Wellington city councillors approve $1m for urgent earthquake strengthening

Wellington City Council intends to put up $1m to help building owners with earthquake strengthening after Building and ...
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington City Council intends to put up $1m to help building owners with earthquake strengthening after Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith and Mayor Justin Lester annouced a plan last week to force owner owners to complete the work within a year.

Wellington city councillors have not hesitated in recommending $1 million of ratepayers' money be put towards a joint-fund for strengthening unreinforced masonry buildings.

But which pot of money they should dip into remains a point of contention.

The council's City Strategy Committee gave the ratepayer contribution a thumbs up on Thursday. It still requires final sign-off at a full council meeting later this month.

Councillor Andy Foster had reservations about using the Built Heritage Incentive Fund to help subsidise the work.
SUPPLIED

Councillor Andy Foster had reservations about using the Built Heritage Incentive Fund to help subsidise the work.

The funding approval comes after Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith announced on January 25 that the Government would exercise special powers to force about 300 high-risk buildings in the Wellington region to be brought up to code within a year.

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The buildings, which all have unreinforced masonry facades in busy pedestrian areas, include about 250 in Wellington's historic areas of Cuba St and Courtenay Pl in the central city, and Riddiford St in Newtown, as well as about 50 in Lower Hutt.

Councillor Simon Marsh justified the funding decision because he valued preservation of live over heritage.
SUPPLIED

Councillor Simon Marsh justified the funding decision because he valued preservation of live over heritage.

The Government plans to foot half of each repair bill, estimated to cost between $20,000 and $30,000. The $1m from Wellington ratepayers will cover its one-third contribution to the subsidies.

Wellington City Council's contribution will come from its $3m Built Heritage Incentive Fund (BHIF). It plans to take $300,000 from the 2016-17 budget and $700,000 from the 2017-18 budget.

No money is allocated to the fund beyond that, but councillors recommended on Thursday that more funding be considered for the 2018-19 budget as part of Long-Term Plan discussions.

Some councillors took exception to the idea of dipping into the heritage fund after it emerged an estimated two-thirds of the affected buildings were not heritage-listed.

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Andy Foster said only half of the $1m contribution should come from the fund, with the remainder sourced at a later date. Any money taken from the fund should be exclusively used for heritage-listed buildings, he said.

Taking from the heritage fund would mean heritage work elsewhere in the city would suffer, he said.

Mayor Justin Lester said the decision was justified, given the urgency of the work required.

After the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura earthquake rattled Wellington, GNS Science had said there was still agood chance of a significant aftershock, and that the subduction zone of quakes may have moved north towards Wellington.

"We dodged the bullet, we are not bulletproof," he said.

"We have an incredible opportunity to move at great pace and take quick action and lead. We shouldn't be quibbling about where the money should come from, we just need to get on with it and do the work."

Simon Marsh said he did not value heritage over preservation of life.

"It matters not a jot that the brick that hits you on the head and kills you is one year old or 100 years old, it doesn't care."

Councillors also recommended that partial or full demolition of heritage buildings or permanent alteration would not qualify for the fund, which Iona Pannett said would dissuade landlords from simply "lopping off" unsecured features.

Building owners who are affected can expect a letter by the end of March.

 - Stuff

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