Bishops worried about church strengthening costs

by NZ CATHOLIC staff
WELLINGTON — New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have warned about
the consequences of a proposed new law on seismic strengthening of buildings.
Archbishop John Dew warned that the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill doesn’t provide for a financial framework to support owners of vulnerable buildings.
“The proposed legislation . . . will fail to meet its objective unless significant work is undertaken to address the additional burden for those who can least afford it,” the archbishop said.
Church communities do not have access to the capital to achieve improvement of all that the legislation will require, even within the timelines proposed, he said.
Seismic assessments of all non-residential structures must be completed within five years, according to the bill.
All structures deemed to be earthquake-prone — likely to collapse in a moderate earthquake — have 15 years from this assessment to be brought up to at least 34 per cent of the NewBuilding Standard or be demolished.
Extensions to these timeframes can be made for heritage buildings.
Archbishop Dew said church communities do not have access to funds to do all that the new law would require.
“Left to ourselves, the decision is a stark and difficult one,” he said.
With the support of parishioners, others in the community, and local
and central government, some buildings will be able to be improved, the archbishop said.
Many communities are struggling towards achieving this now, he said,
but the cost is high.
“We deeply believe places where people gather should be safe for all,” he noted.
“We are wholeheartedly supportive of the intent to improve safety. However we believe that more work needs to be done to analyse the impact of the proposals on all,” Archbishop Dew said.
He said many church communities cannot even afford the increased insurance costs on their buildings following the Canterbury events.
Church communities that are most likely to be affected by the bill are small parishes who have an asset in the form of a building, but lack the necessary cashflow to maintain them, let alone support the activities that are the very reason for their existence, Archbishop Dew said.
“We look forward to being part of society’s wider conversation,” he added.
A submission on the bill has been made by the Archdiocese of Wellington on behalf of the six New Zealand Catholic diocesan bishops.
The bishops also support the All-Churches Bureau submission on behalf of many Christian denominations.
The Catholic Bishop of Christchurch made an additional submission on the bill.

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