$500,000 loan for council building fixes

Manawatu District Council has earmarked $500,000 in loans to strengthen council-owned buildings in Feilding deemed earthquake-prone, and private building owners are waiting to hear whether they, too, will be offered assistance.

The decision to put aside the money was adopted under the council's long-term plan, but that is just for council buildings.

The council could not say how private buildings would fare until after district plan reviews and the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch earthquakes, environmental and support services manager Shayne Harris said.

Building owners will meet with councillors and engineering experts in July to discuss the timeframe for works on quake-prone buildings, which must be either strengthened to 67 per cent of the current building code or demolished.

Barry Smith and his wife, who own the building containing Keith Smith & Son Jewellers, wanted their business to stay in Feilding but were worried the strengthening work would make that unaffordable. Mr Smith said the council's engineer's report put their building on the blacklist.

"I think it is so wrong that this building has been deemed to be unsafe. It would be better if they helped us determine what part of the building is unsafe – it could be just a parapet or something ... shouldn't it be that they tell us what's wrong with it?

"They've made that call to say it's unsafe, but on what basis?"

Historic Places Trust central region area co-ordinator David Watts said councils would be following the earthquake inquiry with interest.

"It will be interesting to see if this report addresses the question of assessment and support to help owners. The funding issue is a big one. Some larger councils have made provision for funding support for owners to get earthquake assessments done, [such as] Wellington City Council.

"It could be that a group of [Feilding] owners may be able to come together collectively and help to meet the cost of reports for their buildings."

Wanganui District Council announced last week it would spend $20 million in ratepayer funding to strengthen its public buildings and would also increase assistance available to heritage building owners.

Palmerston North City Council offered an incentive that pays up to $5000 for work on listed heritage buildings, paying out $335,000 in the past 12 years.

Wellington City Council allows building owners with more than two earthquake-prone buildings to negotiate timeframes for strengthening. It also has a heritage incentive fund.

The trust has a fund for owners of earthquake-prone category 1 heritage buildings, enabling some to apply for up to $100,000 for conservation work, but not all of the five Manawatu District category 1 buildings meet the criteria for assistance.

Feilding Promotion manager Helen Worboys said the bottom line was that the trust could not shoulder the burden for preserving the town's character.

Manawatu Standard