Which buildings to save in quake-prone city

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 11/07/2014
The Opera House, Wellington
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ
RISKY: The Opera House on Manners St.
St Mary of the Angels
ROSS GIBLIN/ Fairfax NZ
CLOSED CHURCH: St Mary of the Angels has not been open to parishioners for months.

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Questions are being asked about which buildings should be saved with more than 680 Wellington buildings now considered earthquake prone.

The Wellington City Council has nearly completed a mammoth building assessment programme which began in 2006.

A total of 5184 pre-1976 buildings were examined, with 684 deemed earthquake prone as at June 30. Of those, 137 were heritage buildings, according to the Wellington City Council

"The council has taken resilience seriously for many years, well before the brutal reminders of the Canterbury quakes, and is a long way ahead of any other authority in the country," Wellington City councillor Andy Foster said.

While some building assessments were still to be finished, the work was almost complete.

"There's a long way to go but building owners are making good progress in responding to the information about risks that needing addressing."

Landmark buildings which have fallen below the threshold of 34 per cent of new building standard include the Wellington Town Hall, St Mary of the Angels church and the State Opera House.

Developer Ian Cassels said it had been a long process for building owners.

"They fire bullets at you, then you come back at them. It can take years."

It was essential that some elements of Wellington's heritage were preserved, for example the historic buildings along Cuba St, Cassels said.

"This is Wellington's cultural fabric, and if you mess with it you really are machine-gunning the golden goose." He questioned if all heritage buildings should be saved.

"The city needs to regenerate, and some might need to go."

He also questioned if the Wellington Town Hall should be saved.

The bill for strengthening the 110-year-old building has been put at about $60m. "Does it produce the value it needs to justify the expense? Probably not but that's just my view."

Building resilience manager Neville Brown said the list of earthquake-prone buildings changed as buildings reached compliance or as fresh issues were found.

Not every pre-1976 building needed assessing, only commercial or public buildings and multi-unit apartments.

Foster said some buildings needed minimal work while others would be very costly. Post-1976 buildings may be assessed in the future, though fewer would be earthquake prone.

While the cost of earthquake-strengthening was high, "it's nothing compared to the cost of rebuilding a city that's munted", Foster said.

"There is going to be another event at some stage."

A future concern was the council needing to red-sticker buildings which were not brought up to scratch, he said. This could begin as soon 2016-17, 10 years after assessments began.

Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Raewyn Bleakley said it would like to see all buildings brought up to earthquake standard, but that was not always practical.

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"In many cases there are considerable costs associated with this work, and these will fall on property owners, and will be passed on to tenants."

Owners could end up paying for work on one building while renting another, "and that can put a big strain on finances", she said.

GETTING UP TO CODE

Each assessment is completed, and the building owner told the results.

Buildings less than 34 percent of new building standard are declared quake prone and slapped with a yellow notice.\

Owners have six months to review.

They have 10, 15 or 20 years to bring the building up to standard, depending on its category.

If no strengthening work is done, a red notice is issued, and the building cannot be occupied until strengthening is completed.

Failure to comply could see the building demolished. 

ONLINE

To see the full list of buildings go to wellington.govt.nz 

- The Dominion Post

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