly Unit Titles Act. Therefore apartment buildings cannot be strengthened by the Body Corporate, which relies on income from apartment owners. The extra levies required are of such a size that owners will not have the spare cash, and so need to go to a bank to get a loan / mortgage to get the money. Except that the banks won’t loan on an apartment in a EQP building. Catch 22, and round we go.

There is only one answer that I see: the Government MUST change the law to permit Body Corporates to take out a mortgage over the building, and the Government must talk with a bank or two to make sure that they can comply. If banks won’t do it (and that is more than likely), then the Government needs to act as a bank, allow Body Corps to loan money from them, and then the apartment owners will be able to slowly pay it back via increased levies.

It’s either that, or you have to walk away from your building, as in Detroit, where the whole city is stagnating / dying. So, in answer to your question Starkive, you are best to get the Engineer’s report done, and continue to lobby Maurice for a change in funding rules. In the mean time, you cannot sell your apartment. So, sit back and enjoy the ride!

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