By Charlotte Greenfield
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The New Zealand government said on Wednesday it will require building owners to urgently fix hundreds of hazardous buildings due to concerns over the heightened earthquake risk following a deadly tremor in November.
The new rules affect about 300 buildings, mostly in the capital city of Wellington, and will cost around NZ$9 million ($6.51 million), half of which will be paid for by the government and local authorities, building minister Nick Smith told reporters.
The decision came after the state-funded science agency GNS Science predicted Wellington and the upper south island were eight times more likely than normal to be hit by a damaging quake in the next year.
Engineering industry bodies had asked for buildings with unreinforced facades such as verandas and chimneys in busy public spaces to be secured. Dozens of people were killed by rubble from similar structures collapsing in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
"Falling unreinforced masonry facades and parapets pose a major risk to people on the street during an earthquake. We saw the terrible harm that can be done when 39 people were killed by unreinforced masonry in the 2011 Canterbury earthquake," Smith said.
The government ordered repairs to be carried out within 12 months and waived normal building consent processes, Smith said.
New Zealand's central bank has estimated that repairs in the aftermath of the Nov.14 quake will cost up to NZ$8 billion, mainly in Wellington and the northern part of South Island.
($1 = 1.3820 New Zealand dollars)
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)