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Chief Ombudsman releases final opinion on East Lake Trust/Regenerate Christchurch case

Greenwood Roche lawyers, Lauren Semple and Rachel Murdoch, have been working with Regenerate Christchurch on the development of the draft Otakaro Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan which is the subject of this review case...

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Chief Ombudsman releases final opinion on East Lake Trust/Regenerate Christchurch case

Greenwood Roche lawyers, Lauren Semple and Rachel Murdoch, have been working with Regenerate Christchurch on the development of the draft Otakaro Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan which is the subject of this review case.


In response to a complaint, the Chief Ombudsman’s opinion confirms that Regenerate Christchurch acted lawfully and in an administratively reasonable manner in the development of the draft plan.  The draft plan is currently with the Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration for her approval or decline. For more information and to review the case note please click here.


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Productivity Commission - LG funding and financing

On the 4th of July the New Zealand Productivity Commission released a draft report on Local Government Funding and Financing.   This report is the result of the Government’s request for the Productivity Commission to undertake an inquiry into local government funding and financing; and where shortcomings in the current system are identified, to examine options and approaches for improving the system...

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Productivity Commission - LG funding and financing

On the 4th of July the New Zealand Productivity Commission released a draft report on Local Government Funding and Financing.
 
This report is the result of the Government’s request for the Productivity Commission to undertake an inquiry into local government funding and financing; and where shortcomings in the current system are identified, to examine options and approaches for improving the system.


While there were a number of suggestions made, the draft report found the current framework is broadly sound. The Commission Chair stated “The current framework measures up well against the principles of a good funding and financing system for local government. It is clearly separated from the central government’s tax base which is an important feature. It is relatively simple and economically efficient. It also provides a high degree of flexibility for councils to shape how they raise their revenue.”
 
Existing tools
The report notes that councils can make better use of the tools they already have access to, and there is room to improve organisation performance, transparency and decision making that will help to relieve cost pressures. These existing tools include rates, fees are user charges, development contributions, central government funding and debt.
 
The Commission favours the “benefit principle” as the primary basis for deciding who should pay for local government services. Those who benefit from a service should pay for its costs. Additionally, where local services benefit national interests, central government should contribute. User charges or targeted rates should also be utilised.
 
The Commission found that there is no clear evidence that rates have become less affordable over time, despite this being one of the key reasons the inquiry was undertaken. Overall, rates have continued to broadly align with population and income growth over the past 3 decades, but have not become relatively more burdensome.
 
Cost pressures and new tools
The report noted some new tools are needed to help councils deal with some specific cost pressures. The highest priority pressures have been identified as:
 

  • Supply of infrastructure to support rapid urban growth: the failure of high growth councils to supply enough infrastructure to meet demand is a serious social and economic problem.
  • New tools: special purpose vehicles; central government funding; tax on vacant land; volumetric charging of wastewater; road congestion pricing; and value capture for property owners who enjoy “windfall gains”.
 
  • Climate change: rising sea levels and more intensive rain events threaten infrastructure, particularly roads and waste / storm water infrastructure. These risks are large and unevenly distributed across the country.
  • New Tools: Extended NZTA model; Local Government Resilience Fund and Agency; and more national leadership in developing and providing high-quality and consistent data, information, guidance and legal frameworks.
 
  • Tourism: the increasing number in tourists has led to pressure on several types of services and infrastructure in districts that are popular tourist destinations. Tourists are using mixed-use facilities without making a direct contribution.
  • New Tools: A tourist accommodation levy; and provide local councils with a share in the new international tourist border levy.
 
  • New standards and requirements from central government: e.g. meeting health and environmental standards in the three waters sector is a major challenge for many councils, and the Commission makes the case for significant reform of the sector.
  • New tools: development of a “Partners in Regulation” protocol to improve the state of relations between central and local government.
Submissions on the draft report are open until 29 August 2019. The final report is ultimately a recommendation to the Government and will not be bound by the results of the report. It is set to be released on 30 November 2019.


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Infrastructure Commission Bill Released

As part of its broader focus on the construction and infrastructure sectors, the Government is proposing a bill which would establish a Crown entity tasked with providing strategic independent advice and oversight on the planning, co-ordination and delivery of public sector-led infrastructure projects in New Zealand. ..

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Infrastructure Commission Bill Released

As part of its broader focus on the construction and infrastructure sectors, the Government is proposing a bill which would establish a Crown entity tasked with providing strategic independent advice and oversight on the planning, co-ordination and delivery of public sector-led infrastructure projects in New Zealand. 


Summary
The establishment of Te Waihanga – New Zealand Infrastructure Commission as a Crown entity is one of the more significant actions taken by the Government towards addressing the major infrastructure deficit in New Zealand, and the existing challenges with the planning, co-ordinating and delivery of infrastructure projects which have contributed to New Zealand’s current position.  Taking lead from similar initiatives in Australia, the UK and elsewhere, the Commission will provide strategic oversight and leadership over the way in which infrastructure projects are planned, co-ordinated and procured.  Critically, its functions are advisory only.  Any decision-making regarding infrastructure projects (including investment in those projects, or the timing for or manner in which they are procured and delivered) will remain with the relevant Ministers/departments.  

Specifics
Under the bill, Te Waihanga would be established as an autonomous Crown entity, governed by a board of up to 7 members.  The entity will largely take shape from the existing Infrastructure Transactions Unit currently within Treasury which will be incorporated into Te Waihanga once it is established (anticipated for October 2019).

The overarching function of the Commission is to co-ordinate, develop, and promote an approach to infrastructure and resulting services that improve the well-being of New Zealanders.  The bill authorises the Commission to carry out that function through two main ways:

1.  Strategy and planning through:

b. Providing advice on infrastructure including the current state of infrastructure, current and future infrastructure needs, infrastructure priorities, and matters which may prevent the effective delivery of infrastructure.

a. Promoting a strategic and coordinated approach to the delivery of infrastructure projects;

c. Providing support services to those projects, including advice, services or staff to assist in the delivery of a project.

While not specifically included as a provision in the bill, the explanatory note identifies that Te Waihanga would be empowered to, and will be expected to, promote best practice infrastructure delivery as part of its supporting function.  To that end, it is expected that the Commission will:

e.  Publish a pipeline identifying existing and upcoming infrastructure projects (the first of these can be accessed on the Treasury website);

f.  Produce best practice guidance on infrastructure procurement and delivery.  This function will be part of its role as the “centre of expertise to assist infrastructure projects to be delivered efficiently and effectively”.  To that end, where requested by the relevant department/Minister, the Commission will also provide advice on business cases for proposed projects. 

In support of its functions (and in addition to its general powers as a Crown entity), the bill both grants powers to, and imposes obligations on, the Commission, including:

  • The requirement to publish a strategy report setting out the Commission’s views on the ability for existing infrastructure to meet community expectations over the next 30 years, and the priorities for infrastructure over that same time period.  The report (which will be issued at least once every five years) may also include any other matter the Commission considers relevant.  The Minister for Infrastructure has the opportunity to comment on the report before it is finalised, but once finalised, the Government will then be required to provide a formal response to it which must be made public.
  • The Minister may also direct the Commission to provide a report on any matter relating to infrastructure.
  • Where necessary and desirable to enable the performance of its functions, the Commission is also empowered to require the provision of specific information from specified government departments, agencies, statutory entities and the New Zealand Defence Force. 

Comment
This proposal has generally received strong support and input from industry and experts within both the public and private sector, and represents a critical step towards a more informed, strategic and coherent approach to infrastructure planning, procurement and delivery.  Perhaps the biggest potential shortcoming is the general lack of any strong levers which would at least encourage action/compliance by other government departments with the advice of the Commission.  For example, while the Government would be required to issue a response to the Commission’s strategy reports, government departments are not obliged to consider the findings of the reports in reaching any decisions relating to procurement or planning of capital projects, nor consult with the Commission.  Consequently, to successfully effect change at the decision making level, the Commission will need to build a narrative around the positive impacts of sound planning and procurement, and the role that it can play in supporting other departments in achieving those outcomes.  Even if it is able to do so, there is still the risk that the Commission could be sidelined.

Among the options to mitigate this risk, there is the opportunity to expand the Commission’s mandate to include monitoring and reporting on the Government’s progress in addressing New Zealand’s infrastructure challenges.  While under the current proposal it would be required to provide “state of the nation” assessments, there is no explicit directive to undertake on-going monitoring of how the Government is responding to the findings of the Commission’s assessments, including how it is addressing identified constraints on the effective delivery of infrastructure.  Expanding the Commission’s mandate to include monitoring and reporting on the Government’s response to the identified challenges and opportunities (which would also, as a first step, require the development of some form of metric) would strengthen the Commission’s ability to keep the Government accountable for effecting improvements in the planning, procurement and delivery of infrastructure.

For further information on the Commission or if you are interested in receiving further updates on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill Released

The Government’s most significant legislative response to the climate crisis was released ahead of its first reading in Parliament earlier this week.  Taking its lead from the UK’s climate change legislation, the bill seeks to provide a framework for developing and implementing climate change policies that will contribute to the international effort to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. ..

Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill Released

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Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill Released

Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill Released

The Government’s most significant legislative response to the climate crisis was released ahead of its first reading in Parliament earlier this week.  Taking its lead from the UK’s climate change legislation, the bill seeks to provide a framework for developing and implementing climate change policies that will contribute to the international effort to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.


Utilising the existing emissions trading scheme, the bill proposes the allocation of emissions budgets (issued every five years) designed to enable a “just and fair” transition of New Zealand’s industry and economy towards meeting the 2050 target.  The target adopts a “split-gas” approach, where by 2050:

• Biogenic methane emissions will have reduced by 24 – 27% below 2017 levels.  By 2030, they will have reduced by 10%.
• All other net greenhouse gas emissions will have reduced (through reductions, removals and offshore mitigation) to zero.

Under the bill, the relevant Minister must ensure that net emissions do not exceed the emissions budget for the relevant emissions budget period.  Along with setting the budget, the Minister will also be required to prepare an emissions reduction plan which will set out the policies and strategies for meeting such a budget.  There is however no legal remedy or relief available for failing to meet an emissions budget or for failing to meet the overall 2050 target, other than the issuing of a declaration and an award of costs.  Similarly, meeting the emissions budgets and the 2050 targets are only permissive considerations for those exercising public functions.  A failure to take a budget or the 2050 target into account will not invalidate the action.  Consequently, as with the UK legislation, much of the success of this legislation will therefore rely on political and industry pressure to achieve compliance with the emissions budgets.

In addition to requiring the preparation of emissions budgets and ensuring that they (and as a result the 2050 target) are met, the bill would establish the Climate Change Commission.  The Commission is an independent Crown entity tasked with both advising the Government on its emissions budgets and reductions and adaption plans, and monitoring and reporting on progress towards meeting emissions budgets and the 2050 targets.  In particular, the Commission will be required to recommend the quantity of emissions permitted for each period, how the budget will be met including pricing and policy methods, and the indicated proportion of reductions, removals and offshore mitigation.  While the Minister is not required to accept its advice or recommendations, the Minister is required to present the Commission’s reports to the House and issue a public response to that assessment.  Critically, the bill is prescriptive in the skillsets required for the Commission which include expertise in climate science, matauranga Māori and Te Ao Māori, central and local government policy and decision making, and experience from a range of sectors and industries. 

As mentioned, the bill anticipates that emissions budgets will be met through some combination of emissions removal (sequestration of some form), reduction and, in limited circumstances, offshore mitigation.  Offshore mitigation would allow the purchase of emissions reductions and removals, or allows from international emissions trading schemes.  While the use of offshore mitigation is generally discouraged under the bill, the ability to utilise that method provides some further flexibility to both industry and Government in seeking to meet the emissions budgets.  Unlike the UK legislation, there is no mention of whether and how New Zealand’s contribution to international aviation and shipping emissions will be accounted for, though this may be a matter that is subject to consideration by the Commission once it is established.

Commentary

Informed by extensive public consultation and a range of technical (including environmental and economic) analysis, the bill has of course already attracted a wide ranging response across different sectors.  While applauding the framework for action, climate scientists and environmentalists have generally voiced concerns around the absence of enforcement/accountability for failing to meet targets.  While similarly applauding the intent, other industries have voiced concerns over how realistic the targets are given the available technology. 

From the analysis in support of the bill, it is clear that if the targets are to be reached then significant investment in innovative technologies to support industry towards more carbon neutral operations, and planting of trees (or use of other devices) that effectively sequester carbon will be critical. It is also clear that if the bill passes, there is a great deal of work ahead for particularly the Climate Change Commission in its role as an advisor to, and watchdog of, the Government in its response to the climate crisis.  As has been illustrated by the UK Commission, critical success factors for this agency will be strong credibility and influence generated by well-rounded and in-depth expertise (including in policy making, business and industry), independence and transparency.  Partnership with Māori at all levels of decision-making will also be vital.  

There appears to be strong (albeit not complete) consensus across industry and political parties alike that taking action to reduce New Zealand’s carbon footprint is critical if we are to contribute to the global effort to slow the rate of our changing climate.  How extensive that action is, how quickly it can be taken, and of course who pays for it remains to be seen.  However this bill provides a strong framework for ambitious decisions to be made – ambitious decisions which will be required if the 2050 target is to be met.  The (largely equivalent) UK legislation is highly regarded, having been replicated in a number of other countries.   That Commission has been identified as having an excellent reputation, producing reports that carry “immense authority” and influence over Government.  

Notwithstanding the absence of any obligation on other facets of Government to consider the Commission’s advice, it is clear that both the Commission and the Act itself has influenced policy development across sectors.  Reports on the Act have also noted that the planning and reporting obligations on Government and the Commission have added value in “produc[ing] a kind of transparent dialogue that invites political accountability”.  Moreover, as a result of the work undertaken by the Commission, Government and industry, the UK has met its first emissions budget and looks set to meet its second and third.  It is however acknowledged that “low-hanging fruit” in the early years have made this task more straightforward, and more ambitious, controversial decisions are ahead if the UK is to continue its path of emissions reductions. 

The Zero Carbon bill has a way to go before it passes, and we may well see some changes as it moves through the House.  With National supporting the bill through its first reading earlier this week, it will now progress to select committee stage where the public will have the opportunity to share its views on the bill.

Our team is following this closely, so please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about the bill.  We have also prepared a more detailed summary of how the bill operates and we are more than happy to provide this to you and your team should you wish.

________________________________________

1.  New Zealand Productivity Commission Te Kōmihana Whai Hua o Aotearoa Note: Examining the UK Climate Change Act – Research Note, Teresea Weeks, September 2017 at p.20.
2.  Macroy, R. (2014).  “The UK Climate Change Act – Towards a Brave New World? (2012)” in Regulation, enforcement and governance in environmental law (2ed), 261-274.  Oxford: Hart Publishing, p 267
3.  Church, J. (2016). Mind the Gap – Reviving the Climate Change Act.  October 2016. London: ClientEarth, p.13.
 


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Disagreeing Minister Leads to a Decline of OceanaGold OIO Application

OceanaGold (New Zealand) Ltd (OceanaGold) has recently had declined an application under the Overseas Investment Act 2005 (OIA) to acquire 178 hectares of rural land for the purposes of use as storage of mine tailings (the Application).  The establishment of the additional mine tailings capacity was to extend the life of the Waihi mine from 2028 until 2036 by allowing OceanaGold to proceed with its new mining project “Project Quattro”. The decline came as a surprise to the applicant and the industry and does raise some question marks...

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Disagreeing Minister Leads to a Decline of OceanaGold OIO Application

OceanaGold (New Zealand) Ltd (OceanaGold) has recently had declined an application under the Overseas Investment Act 2005 (OIA) to acquire 178 hectares of rural land for the purposes of use as storage of mine tailings (the Application).  The establishment of the additional mine tailings capacity was to extend the life of the Waihi mine from 2028 until 2036 by allowing OceanaGold to proceed with its new mining project “Project Quattro”. The decline came as a surprise to the applicant and the industry and does raise some question marks.


As the application was in respect of the purchase of land, section 24(1)(a) of the OIA required a decision to be made by the two Ministers.  Minister Clark granted the Application but Minister Sage declined it, meaning that of necessity the Application was declined.  The Overseas Investment Office itself had recommended the Application be granted.
 
Under section 16A of the OIA, the Ministers must consider whether the Application meets the Benefit to New Zealand test.  As the Application involved rural land, it was subject to the higher standard of a ‘substantial and identifiable’ benefit having to be shown, as against other counterfactual uses.
 
When making their respective decisions, both Ministers considered a number of factors identified to be of high relative importance, including jobs; new technology or business skills; increased exports receipts; increased processing of primary products; and the oversight and participation of New Zealanders’.  Minister Sage, in declining the Application, determined that converting the land into a waste-storage area for the by-product of a non-renewable extractive industry reduces any economic benefit from the Application.  This determination led the Minister to conclude that the overall short term financial benefits are inconsistent with sustainable economic interests.
 
The assessment of a net negative benefit to New Zealand is novel in the sense that here, the Minister has effectively deducted points for a use of the land that is contrary to government policy.
 
Two different decisions by Ministers of the same coalition government will always raise questions of impartiality in decision making, but in this instance in particular questions have been raised by the mining industry body Straterra and the Hauraki District Council about the Minister’s history of activism against mining and have questioned whether she should have recused herself and delegated the decision making power, an option available under section 32 of the OIA.  She has previously done so, on other grounds.
 
As with any decision made by a Minister, OceanaGold has the option of judicial review of the decision. Predetermination of an outcome of a decision, or bias, can be grounds for a decision to be judicially reviewed as can an incorrect application of the Benefit to New Zealand test under the OIA. These are both avenues OceanaGold may look to take as it assesses the impacts this decision will have on its future expansion plans.


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Local government: "more than just roads, rates and rubbish"

The Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Act 2019 (Amendment Act) came into force on Tuesday 14 May 2019.  It amends the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA ’02)...

Local government:

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Local government:

Local government: "more than just roads, rates and rubbish"

The Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Act 2019 (Amendment Act) came into force on Tuesday 14 May 2019.  It amends the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA ’02).


The Amendment Act (accessible here) makes three primary changes to the LGA ’02:
 

  • The Amendment Act reinstates the four aspects of well-being of the current and future community – social, economic, environmental and cultural – that were previously removed from the LGA.  These components of well-being are filtered throughout the LGA ’02; including in the purpose section, definitions, and long-term plan and annual report provisions.  A previously introduced section – section 11A: core services to be considered in performing role – has also been repealed.
  • The definition of “community infrastructure” – which dictates what can be included in a council’s development contributions policy and therefore what it can charge development contributions in respect of – has been amended so that public amenities such as swimming pools and libraries can once again be funded through development contributions. The restrictions on the power to require contributions for reserves set out in section 198A of the LGA ’02 have also been repealed.  Interestingly, the Amendment Act has also introduced the ability for councils to charge development contributions for the additional types of community infrastructure where the work for that infrastructure was completed prior to the amendment coming into force.  However, councils can only recover the remaining cost of the works, after first deducting what they would have recovered in development contributions if they had been able to charge them in respect of development that have already proceeded, and then deducting the proportion of the works that they would have funded from other sources in any event. 
  • Additional provisions have been added to enable councils and council-controlled organisations to access funding from the New Zealand Transport Agency, through the National Land Transport Fund, without it counting as a liability.
 
We see the key impacts of these changes as follows:
 
  • By removing the requirement to consider core services, and enabling councils to look to the well-being of both the current and future community, councils and communities are empowered to determine for themselves what services they should be providing and the priority that should be given to each of them in order to address the needs of their communities now and into the future.  The ability for councils to again be guided by the four aspects of well-being will filter through into their decision-making, including at the long-term plan and annual plan level – likely affecting the prioritisation of projects and allocation of funding.
  • With the broadening of the definition of “community infrastructure”, more assets will be able to be funded through development contributions.  As a result, development contributions assessed under policies made following the introduction of the Amendment Act will likely be greater than what they would have been, had they been assessed under the previous development contributions policy – i.e. development contributions are likely to increase.  Conversely, the ability to charge development contributions for these works and programmes may reduce the necessity to raise rates in order to pay for these assets.
  • The addition of provisions enabling councils and council-controlled organisations to access funding from the New Zealand Transport Agency removes the potential barrier for councils when building infrastructure in new development areas.  With the amendments, councils can borrow to deliver the infrastructure now, while still being able to charge development contributions to pay for that debt and infrastructure.
 
Ultimately, the Amendment Act represents a shift in the relationship between local and central government.  Whereas the previous government sought to centralise functions and decision-making, the current direction appears to be the facilitation of a grass-roots, community-initiated approach.  We may see other legislative changes introduced in the future, continuing the implementation of this strategy.


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National Planning Standards

On 5 April 2019, the Minister for the Environment released the long awaited National Planning Standards as part of his keynote speech at the NZPI Conference.  The standards were gazetted on 5 April 2019 and take effect on Friday 5 May 2019...

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National Planning Standards

On 5 April 2019, the Minister for the Environment released the long awaited National Planning Standards as part of his keynote speech at the NZPI Conference.  The standards were gazetted on 5 April 2019 and take effect on Friday 5 May 2019.


In our previous article we provided an overview of the draft National Planning Standards where we accepted that the principle of standardisation had merit but raised concerns about the practicalities of implementing a one sized fits all approach.

That view was shared by many submitters during the consultation period with a total of 201 submissions made on the draft standards (57 submissions were made by local authorities and 70 by business/industry).  Of those submissions, two-thirds reportedly expressed support in principle or in part for the planning standards, however almost all submissions requested changes.

The resultant changes are significant and we think they will provide real assistance in implementation.  Some challenges will of course remain as is to be expected in a procedural shift of this nature but overall we are hopeful the advantages of standardisation will outweigh the teething pains.  Of course with implementation over an extended period, it will be some considerable time before a judgement on that matter can be made.

Read our full review here - https://app.box.com/s/8678u515gbxxt0vq5luby3rg1pa0lccp


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Significant %NBS downgrades loom for some buildings

A seismic event in NZ’s property market occurred in November last year. More like a slow slip quake than a sudden jolt, the November 2018 update to the guidelines for seismic assessment of existing buildings went largely unnoticed by many in the property industry. The effects, however, are now beginning to be felt, with the recent closure of Wellington Central Library and the assessment of its floors at just 20%NBS being one of the first publicly visible signs...

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Significant %NBS downgrades loom for some buildings

A seismic event in NZ’s property market occurred in November last year. More like a slow slip quake than a sudden jolt, the November 2018 update to the guidelines for seismic assessment of existing buildings went largely unnoticed by many in the property industry. The effects, however, are now beginning to be felt, with the recent closure of Wellington Central Library and the assessment of its floors at just 20%NBS being one of the first publicly visible signs.


To appreciate what has happened and where this will lead, it’s helpful to first understand the legal and engineering framework within which seismic assessments of buildings are made. The starting point here is the guidelines for The Seismic Assessment of Existing Buildings (Guidelines), which detail the technical basis on which engineers carry out seismic assessments of existing buildings. In basic terms, the Guidelines govern how seismic engineers review a building to arrive at a robust assessment of its “%NBS” – the all important percentage of the “new building standard” that an existing building achieves.

This process and the outcomes are hugely important because a %NBS rating (almost universally misunderstood by property advisors and lawyers alike) has become a proxy for seismic safety. As a result, %NBS underpins acquisition, development and leasing decisions and is a key consideration for many Crown agencies and corporates in their property strategies and health and safety assessments. The Guidelines also form part of the EPB (earthquake prone building) methodology produced by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, by which territorial authorities are required to identify earthquake-prone buildings.

When version 1 of the Guidelines was first released in July 2017 (superseding guidance from 2006), it was seen as a significant step forward. The Guidelines were an extensive revision by industry experts of earlier thinking and incorporated a wealth of research, knowledge and experience obtained from the significant New Zealand earthquakes between 2010 and 2016 – a period which included the Christchurch, Seddon and Kaikoura earthquakes. As such, and with one critical exception, the Guidelines represented the latest understandings on the seismic behaviour of existing buildings.

That one critical exception was Section C5 of the Guidelines, a section governing the detailed seismic assessments of concrete buildings. With the timing of the general release of the Guidelines in mid-2017, it simply wasn’t possible to include new guidance on a range of matters, including assessing precast concrete floor systems to take account of new knowledge from the Kaikoura earthquake, and to respond to recommendations made in the Statistics House investigation. However, this was remedied in November 2018 with the release of a new Section C5 (version 1A), and the slow slip quake in the market began.

The revisions to Section C5 are numerous, with changes addressing: material strength, “single crack” scenarios in concrete members, deformation limits due to buckling of walls and columns, limiting conditions leading to the loss of gravity support in columns, slab-column connections and walls, and strength degradation for lightly reinforced joints. None of that appears particularly reassuring to the untrained eye but, more significantly, there is also a complete revision of the guidance detailing the assessment of precast concrete floors – that is, precast concrete hollow-core, double-tee, rib and infill, and flat slab floor units, all of which have been relatively common methods of floor construction since the 1980s.

In relation to precast floors, the new Appendix C5E records in unemotive engineering prose that, in an earthquake, it is possible for “unseating” of precast floors to occur (that is, precast floors may fall off their supporting ledges within the building frame) and that precast floors can be particularly susceptible to damage that has the effect of “compromising gravity load support” (that is, precast floors may collapse). Appendix C5E goes on to state that “For buildings with older support detailing, the limiting drift at failure of the precast floors is likely to be less than the limiting drift for the frame and may govern the earthquake rating for the building as a whole.” Translated, this means that precast floors may fail before the building frame itself and, if that is the case for your building, then its %NBS will diminish to that earlier point of failure.

While the devil is very much in the engineering detail, the practical effect of the changes to Section C5 of the Guidelines is that the %NBS of many relatively new buildings with precast floors is likely to fall. There are many such buildings in New Zealand but, of the larger centres, Wellington, Napier, Hastings and Palmerston North are likely to be disproportionately affected due to their higher “Z-values”, being the seismic risk factors applicable to those regions.

How much lower the %NBS numbers will go is, of course, a key issue, as is whether buildings remain safe. These assessments in turn depend on a range of factors relating to a particular building, including the type of floor and the flexibility of the building frame. You will need an engineer to tell you but, for some buildings, the %NBS drop may be significant. While it hasn’t been highlighted in reporting to date, Aurecon New Zealand Limited’s assessment of Wellington Central Library, is “that the hollowcore precast floor system… achieves a score of 20%NBS” – this for a building that opened in 1991.

Of course, not all buildings will be affected like Wellington Central Library and, for some buildings, a small %NBS decrease may not be material.  However, for owners, tenants, funders and insurers of a 70%NBS structure, a 15-20% drop may well have major ramifications. Where a change in %NBS crosses a critical threshold for a party, their options will, as ever, be constrained by their existing contracts and the availability of alternatives.

Weaknesses in leasing documents will also be exposed. The standard ADLS deed of lease, for example, does not address seismic standards and a number of leases with negotiated seismic covenants require there to be an earthquake of a minimum magnitude before the tenant can even access rights related to the %NBS of the building. Neither position is advisable. However, even where a tenant has a contractual escape route, its options will be practically limited by the availability of alternative premises and business continuity requirements.

A further issue is how or whether affected parties will even know that the %NBS of the building has fallen. In the absence of an earthquake, few tenants will have cause to consider the accuracy of historical seismic reports. The statutory framework also provides little comfort; while territorial authorities are tasked with identifying potentially earthquake prone buildings, these are only buildings below 34%NBS and, even then, for at least an interim period of 18-24 months, those “EPB” assessments must continue to be made using the old Section C5 of the Guidelines. This means that for earthquake prone building purposes there may well be “false negatives” – i.e. %NBS ratings above those supported by the latest engineering knowledge. Beyond the earthquake prone building framework, there is generally no incentive or legal requirement for landlords to seek assessments that may indicate things have changed for the worse, or to disclose these if they are obtained.

Even less likely is that owners, outside local or central government, will close their buildings and, other than in the most extreme cases, there is no legal requirement for them to do so. In the case of Wellington Central Library, where engineers identified that “the potential loss of seating of the hollowcore units presents a significant hazard and potential risk to building occupants following a significant earthquake event”. Mayor Justin Lester observed that "We're not legally obliged to close this building, we are morally obliged”. Not all building owners will see it the same way.

Those concerned about their buildings should seek information from engineers and owners and take engineering and, potentially, legal advice. Next steps can then be informed by reference to assessed risk, existing contractual positions and organisational health and safety policies and obligations.

Doran Wyatt is a Partner with expertise in seismic matters, leasing and developments. He acts for a range of Crown agencies and institutional investors and is based in Greenwood Roche’s Wellington office.  The content in this article is not legal advice.  Our team would be happy to assist with any specific issues.


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Property Council Residential Development Summit

Lauren Semple, who leads our Resource Management Team presented at the Property Council Residential Development Summit in February 2019. ..

News & Insights

Property Council Residential Development Summit

Lauren Semple, who leads our Resource Management Team presented at the Property Council Residential Development Summit in February 2019. 


Some philosophical issues to sort out with an Urban Development Authority model based on our experiences in Christchurch.  If coming to the end of the use of such powers in Christchurch is seen as a “return to local leadership” does it follow that the use of such powers in the first place is an affront to local democracy?  And how does that fit with the intention to deliver national UDA legislation.  Good conversation starter.  Want to know more, please do not hesitate to contact Lauren Semple or our Resource Management team.


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Subdivision Intensive Paper

Lauren Semple presented a paper as part of the NZCLE Workshop on Subdivisions.  This paper considers the wider context of subdivision and land development and reflects on some of the tools, requirements and alternative processes which can influence the way projects take shape.  ..

Subdivision Intensive Paper

News & Insights

Subdivision Intensive Paper

Subdivision Intensive Paper

Lauren Semple presented a paper as part of the NZCLE Workshop on Subdivisions.  This paper considers the wider context of subdivision and land development and reflects on some of the tools, requirements and alternative processes which can influence the way projects take shape.  


It first looks at a number of the alternative legislative schemes set up in recent years to fast track development (including subdivision), and considers some of the lessons from these examples which may usefully inform future legislation including the much touted but not yet here urban development authority approach.  It touches on the role of, and tools available to, local authorities under the Local Government Act in relation to subdivisions, including the use of development contributions and development agreements to service growth and asks whether our preoccupation with new tools might prevent us from effectively utilising the tools we already have.   
Download the paper here - https://app.box.com/s/58174muot1x5y7b53t8imgxd4d5l5frd


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