More heritage demolitions likely

Last updated 05:00 08/12/2012

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The tougher quake strengthening rules could lead to more heritage demolitions and abandoned buildings, Wellington property developer Ian Cassels says.

Under yesterday's proposals, it is estimated that between 15,000 to 25,000 commercial buildings may need strengthening, at a cost of $1.7 billion. However, those in the industry believe the true number could be as high as 40,000.

If the proposals are adopted, commercial building owners will have 15 years to get their buildings strengthened or demolished. For owners of unreinforced masonry buildings - which killed 39 people in the 2011 Canterbury quake - the deadline is seven years.

Mr Cassels, managing director of The Wellington Company, supported the proposals but said they would force tough decisions on some cash-strapped owners. "There is going to be derelict buildings. A lot of buildings are going to be empty for a much longer period of time."

There was also a risk more buildings would be demolished. The Wellington Company owns two quake-prone buildings, one of which will be partially demolished and the other strengthened.

Developer Mark Dunajtschik is fighting for permission to demolish one quake-prone heritage building and developing plans to save another.

He also supported the recommendations, but said they would inevitably lead to more demolitions.

Shorter time frames would also push property owners to act but the councils needed to be more flexible when buildings were beyond saving, he said.

The proposals have renewed calls for financial assistance, with the Property Council warning owners would walk away from their properties without help.

Chief executive Connal Townsend said that, overall, building owners would be generally pleased, but the report and the Government's response was silent on tax relief, even though ministers were still considering it. "We're concerned that the current tax system is actually artificially stacked against owners."

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