Mobility advocate petitions council to improve accessibility
At the Ōpōtiki District Council meeting on Tuesday 31 May 2022, Kathy Cook presented in the public forum, asking for more work to be done to make the town and district more accessible for those using wheelchairs and mobility aids.
Council Chief Executive, Aileen Lawrie, said that the issues raised were vital to making sure that the district was safe and inclusive. She explained that it crossed several different aspects of Council’s work and that there was change well-underway.
“I would like to reiterate what Mayor Riesterer said in the meeting – it is great when people like Kathy Cook come forward and make sure that Council knows their concerns and wants to be involved in solutions.
“In this instance, there are a few ways that Council is working on improving accessibility. In a very immediate sense, we have laid down an additional 12km of footpaths in the last two years, largely thanks to generous funding from central government. Of course, there is always more footpath needed in Ōpōtiki, we are playing catch-up on decades of not spending on things like that. But those pieces we have certainly help and we do a little more each year,” Ms Lawrie said.
Aileen Lawrie explained that the issue of accessibility to shops and private businesses was a little complicated in Ōpōtiki because of the many older buildings, some that are heritage listed, in the town centre.
“Any new builds in Ōpōtiki would need to meet national requirements for accessibility; things like accessible lifts, car parking, toilets, lighting, signs and so on. There are also some businesses in town that have upgraded their accessibility off their own bat which is great. The main Council buildings and any ‘public services’ buildings also tend to have more carefully considered accessibility needs.
“But we agree with Kathy Cook that it is simply not yet enough to make the town centre accessible for people who need it to go about everyday life.
“This is where the coming changes due to the Earthquake Prone Building legislation may start to make a difference. As people renovate their properties or make changes to meet their earthquake strengthening obligations, we can expect to see a much more accessible Ōpōtiki for everyone,” Ms Lawrie said.
A new national system for managing earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand came into effect on 1 July 2017. The new system provides direction on how to manage the risks to public safety posed by existing buildings, particularly those built before many modern design standards. It sets out the process and timeframes for compliance.
Earlier this year, Council issued 38 Earthquake Prone Building (EPB) notices to properties within the township and most will need to be compliant with the legislation by 2029.
“The main reason the government has made these changes to earthquake-prone buildings is safety – they are a direct response to the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011.
“But another benefit of these changes, is that the renovations will trigger compliance with building standards and we can expect to see more accessible buildings across the district.
“For example, if you look at the plans for the building for Lots 9 and 10 in town, it is much higher and provides access, hence a lot of area taken up in a ramp. So these changes are coming on line over the coming years alongside safer buildings and other renovations,” Aileen Lawrie said.
You can see more about the town centre revitalisation on the council website, including plans and throughfares. You can also read more about the earthquake prone building legislation and what it means for landowners.
All buildings are listed in the Register of earthquake-prone buildings (EPB Register)