Minister’s response to EBSS Select Committee submission inaccurate and a distraction

On Tuesday 4 August the Minister of Building and Housing, Dr Nick Smith, reacted to a NBR request for his view on MBIE’s delay in issuing a determination on the earthquake prone building test case. His response attacked what we had to say to the Select Committee about the roles played by the NZSEE (and MBIE) in the implementation of the current Act.

The Minister said “[t]heir own organization is largely made up of building owners who equally have a commercial interest in not wanting to spend money on the seismic strengthening of their buildings”. The Minister had no basis for making that statement. It is both wrong and irrelevant. Just two EBSS members, who both own residential properties, are affected by the unlawful implementation of the current Act.

Even if EBSS was supported by the biggest commercial building owners in the land, that should not matter.  What matters is the quality of our analysis.

It is no secret that we have been very critical of the NZSEE’s performance. Their EPB %NBS trigger point was not based on any analysis of the costs and benefits, or on any serious assessment of life safety outcomes. Their risk rating system, which describes buildings with a %NBS of less than 33% as high risk, is in our view, deceptive. The flaws in their analysis are fundamental and have been fully described in the documents on our website (‘The Flaw in the Score’ and ‘The NZSEE’s %NBS risk measurement framework: why it does not work’). Both the NZSEE and MBIE have had the opportunity to respond to our analysis.  They have not done so.

Their conflict of interest is obvious.

We are not alone with our concerns with the Bill. On our count, eight of the ten submissions from engineers and engineering bodies, had substantive issues with the original bill, which the new version does not address.  The latest submission from GNS Science conveys a sense of frustration with the lack of regard for an analytical approach in the MBIE report.

We take no comfort from the Royal Commission’s recommendation that the Minister seems to be relying on. The Commission did not enquire into the analytical basis for the %NBS framework, missed the obvious legal flaw, and provided no substantive arguments to support their recommendation. A critique of their analysis is in the document ‘Error Prone Bureaucracy’.

The Minister’s response is a distraction from the real issue, which is to ensure that New Zealand has a robust, evidence based seismic strengthening regime that strikes a reasoned balance between costs and benefits.

In our submission we suggested an approach that would anchor the definition of earthquake prone building to a life safety risk target, and that would drawn on best practice advice from an expert committee, to set the trigger point.  We hope that the Select Committee gives our submission serious consideration.