Exemptions could prevent mass heritage demolition

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 07:09 10/12/2012

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Heritage buildings could be granted special exemptions from new earthquake standards to prevent "mass demolition".

The findings of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission on quake-prone buildings have suggested that those with unreinforced masonry be given two years to be assessed by engineers and seven years to be brought up to standard.

The Government immediately responded by recommending that the buildings have five years for assessment and seven years for repairs, arguing the timeframe was too tight.

A number of rural communities with significant numbers of stone buildings, notable Oamaru and Whanganui, have expressed major concerns about the issue of unreinforced masonry, warning the costs could lead to heritage buildings being abandoned or destroyed.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said the consultation was "genuine" and would take in concerns over historic buildings.

"I'm really keen to try and find a way to accommodate cultural and heritage buildings so that we don't get into some mass demolition," Mr Williamson said.

"Do we ever make an exception for certain buildings or do we triage them, so that certain buildings at the top of the list get some sort of special financial support to get them through, because we consider them a 'must keep'...these are issues that the whole consultation review will discuss."

Michael Ross, chief executive of the Waitaki District Council, headquartered in an iconic Oamaru stone building, said the commission's suggested timeframe was "totally unrealistic".

The Government's timeframe was more realistic, but still posed problems for the small council.

"To me, this is the earthquake without having the earthquake," Mr Ross said.

In Oamaru it would affect "most of the main street, and pretty much the entire historic precinct", he said, predicting that the nationwide cost could be billions. "The numbers are going to start scaring Treasury."

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- The Dominion Post

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