Pulling down a derelict eyesore

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 08:47 25/01/2014
Allenby Tce
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
SOON TO BE GONE: The burned-out derelict house on Allenby Tce in central Wellington will soon be demolished, having been wrecked since a 2009 fire. Why did it take so long to do something about it?

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Wellington

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Wellington is not Detroit, the US city famous for its derelict buildings and rampant urban decay.

But the capital does have the odd derelict house around the place - and the number of empty homes is increasing according to the latest census.

Some derelict properties, like 72 Pirie St in Mt Victoria, become local landmarks, albeit divisive ones.

Others, like the burned-out house on Allenby Tce, which sits above the historic St Mary of the Angels Church, are less well liked.

Some homes which look uninhabitable - such as one on Chapman St, Newlands - are still said to be occupied, according to neighbours visited by The Dominion Post.

It took Wellington City Council more than two years of legal wrangling, and more than $80,000, to get permission to demolish the Allenby Tce house, despite its prominent location and the fact it had been on fire three times in three years.

Final demolition, which will take place this year, may cost as much as $150,000. The council hoped to recoup the cost.

So why does it take so long to get rid of eyesores which could hurt house prices around them?

Council compliance manager Chris Scott said the Allenby Tce house was the only problem derelict he had to deal with in the last decade.

"It has got to constitute an immediate danger to life or property," he said. "With Allenby Tce, we had a fire there [in 2009]. The place was then deemed uninhabitable . . . We issued a dangerous notice - there's a big hole in the roof, the services had been disconnected. You start getting sanitary issues . . . as long as nobody was living in it then we leave the notices on it to warn people but it is no longer classed as dangerous."

The house only got worse after the fire, with squatters moving in and the owners unable to be contacted.

By 2011, the council actively wanted to get rid of it, Mr Scott said.

"We had two large chimneys, a lot of asbestos, occupied dwellings in very close proximity. It was a real risk the top part of the house would collapse."

Faced with the danger, it still took court action to be able to do anything.

"It's been there sticking out like a sore thumb for two years or more and been a major issue," he said. "We have only just got approval so we can demolish it."

Census 2013 figures revealed there were 5943 "empty homes" in Wellington, up from 4416 in 2006. More than 3000 are in Wellington City.

Statistics New Zealand said a house was considered empty if it had no occupants and new occupants were not expected to move in on, or before, census night.

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Unoccupied dwellings being repaired or renovated, or for sale, are defined as empty homes, so not all of them are derelict or abandoned.

The worst are the minority.

The Hutt City Council helped six owners remove fire-damaged empty houses last year, but said this was an unusually high number. Normally it is called on to do something less often.

Porirua City Council "occasionally" deals with derelict houses, but there are none it has been made aware of at the moment.

However, a Housing New Zealand home in Cannons Creek has been derelict since it was damaged in a fire last year.

The corporation discovered it was earthquake prone and are waiting on test results from other properties - expected in March - to decide what to do.

Upper Hutt City Council said it did not have a policy on derelict homes.

- The Dominion Post

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