by Elizabeth Cox
A major deadline has been reached in Wellington, but a showdown seems to have been narrowly averted.
Following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, the City Council listed 113 Wellington buildings built of unreinforced masonry in areas of high pedestrian or vehicle traffic. The owners were given a Government-imposed deadline to secure their facades and parapets. This is separate from the red-sticker/yellow-sticker Earthquake Prone Buildings process, which rumbles on and on separately (in some cases for the same buildings). Many of these owners knew their buildings were possibly earthquake prone, but this was a specific list with a shorter deadline. The deadline, which required owners to secure vulnerable parts of their buildings by March 2018, was extended by six months after owners said it was not feasible to fix in time. So the last day became 27 September.
The Council has been working closely with the owners to ensure that they have the work completed – but even so, a week ago, twenty buildings remained on the list.
Of course, this project to secure the facades of unreinforced masonry buildings does not mean that they will not fall down in an earthquake, but it does hopefully mean they are less likely to have their facades fall off into the street. This is of course because of the horrific death toll in Christchurch, with many unsecured facades falling into busy streets, and because of the concern that access in and out of the city could be blocked by the rubble.
To assist with the urgency, the City Council contributed $1 million and the Government $2 million for building owners to ‘pin back’ and secure facades and possibly-dangerous details. The fund contributes up to half of the costs of the work, up to a maximum of $25,000 for buildings two storeys and below, and up to $65,000 for buildings three storeys or over. Many of the buildings that were on the list are heritage listed, but not all.
As I understand it, the City Council has been understanding of the issues facing owners – but has also been taking it seriously. It has been updating the list of buildings every two weeks or so, and I have been watching the list slowly getting smaller as work has begun or been completed (one way or another…).
At the start of the process there were 113 – by the end of August there were 45; then on 6 September there were 36, and on 20 September, only 20. The Council provided the list online  and also a map of unreinforced masonry buildings. 
In recent weeks buildings have been removed for a number of reasons. Some, strangely, appear to have had no work done on them at all. The City Council has been focussing on telling us the good news stories, which I guess is fair enough.
For example, they discussed the work completed on the Maguires Building at 168-174 Cuba Street  which houses the Olive Café; it was bought in August 2017 by William Broadmore and his wife and they have quake-strengthened and restored the 1901 building over the past year, and it therefore came off the list. This was one of a number of buildings which have changed hands since the deadline came into place. I can imagine it has been rather a frantic time for owners, trying to find engineers and architects to advise them.
Others of the original 113 have been demolished, some altered and strengthened.
Three buildings recently removed from the list are on the corner of Lambton Quay and Willis Street – the Stewart Dawson Corner. This is ironically because…. well .… rather than being an unsecured façade they are now just a façade and nothing else.
Another building no longer on the list is the rather lovely CO Products building in Adelaide Road, which has had pins inserted into the façade, as you can see in the image.
Across the road are two others that recently came off the list – the red-stickered brick Tramway Hotel built in 1899 which has been closed for some time, and its neighbouring building; they were both on the list until a few weeks ago, so the recent work must have been considered sufficient.
Another important building that recently came off the list is the Town Hall, which of course is owned by the Council itself. Major EQ strengthening and other work is planned for the building in the coming years, but as I understand it the council is having to do the parapet/façade work first, before all the rest of the work, in order to meet the government’s deadline – a major and complicated task which I imagine they would have preferred to have done at the same time as the major work.
The legislation allows councils to take a number of actions if the URM work wasn’t completed before the deadline. These actions include:
Closing the site: Councils may issue a warrant to remove the immediate danger and prevent access to the building’s street front until work is completed. The owner of the building is liable for the costs associated.
Prosecution: A person who fails to comply with a dangerous building notice commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding $200,000.
Takeover: A council may choose to apply to District Court for an order to carry out the building work required under the notice. The owner of the building is liable for the costs of the work.
Of the 20 buildings that remained on the list just a week ago, the biggest worries were in Cuba Street, Adelaide Road and Riddiford Street as they have lots of people nearby and are important access ways into and out of the city for emergency vehicles to the hospital and for the fire engines in Newtown.
Buildings removed in the last week include (top picture) 58 Cuba Street, a listed heritage building known as the T.G. Macarthy Trust Building, which used to contain Cheapskates, and its neighbouring 54 Cuba Street, which share a party wall. They have been looking run down for some time, but work has recently started.
Just around the corner at 67 Manners Street, and also just removed from the list: the more modern looking building with the crepe shop and a 2degrees shop, the one with the rounded balcony.
Further up Cuba Street, another no-longer-listed building is the rather lovely little commercial building on the corner of Cuba and Ghuznee Street, at the end of the mall, which has the Student Travel shop in it. Built for the Gear Meat Preserving and Freezing Company, it was designed by architect William Charles Chatfield. Despite its horrible little modern verandahs, as the council it says ‘contributes considerable townscape value to Cuba and Ghuznee Streets’.
Further up again is 176 Cuba, known as the L T Watkins building, which contains the Flying Burrito Brothers and (horrors!) Midnight Espresso. The idea of Wellington without Midnight Espresso is not worth thinking about. This is a heritage-listed building described by the Council as ‘a fine example of a large Edwardian warehouse/commercial building’. The council also notes ‘the eclectic shop-front at Midnight Espresso is also notable for its contribution to the lively Cuba Street streetscape’. It came off the list last week.
Just around the corner on Ghuznee Street is the beautiful Albermarle Hotel, another building without which the city would be much the poorer. It’s no longer on the list. Neither are three neighbouring buildings in Egmont Street, one of the popular lanes off Dixon Street, across from the Egmont Street Eatery and (in another neighbouring area) 8 Holland Street; the council had planned to make this into a new laneway in the same way they had done for Eva and Egmont Streets.
In Newtown, and removed from the list in the past few days, is the electricity substation in Riddiford Street – which, despite all appearances, still functions as the substation for a substantial part of the city and is extremely important from both an infrastructural and heritage point of view. I know that work is planned on that building. Another no longer on the list is the building next door to it.
The old black and white Red Cross / Manor building on the corner of Ghuznee Street and Willis Street – which all Wellingtonians will know – was also on the list till a few days ago. It was designed by William Turnbull and completed in 1908 as a residence and surgery for surgeon Sir Donald McGavin. The government’s Heritage Equip recently provided the owners with a grant of almost $300,000 for strengthening.
The one building that remains on the council list after the deadline is the old Newtown Hotel on the corner of Riddiford and Constable Streets. It was built in 1902, and was a hotel until Newtown went dry and banned alcohol five years later. It became a picture theatre in 1916; and has since been a dance hall, nightclub and market. It has a strange Art Deco façade attached to the front, but the old building can still be clearly be seen behind.
This article was first published on the Bay Heritage Consultants blog . Images: All black and white modern images by Andy Spain; check his beautiful work here . Historical Newtown Hotel image: Muir & Moodie (Firm). Riddiford Street, Newtown, Wellington. Ref: BB-2291-1/1-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, /records/23223500
And later today, the council announces:
All but one facade is secured