Telling us or consulting us – saving or demolishing heritage buildings

Loss of our heritage is one of the key concerns for Wellington people who want to get involved with the government’s proposal for one national plan to define and enforce its authority over the fate of earthquake prone buildings.

Tonight’s meeting in the Michael Fowler Centre is the first of a series being held throughout the country. The relevant document shows lots of questions to be discussed, so there’s hope that meeting will represent consultation rather than the “take it or leave it” stance of the government’s Transport Agency, which has been telling us what it intends to do, regardless of what we want.

The government seems to have accepted the advice of risk management expert Tony Taig who says raising the earthquake prone building threshold from 33 per cent to 67 per cent of the new building standard would be of questionable benefit.

So it doesn’t propose to change this threshold. But it does plan to require all buildings below the threshold to be strengthened or demolished within a tighter timeframe than at present – 15 years or less.

Cost is an obvious concern for building owners. “The issue of insurance and who will pay for the strengthening work will likely come up at the meeting,” says Councillor Iona Pannett.

Unreinforced masonry buildings, such as the ones which give character to Cuba Street, will be particularly affected by new government policies – just how many will be shown when the city council completes its survey to show how many are below the earthquake-prone threshold.

A positive move: the research by fourth-year students at the School of Architecture which has resulted in an innovative plan for saving Cuba Street – by strengthening buildings with the strongest heritage values, and replacing others. Architects are confident that old unreinforced brick buildings can be strengthened. But the plan now needs to be embraced by those who own buildings in the precinct.

Wellington seems hopeful of retaining control of decisions about saving or demolishing buildings. Such control has been lost in Christchurch, with demolitions being enforced by CERA against the wishes of the locals. All the concerns expressed back in 2011 seem to have been borne out by what’s been happening in that sad city.

UPDATE from tonight’s meeting.
At the earthquake meeting, Minister Williamson has not addressed the issue of who will pay and how. This is the elephant in the room.
– Iona Pannett

Doing the right thing?

Deadline would threaten heritage buildings


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