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Demolition during a housing shortage

demolish 1

by James Fraser
It is beyond belief that demolition of two apartment buildings owned by the government’s NZ Transport Agency on Wellington Road in Kilbirnie is to go ahead this month without any political comment or scrutiny.

demolish 2

What a depressing indictment of a system that allows a taxpayer-funded roading agency to purchase perfectly acceptable housing units to further a controversial roading agenda, and then to allow the properties to become empty and deteriorate over many years.

The old chestnut “earthquake risk” is dragged out to justify the demolition, in an attempt to remove embarrassment to the agency and create ‘Facts On The Ground’ to help speed up the ‘Four Lanes To The Planes’ decision-making process.

This ‘Improvements to SH1’ project is subject to a Business Case examination due to report back to the Let’s Get Welly Moving people early next year. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that four lanes on Wellington Road, along with a third Mt Victoria Tunnel, will be the answer to Wellington’s transport challenges for the 21st century.

The NZTA has shown itself to be totally insensitive to the lack of affordable housing, and negligent as a housing agency or landlord. There is no sense of responsibility about making these properties habitable.

The buildings should be handed over to those who can make them habitable – even if necessary on a short to medium term basis. But not demolition.

James Fraser is a Newtown resident born and bred who has witnessed the slow quake of destruction in Wellington brought about by roading since the 1960s.

11 comments:

  1. Chris Manson, 9. July 2020, 11:41

    Surely someone has worked out the long term economics on using road-money for light rail? It’s pretty simple to do a fast forward and realise that even IF the reading changes are successfully finished, the traffic will still overload the finished product. Car travel is inefficient on space and resources. Why not put on more buses and introduce more ‘Park and ride’ facilities? Then introduce fees (congestion tax, same as London) to keep private vehicles out of the CBD and use the money to subsidise better transport solutions for the population. The current path has a predictable dead end.

     
  2. K, 9. July 2020, 14:38

    Is there any evidence that these aren’t earthquake dangers as officially stated? Or is that just a hunch?

     
  3. James, 9. July 2020, 22:40

    What NZTA has a history of doing – they did the same with properties near the Basin Reserve – is buy them and do no upkeep. They probably were in need of earthquake strengthening but instead of doing so the agency chose to demolish rather than strengthen and let people live in them.

     
  4. Guy M, 14. July 2020, 7:39

    I’m happy to bet that these apartment buildings are not earthquake prone at all, and that the reason for declaring them earthquake prone is purely political. Both of these buildings are constructed with a reinforced concrete frame, entailing steel reinforcement encased in concrete. At least one of these buildings was designed by James Beard, one of New Zealand’s best architects of the time, whose other buildings are standing without EQP concerns and there is no reason to think that this project would be any different. Beard had an acute ability to rationalise architectural and structural form and I doubt that he would have lowered his standards on these structures.

    Indeed, the apartment blocks are likely to be even more resistant to seismic action than an office building, given that they appear to have solid concrete flat slab floors, not the hollow-core slabs that are causing Wellington office buildings so much structural grief. The smaller module and tighter column spacing of the apartments will also be helping the overall structural integrity of the buildings, in effect providing a tight honeycomb of rooms that will again be resisting damage. You can see in the top picture that the thickening of the beams in the east-west direction shows attention to resisting seismic action as much as the north-south direction: no soft storey. The fact that neither of these buildings appears to show any cracking in the glazing indicates that they resisted the 2013 and 2016 quakes without issues.

    No, I think that what we have here is simply a case of long-term political expediency, as NZTA doggedly pursue their desire to ram a 4-lanes-to-the-planes policy through the city, despite knowing that this is probably at least 10 years away and indeed may never happen. Yes, the intersection with Hamilton Road needs a better solution, but this doesn’t mean that these buildings deserve the chop. Instead, what we do need is a plan and a policy for high quality, high speed public transport that would ensure a swift trip into the city and lessen the need for road widening. And that is something that James Beard, a long time advocate for sensible – and sensitive – town planning, would have agreed with.

     
  5. Tim, 14. July 2020, 13:37

    I owned one of these apartments at 29 Wellington Rd and was forced out/forced purchase by NZTA with a fake deadline of either accepting their EQC assessment or waiting until after Transmission Gully was completed (demolition was publically announced so we could not sell & were in limbo)
    One of the other owners pulled a huge favour and we managed to get a rush assessment Engineers’ report and used it to reduce the EQC work required, but we still had the purchase price reduced. Did NZTA spend those funds to do the EQC work and rent out the valuable properties? No they did not. That was over 5 years ago.

     
  6. Tim, 14. July 2020, 13:49

    Might I also add: how and why did WCC allow a new townhouse to be built at 59 Wellington Road? NZTA told us all properties on the South side of Wellington Road would be demolished for the proposed 4 lanes to the airport.

     
  7. Dave B, 14. July 2020, 15:10

    I thought NZTA had had a complete change of board at the government’s insistence, to put a stop to this outmoded, ‘keep-building-roads’ mentality. What has gone wrong now?

     
  8. Ruth, 14. July 2020, 16:10

    @Tim – How can those townhouses be sold with integrity? I can’t understand why they don’t have to tell prospective buyers they’re likely to be pulled down. Isn’t it illegal not to disclose something like that?

     
  9. Tim, 14. July 2020, 18:53

    @Ruth My take on it would be that a developer has built them & sold them (I don’t know who owns them) with the prior knowledge, that (a) they would get 5-10 years rental/living and (b) NZTA would still be forced to buy them out at market value at the time demolition actually does occur. They could not be legally sold without informing a potential new owner about the slated demolition, but they can still make a capital gain on them.

     
  10. PW, 14. July 2020, 19:15

    That building has been deserted for at least 6 years, I lived across the road. Not that we have a housing shortage… This place is at a very bust intersection, but trust me, there is worse!

     
  11. Tim, 14. July 2020, 20:24

    @PW All apartments at 29 Wellington Rd were bought by NZTA & vacated May/June 2013. It has been empty ever since.