Friday, October 31, 2014

Mike Butler: Engineers close Opera House

How could the Hawke's Bay Opera House suddenly switch from being the jewel in the Hastings District Council’s crown to a dangerous no-go zone surrounded by safety barriers?

Building owners throughout New Zealand are being penalised by faulty advice from earthquake engineers. Banks have climbed on the bandwagon by insisting on earthquake risk reports on buildings that have no structural issues whatsoever as a condition of mortgage finance, creating a new industry for engineers to print out largely pre-written reports for $600 to $1000.

The 99-year-old Hastings council-owned Opera House was suddenly closed on March 4 of this year after advice from engineers that parts of the building were less than 34 percent of the new building standard of earthquake resistance.

The Municipal Building, also owned by the council, was closed later that month citing issues with a central pillar. The stability of Opera House balconies became a further concern last month.

Totally overlooked in the Hastings council’s reaction to claims about building safety is the fact that councils must in law apply the legal definition of earthquake prone, and not the much tougher earthquake engineers’ standard, which is not lawful.

Economist Ian Harrison, who produced a cost-benefit analysis as detailed in Error prone bureaucracy: Earthquake strengthening policy formulation in New Zealand 2003-2013 – a study in failure, pointed out that building owners take guidance from earthquake engineers whose standards are not lawful while ignoring the legal requirements.

If you follow the legal definition of what is earthquake prone, there would be few earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand. Section 122 of the Building Act 2004 says a building is earthquake-prone if (a) it will have its ultimate capacity exceeded in a moderate earthquake, and (b) would be likely to collapse causing (i) injury or death, or (ii) damage to any other property.

In more commonly understood terms a “moderate” earthquake in Hastings can be roughly equated to an event measuring 6 on the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale.

Such earthquakes are not destructive. A MMI 6 event is felt by all. People and animals are alarmed and may run outside. Furniture and appliances may move on smooth surfaces and objects fall from shelves. Glassware and crockery break. Slight non-structural damage to buildings may occur, according to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

If a building is so structurally unsound that it would collapse in a moderate MMI 6 earthquake as described it is clearly earthquake prone. Bear in mind the 2010 Canterbury earthquake was MMI 10, and the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, that the Opera House survived, was MMI 12.

The detailed information provided in last month’s report by former Waitakere City Council chief executive Harry O'Rourke and structural engineer Win Clark shows that both the Opera House and the Municipal Building are far from collapsing in a moderate MMI 6 earthquake.

This means that the Hastings District council could deal with the problem of alleged earthquake proneness of the Opera House and Municipal Building by applying the law as they must.

The O'Rourke Clark report details all earthquake risk assessments of both buildings.

Hastings engineers Loughnan Hall and Thompson did an assessment in 1998 that noted areas of possible weakness but concluded that the buildings were not an earthquake risk. At that time, Loughnan Hall and Thompson obtained plans of strengthening work done on the building after the 1931 earthquake, and noted that the building code in effect during the 1990s did not require strengthening unless a change of use was intended.

In a report released on March 20 this year, Strata Group assessed the Opera House by looking at sub soil category and scanning concrete for reinforcing size and location and concluded that the fly tower was 48 percent of new building standard (a pass mark on the much tougher earthquake engineers’ standard), that the stall area masonry walls were 17 percent NBS (fail), the steel columns were 22 percent (fail), the foyer masonry walls 34 percent (another engineers’ pass).

EqStruc assessed the Municipal Building in a report also released in March by looking at the geology, masonry wall and column composition, brick masonry bedding joint capacity, and brick and mortar compression strength of. Three-dimensional computer modelling concluded that in-plane masonry wall and out-of-plane wall and parapet capacity were less than 34 percent of new building standard.

A further report by Holmes Consulting, also in March, that reviewed the reports by Strata Group and EqStruc, agreed that both the Opera House and Municipal Buildings were earthquake prone due to likely failure of masonry walls, but deemed EqStruc’s use of modal response spectrum computer modelling as inadequate.

Faced with an apparent triple whammy by three consulting engineers, the Hastings District Council apparently felt compelled to close the buildings even though the buildings achieved a number of passing marks on the unreasonably stringent and non legal engineers’ assessments against new building standards.

The decision to close the buildings ignored the legal definition of earthquake-proneness as compelled to do so in law.

With strengthening work done after the 1931 earthquake, and with further such work done in 2005 as part of the upgrade, neither the Opera House nor the Municipal Buildings are like to collapse in a moderate quake, causing death, injury, or damage other property.

The O'Rourke Clark report concedes that use of the “percent of new building standard” tool to determine a building’s capacity is “inappropriate and has caused significant loss of value in New Zealand building stock”.

But Mr Harrison points out that the O'Rourke Clark report is not independent. “Win Clark is the executive officer of the NZ Society of Earthquake Engineering and has an interest in protecting their interests,” he said.

The O'Rourke Clark report has errors. On page 110, “the first statement that government legislation has set a 33 percent trigger point is not true. There is no reference to this in the legislation”, Mr Harrison said.

“Similarly the statement that regulations define a moderate earthquake as one that will cause the failure of a building with a 33 percent rating is not true. The regulations define a moderate earthquake as one that is as one that it a third as strong as that used in the new building code. There is no reference at all to failure,” he said.

Aside from earthquake issues, the Hastings council deserves a good bollocking for allowing the project to proceed in a manner, as the O'Rourke Clark report said, that “left a lot to be desired”, and allowed costs to balloon from the 1996 Option 1 estimate of $2.145-million to a final cost of $13.6-million.

With a rule-of thumb that earthquake strengthening costs 50 percent of replacement value, and with a replacement value of $23-million for both buildings combined, Hastings ratepayers could be slugged with a further $13-million bill for two buildings that struggle to pay their way.

In making a decision on the Opera House and Municipal Building, the Hastings council must ask: 1. Whether the buildings are legally earthquake prone, which they clearly are not, and 2. Whether they are as strong as the council wants them to be having regard to the costs, Mr Harrison said.

The second point is a matter for expert advice that shows the life safety consequences of different strengthening levels, and political judgement. The NZ Society of Earthquake Engineering framework is an unreliable guide to how safe a building is because it tells you nothing about life safety risk

Readers with concerns about their buildings should refer to Mr Harrison’s report at

Lindsay Mitchell: Feed the Kids Bill - say something

From the Green's blog:

Please help me get my Feed the Kids Bill to Select Committee

Last week I took over the Feed the Kids Bill that Hone Harawira had introduced to Parliament. If passed, my Bill will provide government-funded breakfast and lunch in all decile 1 and 2 schools.
Hungry kids can’t learn and are left trapped in the poverty cycle when they grow up. Let’s break that cycle, lunchbox by lunch box. We can feed the country’s hungry kids, if we work together.
My Bill is at a crucial stage of its progress – part way through its First Reading – and may be voted on as early as next Wednesday 5 November.
The way the numbers stack up in the new Parliament the Bill will be voted down unless we can persuade the National Party to change its position and support it going to Select Committee. National have been talking a lot about child poverty since the election, and supporting my Bill is one way they can start to address it.
You can help me persuade the Prime Minister to let the public have a say on this important issue by emailing  John Key, asking that National support my Bill at least to Select Committee. We need to broaden and build the public debate on addressing child poverty, and submissions on this Bill to a Select Committee will help achieve this.
Because of the potentially short timeframe, you’ll need to send your emails as soon as possible and before Monday 3 November at the latest.

As the link was provided I emailed the PM:

 Dear Mr Key

Green co-leader Metiria Turei has asked people to contact you directly to support her Feed the Kids Bill. She provided the link to your address through the Green blog. I have never written to you before.

I sincerely hope you will not support this bill. It would chisel away even more parental responsibility. The less that is expected of parents, the less they will provide or produce. That scenario does not auger well for their children's general welfare.

Even parents reliant on a benefit are paid enough to provide some fruit and modest sandwiches daily. An inability to do so is a symptom of a greater problem requiring scrutiny - for the sake of their child.

The 'income management' regime provides a response to genuinely hungry children. It may interest you that even Labour advocated for extended income management in its election manifesto. Their 2014 ‘Social Development’ policy paper proposed, “…allow[ing] income management to be used as a tool by social agencies where there are known child protection issues and it is considered in the best interests of the child, especially where there are gambling, drug and alcohol issues involved.”


Lindsay Mitchell

Doesn't take long to make a couple of points if you are so inclined.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Matt Ridley from the UK: The World Health Organisation attacks vaping instead of Ebola

Is there a connection between ebola and e-cigarettes?I don’t mean to imply that vaping has caused the epidemic in west Africa. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) now has serious questions to answer about its months of complacency over ebola. WHO’s director-general, Margaret Chan, made a speech only two weeks ago implying that tobacco control and the fight against e-cigarettes is a more important issue.
On October 13 Dr Chan gave her apologies for not being able to attend a conference on ebola and made a speech instead at a WHO summit in Moscow on tobacco. This is what she said there: “Some people speculated that I would not attend this meeting because I am so busy with so many other outbreaks of communicable diseases [ebola was third on her list, after flu and Mers coronavirus].No. No. No. I will not cancel my attendance at this meeting because it is too important . . . Tobacco control unquestionably is our biggest, surest and best opportunity to save some millions of lives . . .The next challenge is that the tobacco industry is increasing its dominance over the market for electronic cigarettes.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mike Butler: Harawira’s murky past

An alleged offender in Northland’s latest high-profile sex case had been working for former Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira and paid by the taxpayer, according to news reports last week. (1) Harawira and his family seized a leadership position in New Zealand’s treaty grievance industry. The eratic positions of Hone and the Harawiras over the years show lack of moral compass and unfitness for leadership.

The link between Harawira and Patrick Rivers, who goes by the name Mangu Awarau, one of Mr Harawira's closest friends, is the latest in a line of murky links with the former politician ousted in the September 20 general election.

Awarau spoke at Mr Harawira's election night function, just days after being charged with raping a girl younger than 12. Awarau has pleaded not guilty to three sex offences.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Benjamin Herscovitch: What is the right standard for success in Iraq and Syria?

In 1954, then United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld remarked: 'The UN was not created to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell.'

Hammarskjöld's point was that in the often messy and brutal world of international affairs, the standard of success is not perfect peace and security but whether war and genocide can be minimised.

Despite ongoing strife in Iraq and Syria and sustained Islamic State combat strength, Hammarskjöld's lesson should chasten critics of the US-led campaign of air strikes.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Matt Ridley from the UK: Ebola needs beds on the ground

It is not often I find myself agreeing with apocalyptic warnings, but the west African ebola epidemic deserves hyperbole right now. Anthony Banbury, head of the UN ebola emergency response mission, says: “Time is our enemy. The virus is far ahead of us.” Dr David Nabarro, special envoy of the UN secretary-general, says of ebola: “I have never encountered a public health crisis like this in my life.”
However, this is a case where the hype could serve a purpose if it motivates action and thereby proves itself wrong.
Two things could happen over the next few months. The more probable is that the brave aid workers, soldiers and medical teams heading for the region, and brave local health workers and burial teams, will gradually get on top of the epidemic in the three affected countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the infection rate will peak and start to drop, and the crisis will pass.

Steve Lafleur from Canada: “Privatization is Not Inherently Good or Bad”

“Privatization is not inherently good or bad – the performance or effectiveness depends on implementation.” That isn’t the type of rhetoric one might expect to hear when describing something as polarizing as privatization, but it is one of the conclusions from the Urban Institute. 

Variants of that same phrase have been written by Leonard Gilroy of the Reason Foundation and Harvard privatization expert John Donahue. Despite the divide among politicians and activists, scholars who investigate the nuts and bolts of privatization recognize that, like any tool, privatization can make a mess if used for the wrong job. It can also help provide better and more efficient services when used for the right job. 

As we further our understanding of when and how privatization and public-private partnerships are succeed, we will see less and less failure if we have the right institutions.

Chris Trotter: Labour Needs To Stop Saying What People DON'T want to hear

The anguish of Labour supporters on election night was expressed mostly in Anglo-Saxon. Polite English just doesn’t have the emotional range for disaster on such a lavish scale.

Unquestionably, as political disasters go, this one was a biggie.

Bill Rowling told the nation on election night 1975 (when Rob Muldoon sent Labour plummeting to the abysmal depths of 39.6 percent) that he “felt like he’d been run over by a bus”. Oh, what David Cunliffe would have given for that bus! On the night of 20 September 2014, Labour’s hapless leader must have felt like he’d been run over by a fully-laden freight train, which had then stopped and reversed back over him, just to make sure.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mike Butler: Forestry trust’s vanishing $1m

The Far North Parengarenga 3G Trust that received more than $1-million two years ago now has $13.41 in the bank after allegations that trustees paid themselves $600,000 and with a further $400,000 unaccounted for.

The Maori Land Court appointed seven people in 2009 to replace the Maori Trustee as responsible trustees for a 500ha plantation forestry block in Parengarenga, according to a reserved judgment by Judge David Ambler.

The Maori Trustee transferred $1,090,000 into its accounts in September 2012.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Frank Newman: Regulation risks for property investors

The ANZ Bank and the New Zealand Property Investors’ Federation (NZPIF) have released the findings of their annual property investors’ survey. It’s an interesting insight into the thinking of residential property investors and how that thinking has been shaped by government policy and market conditions. Members of the NZPIF tend to be larger investors who have been in the game for a number of years which is reflected in the results.  1156 property investors took part in the survey.  

The general themes to emerge are:
  • Concerns about government regulation,
  • Debt reduction, and
  • An expectation that property prices will continue to rise.

Brianna Heinrichs from Canada: Communities Should Say “No” to Youth Curfews

This Halloween, children younger than 16 will not be allowed outside without an adult after 7:00pm in Bonnyville, Alberta. The Halloween curfew has been around for decades, but some parents requested that the curfew time be extended an hour, or maybe two. But the mayor decided against honouring the parents’ request.

For generations, numerous places in Canada have experimented with different versions of a youth curfew. They typically apply to those under the age of 16 or 18, start between 10:00pm to 12:00am, and are in effect year-round.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Matt Ridley from the UK: Bees and pesticides

The European Union’s addiction to the precautionary principle — which says in effect that the risks of new technologies must be measured against perfection, not against the risks of existing technologies — has caused many perverse policy decisions. It may now have produced a result that has proved so utterly foot-shooting, so swiftly, that even Eurocrats might notice the environmental disaster they have created.

All across southeast Britain this autumn, crops of oilseed rape are dying because of infestation by flea beetles. The direct cause of the problem is the two-year ban on pesticides called neonicotinoids brought in by the EU over British objections at the tail end of last year. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Richard Epstein from the US: We Need a Real Flat Tax

I was heartened recently to see Edward Kleinbard’s op-ed in the New York Times, with its alluring title, “Don’t Soak the Rich.” But as I read the piece by Kleinbard, a law school professor at the University of Southern California, it became clear that his proposed solution was a classic bait-and-switch operation. Kleinbard’s so-called flat tax soaks the rich by a different route. He proposes a tax hike on everyone evenly and then suggests that the government spend most of the extra revenues on the poor, either by direct grants or public expenditures from which they derive the lion’s share of the benefit.

The flat tax deserves a better send-off. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mike Butler: Playing young Maori crims for votes

The Maori Party appears to have has run out of ideas, with co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell recycling his “racist justice system” allegation by calling for a review to find out why young Maori become increasingly over represented in youth crime statistics.

Flavell raised the issue about a year ago and again in April this year in the presence of a United Nations delegation.

Latest Ministry of Justice figures show the number of children and young people charged in Youth Court is the lowest in 20 years, although the proportion of young Maori compared with non-Maori is rising.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mike Butler: Another billion dollar tribe

South Island tribe Ngai Tahu’s 2014 report boasts a net worth of $1.075-billion and distributions of $21.96-million which is 13.6 percent of the tribe’s total net profit of $160.58-million.

Charitable distributions for the 2014 year were grants to: Runanga $5.76-million, healthy environments $7.4-million, marae communities $4-million, natural environment $2.7-million, and education $2.1-million.

Mike Butler: Woodburner police for Auckland?

The Environment Ministry has fixed its death stare on Auckland and a ban on domestic open fireplaces and old wood burners affecting 85,000 homes looms.

A report in the New Zealand Herald yesterday, or should I say a press release from the Auckland Council reproduced in the Herald, breathlessly asserts that 75 per cent of Auckland's winter air pollution is due to fine particle emissions (PM10) from open fires and non- compliant wood burners.

Noting that motor vehicles account for 18 per cent of pollution, and industry 7 per cent, “the burning of coal and wood during winter raised the level of PM10 inhaled and lodged in lungs, and that 110 adults died prematurely every year due to emissions from indoor fires.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Matt Ridley from the UK: How we got to now

The meteorologist Edward Lorenz famously asked, in the title of a lecture in 1972: “does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”, and the phrase “the butterfly effect” entered the language. If Steven Johnson’s book How We Got to Now catches on — and it deserves to — then the “humming bird effect” will also become common parlance.
Humming birds exist because flowers needed to find a way to spread pollen over long distances, and they invented nectar to attract insects. Birds were not part of the deal at all until much later. That the evolutionary emergence of flowers would lead to a radical redesign of the anatomy of some birds could not have been foreseen.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Kevin Donnelly from Australia: A common education curriculum

Should all schools, whether government, Catholic or independent, be forced to follow a centrally designed and monitored curriculum? And should this central curriculum be imposed upon schools regardless of the ability, interests and motivation of their students or the character, needs and aspirations of the communities they serve?

These questions are more than just academic, given recent moves to give schools greater autonomy while mandating a centrally designed curriculum. This is illustrated by the Western Australian Independent Public Schools initiative and by states imposing their own curriculum like Victoria’s AusVELS and the NSW syllabuses.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Frank Newman: Development contributions dishonest

Section 199 of the Local Government Act 2002 gives local councils, “the power to levy a development contribution if the effect of a development is to require new or additional assets or assets of increased capacity and, as a consequence, the territorial authority incurs capital expenditure to provide appropriately for reserves, network infrastructure, or community infrastructure.”

The intention was that local councils experiencing population growth would have an additional revenue mechanism to recover the cost of putting in infrastructure to service that growth.  When the levy was introduced in Whangarei in mid 2005 it was promoted as a matter of fairness by anti-development councillors and council staff. It would, they said, shift the cost burden of new infrastructure from the general ratepayer to the developer. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Barend Vlaardingerbroek from Lebanon: ISIS – hostis humani generis and the spectre of ‘legitimacy creep’

‘Hostis humani generis’ is a 17th century legalism that means ‘enemy of all mankind’. It was at that time applied to the pirates, particularly those who had set up shop in the Caribbean where they had safe ports to go to such as Port Royal and even their own ‘pirate republic’ in Nassau at one stage. 

The indiscriminately brutish behaviour of many pirates had made them thoroughly unpopular with all and sundry, and there was no shortage of people who were after their blood. But tensions among the European powers – the Spanish, English, French and Dutch – stood in the way of effective cooperation towards combating the common threat.