Council may lose $40m on vacant HQ

HANK SCHOUTEN
Last updated 07:16 17/06/2014
Greater Wellington Regional Council
BIG LOSS: Greater Wellington Regional Council's former headquarters building, which has been empty since last year's earthquakes.

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Greater Wellington Regional Council stands to lose more than $40 million on its earthquake-prone former headquarters in Wakefield St, says the Taxpayers Union.

Pringle House was vacated after last year's July earthquake and council staff were shifted to Shed 39 on Harbour Quays. But the council is yet to make a decision on what to do with its now vacant property.

Chief executive Dave Benham said he expected decisions on the future of the building to be considered by the council at the end of August.

The Taxpayers Union said information obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act showed the building was purchased in 1987 for $22m.

In 2014 dollars, that is equivalent to $45.2m and according to a recent independent valuation, the property is worth only $2.3m, said union executive director Jordan Williams. This showed ratepayers had taken a loss of more than 95 per cent of the purchase price.

Consultants estimated it would cost $32m to bring the building up to acceptable standards and the empty building was costing ratepayers $17,000 a month.

July's 6.5 magnitude quake burst pipes which flooded five floors of the building, cracked shear walls and raised concerns about the safety of stairways.

It confirmed earlier engineering assessments which found its foundations were not designed for land with a high potential for liquefaction, piles were lightly reinforced, shear walls were brittle and concrete floors were liable to fail in a major quake. The 10-storey tower and its five-storey annexe were also likely to pound against each other.

Williams said the council also faced considerable property risks as it guaranteed debts on CentrePort's Harbour Quays property developments.

Concerns about the risk to ratepayers were raised after last year's earthquakes which damaged the near- new BNZ Harbour Quays office block.

"The council should leave the funding of property development to the private sector and put a stop to risking public money," Williams said.

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