Mark Dunajtschik cries foul on demolition block

HANK SCHOUTEN
Last updated 13:15 31/03/2014
Dunajtschik
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
Mark Dunajtschik, pictured in 2011 near the Harcourts building on Lambton Quay.

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The Environment Court's decision to block plans to demolish the heritage-listed earthquake-risk Harcourts Building in Lambton Quay was not sensible or reasonable says the building owner's lawyer.

Con Anastasiou, acting for Wellington developer Mark Dunajtschik, made the claim in an appeal before Justice Collins at the High Court in Wellington today.

He said engineers had all agreed the eight-storey building was earthquake prone and vulnerable to collapse and that there was also a risk of pounding damage to the neighbouring HSBC Tower.

The building, which used to accommodate about 400 people, was now all but empty following the Christchurch and Seddon earthquakes and would remain so for the foreseeable future.

Dunajtschik was not a ''reckless lead ball swinger'' and had previously spent some $4.5 million on the building.

In its present state it was un-tenantable, uninsured and uninsurable and not even able to pay its $250,000 a year in rates.

All the experts agreed that if it was not demolished it would have to be strengthened, but spending $10 million to bring it up to the new building standard was not economically justified and this had been acknowledged by the Historic Places Trust.

If this was Dunajtschik's only asset he would have been bankrupt now and that should have weighed with the Environment Court.

Wellington City Council had issued a notice declaring the building was earthquake prone and that it needed to be strengthened or demolished by 2027.

But what did that mean in practice if strengthening was not commercially feasible?

If it was not demolished the local authority would be obliged to serve notice and if the owner was bankrupt the demolition cost would have to fall on ratepayers, as it would with the mooted demolition of Wellington Town Hall. 

Anastasiou said the Environment Court had not taken account of important evidence. The only inference that could be drawn from its decision was that it only paid lip service to evidence and that if it had taken evidence into account it could not have reached the decision they did.

This case showed the inherent tensions between the Building Act and the Resource Management Act, he said.

He also described the Historic Places Trust as a taxpayer-funded club whose sole objective was to save old buildings.

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