Last week , I spoke at the first reading of the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill. The Green Party took a strong stand on the Bill because it contains a retrograde clause that will have a negative effect on people with disabilities and their friends and family.
I talked about how my family, including my two teenage daughters, were affected by the Canterbury earthquakes with some very close calls.
And how as a result I have every motivation to see buildings that are at risk of failure identified — and a national strategy developed to ensure that they are strengthened.
Safe buildings are essential – there is no question about that.
Re-building must cater for disabled
But we also need to make sure that we are building cities that ensure that people with disabilities can participate fully in our community. We need buildings that are both accessible and safe. We should not sacrifice one for the other.
The problem with this Bill is that it contains a clause that would remove the hard-won provisions in the Building Act that require buildings to update disability access when undergoing strengthening work.
Providing disability access at the same time as strengthening work is undertaken saves building-owners money and is cheaper in the long run.
At present, there are between 15,000 and 24,000 older non-residential and multi-storied residential earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand that lack disability access.
What this clause has meant is that the accessibility of public buildings has been progressively improved over time, although for many the pace of the upgrade has been frustratingly slow.
Thousands of buildings inaccessible in future?
Removing this clause as proposed in the bill is a retrograde move that could see thousands of buildings remain inaccessible to disabled people for the indefinite future – keeping people with limited mobility locked out of buildings as diverse as art galleries, universities and sports venues.
The message this clause in the Bill sends is that it’s okay for disabled people to remain out in the cold, locked out of full participation in society, locked out of employment opportunities, locked out of social and cultural events, locked out of thousands of public buildings.
When he introduced the bill the Minister for Buildings said that he wanted building owners to be exempt from upgrading disability access because he considered it “just too hard an ask of a building owner”.
Clearly the Minister has no idea of just how hard it is on wheelchair users to access services and go about their daily lives in an inaccessible environment.
We need to have buildings that are both accessible and safe and believe that it is reasonable to expect both.
We didn’t support the Bill at its first reading, but we would very much like to be able to support it at further readings if the Select Committee can adequately address the concerns of the disability community sector about access.