Shaky lift shaft owner a mystery

MICHAEL FORBES, ALEX FENSOME AND MATT STEWART
Last updated 14:54 26/07/2013
Lukes Lane
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
NO-GO ZONE: Wellington City Council has closed buildings near the quake-damaged lift tower on the car park building in Lukes Lane. Jay Wards turned up to deliver food to the Downtown Community Ministry in Compassion House only to find they had moved out.

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The owner of a quake-damaged lift shaft that sparked the evacuation of 60 people in central Wellington remains a mystery.

The evacuation of Lukes Lane, off Taranaki St, was ordered amid fears that the lift shaft would collapse if a significant aftershock hit.

Elsewhere, Opera House Lane, which runs between Manner and Wakefield streets, is to be cordoned off today because of structural damage uncovered in the car park.

Wellington City Council contractors were urgently attaching the errant lift shaft to the nearby James Smith car park building this morning.

The process is expected to take several days with tenants and businesses able to return early next week.

However, the structurally compromised shaft was only uncovered by chance, as an engineer checking the nearby car park noticed cracks.

Wellington City Council's building policy manager Richard Toner said the lift shaft was built about 30 years ago for a development that never happened.

Since then it had sat unattached and unused and land title complication made it unclear who owned it. The owner did not appear to have inspected it since the quake, he said.

"But we will bill the owners when we find them."

The building is being secured with steel braces, but a more permanent solution would be needed long term, which could include demolition.

Council earthquake resilience manager Neville Brown said council had acted as fast as possible to secure the lift shaft after it was discovered.

He could not guarantee another building had not suffered dangerous structural damage, but was increasingly confident.

Council teams were continuing to check buildings, but more detailed inspections were up to building owners, he said.

STRONG LIKELIHOOD OF COLLAPSE

The evacuation order could result in up to 60 residential tenants having to leave their homes.

The council cannot force people out.

However, at a hastily arranged meeting at 4pm yesterday it reminded business owners of their statutory obligations under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

A letter to all owners and occupiers "strongly advised" evacuation of all buildings near Lukes Lane, including Trojan House, the Mother Aubert Home of Compassion, Valma House and the NEC Building, until the shaft had been secured.

"Engineers advise that there is a strong likelihood the lift shaft will collapse in a significant aftershock or other earthquake event," the letter said.

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"It is likely that it would fall in a southerly direction - into Lukes Lane and possibly on to buildings adjacent to it."

The street would stay closed for about a week, the council said.

The Downtown Community Ministry moved out of Compassion House in Lukes Lane last night.

Director Stephanie McIntyre said it had had a few hours' notice and was able to gather laptops and a mobile food bank to take to its temporary home at the Night Shelter.

Valma House, on the corner of Lukes Lane and Taranaki St, houses the Fujiyama Teppanyaki restaurant on the ground floor, and up to 60 residential tenants on the three floors above.

Tenants in neighbouring NEC House also left, including tax specialists Thomson Reuters, Telecom Business Hub, the council's parking fine payment centre and insurance broker Crombie Lockwood.

SHAKY CITY

More quakes hit the Marlborough/Wellington regions in the past six days than in the previous 10 years, GNS Science seismologist Matt Gerstenberger told a public meeting in Seddon last night.

Since Friday last week, 392 magnitude-3 quakes or higher had occurred compared with fewer than 300 over the past decade. There was a shake of 4.0 during last night's meeting.

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the council was yesterday aware of 28 buildings with earthquake damage, though most of it was minor.

BP House, in Customhouse Quay, was one of those.

BP spokesman Jonty Mills said the building was fine structurally, but there were concerns over a cracked stairwell.

"We're getting some more detailed assessment done."

In the meantime, BP had decided to move its 100 staff elsewhere.

The future of the empty Harcourts Building in Lambton Quay may have taken another turn after the earthquakes.

Owner Mark Dunajtschik had applied to demolish the quake-prone 85-year-old heritage building and his business partner, Grant Corleison, said yesterday that the quakes had opened up significant cracks, which he hoped would sway the Environment Court towards ordering demolition when the case came up next month.

THE ESSENTIALS

Sunday's quake has so far resulted in 1763 claims to EQC. About a third have been from Marlborough and two-thirds from the Wellington region.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Eagle Technology House has been cleared for staff to return today.

All ministry buildings are now clear.

- The Dominion Post

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