The Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission has this month released Parts Two and Three of its three-part Final Report. The Commission is mandated to consider the performance of buildings in the Canterbury earthquake, and the adequacy of current legal and best practice requirements for design, construction and maintenance of buildings given the known earthquake risk in New Zealand's CBDs.

Part One of the Report (volumes 1 to 3) was released in August 2012. It contained recommendations on a range of matters, such as structural steel and earthquake actions standards and guidance and training for structural engineers, to inform early decision-making about the central city's recovery plans.

Part Two (volume 4), released on 7 December 2012, deals with how to define and treat existing buildings in New Zealand that are likely to perform poorly in earthquakes. The Commission's recommendations include:

  • having the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) work with stakeholders to develop a grading system for existing buildings that can be understood by the general public and adequately describes the seismic performance of a building; and
  • amending the Building Act 2004 (some of the recommended changes are included in the Building Amendment Bill (No. 4) currently before the House).

Part Three (volume 5 to 7), released on 10 December 2012, focus on changes to legislation, policies and practices that could be made to minimise the failure of buildings in earthquakes, on managing buildings after earthquakes, and on regulating the design of new buildings. The Commission's recommendations include:

  • giving MBIE a formal role within national civil defence and emergency planning arrangements;
  • engaging technical groups to research how and when building safety evaluators should account for aftershocks; and
  • developing guidelines to assist building safety evaluators to assess when and how to enter a damaged building.

An entire volume (volume 6) was dedicated to the CTV Building, the collapse of which caused much more injury and death than any of the other building failures from the earthquake of 22 February 2011. The Commission concluded that there were serious deficiencies in the design and construction of the building, as well as areas where building assessment processes could be improved. The Commission's terms of reference precluded it from inquiring into questions of liability, however Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson has said that it is now in the hands of the Police whether individuals will be held to account for the building's collapse.

The Government will now consider the Commission's recommendations and determine what legislative and other changes need to be made in response. The Final Report can be accessed here.