Insurance disputes put sites in limbo

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 29/03/2014

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Insurance stalemates are to blame for some of Christchurch's central city buildings remaining untouched more than three years on from the February 2011 earthquake, owners say.

The Old Post Office in Cathedral Sq and the Millennium and Rydges hotels are among those still in insurance limbo and some cases will land in court as frustrated owners battle to move on.

The heritage-listed Old Post Office was built in the 1870s and has been subject to a section 45 notice – meaning it is deemed too dangerous to be occupied – since February 2011.

Owner Gordon Chamberlain said he had been fighting with his insurance company about the fate of the building for three years.

"The problem is they don't want to pay the insurance on the building," he said.

"Until that happens we can't make a decision."

He said urgent make-safe works were carried out after the February 2011 earthquake.

"There's nothing we can do ... we're stuck."

In 2011 Chamberlain told The Press he wanted to retain the building but could not foot the bill himself.

Information released under the Official Information Act showed Chamberlain had applied to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) for a section 38 notice to demolish the building, but this was incorrect.

"The prospect of a demolition under section 38 was raised and the property owner was advised of the necessary criteria to be met before a decision could be made," a Cera spokesman said.

"Some of the potential difficulties with proceeding under section 38 were explained to the owner and no further action was taken."

Chamberlain was proceeding with legal action against his insurer.

The former Design and Arts College building on Worcester St is fenced off and a section 45 notice is still in place.

Raymond Minehan, from Brittco Management that owns the heritage-listed building, said the company had put its insurer on notice and it was likely the case would end up in court.

"We're in the same boat as a lot of other people," he said.

"We're in a position where [our insurer] is just holding us up."

Risk Worldwide, an international disaster insurance recovery firm, was now handling the claim on the company's behalf.

The future of the Millennium Hotel is locked in a stalemate between the Singaporean landlord and the insurer.

The 2013 Millennium & Copthorne Hotels annual report said: "Discussions between the landlord and the insurers have continued without resolution to the way forward on repairs to the building."

Next door, the fate of the half-demolished former BNZ House in Cathedral Sq remains unclear.

A Cera spokesman said the make-safe work that Cera managed had been completed but "further actions in relation to the building rests with the owner".

Stephen Bell, a director of the company that owns the site, said he was not in a position to comment on what was happening with the building.

Chris Black, general manager of hotel development at Rydges in New Zealand, was confident the Oxford Tce hotel would be fully restored "to its former glory".

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"It's just going through insurance and design issues."

When asked what had caused the hold-up, Black said: "Insurance stalemate."

Kensington House at 179 - 187 Manchester St will be restored, despite it being uneconomical.

KPI Rothschild Property Group director Shaun Stockman said the art deco building was the first the group bought and he was "quite attached to it".

"The insurer deemed it a total loss and it's not very economical to repair ... but to hell with the money, I don't want to lose another [building]," he said.

Repairs and upgrades would take about nine to 12 months once consent had been granted, he said.

"With the exception of the old Government Life building, which is currently being demolished...and will be sold to the CCDU."

Meanwhile, Carter's plans for his retail precinct block have stalled because of insurance hold-ups preventing the council making a decision about the neighbouring Crossing car park building.


- The Press

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