Subsidies for building reinforcement falling short

JIJI

Japan is far behind in efforts to offer subsidies for reinforcing large buildings against earthquakes alarmingly predicted to hit Tokyo and the Nankai Trough area someday in the future, a survey has shown.

Just 37 municipalities, or 38 percent of the 98 major governments surveyed by Jiji Press, have subsidy programs for inspections to check earthquake resistance.

In addition, as few as 15 governments allocate subsidies for renovation work, offering bleak prospects for significant progress in making vulnerable structures stronger against quakes.

Under the revised law to promote renovations to boost quake resistance, which went into effect in November 2013, large facilities built before 1981 under old standards must be checked by the end of 2015.

At the same time, the central government increased subsidies to a maximum of half the cost of building examinations, up from one-third, and to two-fifths of renovation costs, up from 11.5 percent.

Local governments were urged to establish similar subsidy programs.

The survey revealed that 60 of 61 governments with no subsidy programs said they are looking at the possibility of helping to pay for building checkups.

But many municipalities are hesitant to provide subsidies for renovation work, which can cost several hundred million yen per building.

Of the governments that subsidize building checkups, only eight plan to set up financial assistance for renovation work in fiscal 2014.

Shizuoka Prefecture, which includes the hot spring resorts of Ito and Atami, expanded its subsidy programs in October 2013 for both building checkups for seismic resistance and renovation work.

With the prefectural subsidy, plus state, city and town government subsidies, owners’ pay nothing for building inspections and just one-third of renovation costs.

“We took measures quickly as our prosperity relies heavily on tourism at hot spring resorts,” a Shizuoka Prefectural Government official said.

The city of Otsu in Shiga Prefecture offers subsidies only for seismic checkups.

“Renovation work is important and we have to be well prepared before spending taxpayers’ money,” an Otsu official said.

Among municipalities with no subsidy programs, the city of Wakayama cited fiscal constraints, while the city of Chiba said it is hard to individually come to the assistance of business owners.

According to the survey, Yokohama was the only local government to subsidize purchases of seismic circuit breakers, which cut off electricity automatically when a strong quake is detected.

Kochi Prefecture and the cities of Kawasak and Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, are debating the use of subsidy programs.

The central government hopes to promote the use of seismic circuit breakers to help reduce the number of deaths from fires in the event of a massive quake in Tokyo.

In Yokohama, however, there were only three recipients of subsidies for circuit breakers in fiscal 2013, the first year of the program, suggesting government shortcomings in making the aid programs more widely known.