Political reporters vacating Parliamentary press gallery office over earthquake concerns video

The Parliamentary Press Gallery is based in an earthquake building behind Parliament
Cameron Burnell/Fairfax NZ

The Parliamentary Press Gallery is based in an earthquake building behind Parliament

Political reporters from some of the country's biggest media organisations, including Fairfax Media, are moving out of the Parliamentary Press Gallery because of safety concerns following the November earthquakes.

Fairfax political reporters were told by their managers on Thursday to vacate the press gallery building behind Parliament, which has been yellow stickered as an earthquake prone building since 2014.

Radio New Zealand, Television New Zealand, Newshub, Herald and Newstalk ZB staff have also been told by their managers to leave.

Fairfax Media executive editor Sinead Boucher said numerous factors underpinned the decision to remove reporting staff from the parliamentary press gallery annex.

Fairfax has five reporting staff based in the Parliamentary press gallery.

There had been engineer's reports since the major quake on November 14, which indicated the building had suffered no major damage and was safe to occupy.

However, the same building had been under a yellow sticker since 2014 and as recently as Thursday there was confirmation that parts of the building met only 20 per cent of code.

"What is most concerning is that every day we are warned that there are strong prospects of new earthquakes - so there is no comfort in having staff remain in a quake-prone building," Boucher said.

Civil Defence today warned that there will be further earthquakes - possibly as strong as last week's 7.8 shake.

"We put our staff first - we need to move and we need Parliamentary Service to find us alternative accommodation," Boucher said.

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Radio New Zealand chief executive Paul Thompson confirmed its political reporters were also being moved out of the building.

"We know while it performed well in the recent quakes the fact that there's now an increased possibility of more shakes in Wellington means even though it did alright last time it may not do so next time.  We are putting staff safety first and being cautious. We think it's the right thing to do."

Parliamentary Service general manager David Stevenson said he respected the decision to vacate the press gallery and would work with media organisations to find alternative accommodation.

Speaking from Kaikoura, Prime Minister John Key confirmed Parliament is looking at a plan to construct a new building that would see the Press Gallery moved out of its earthquake prone offices. 

Parliament has been investigating options to revamp the entire parliamentary precinct.

While press gallery staff were told in 2014 the structure had been assessed at 35-40 per cent of the New Building Standard it appears parts of the building are only at 15 to 20 per cent code.

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Parliament building quake risk

"Areas of vulnerability" included structural beams.

Parliamentary Services commissioned a full assessment of the parliamentary precinct immediately after the November 14, 7.8 magnitude quake, which turned up some superficial damage, but no buildings had structurally worsened. 

The Press Gallery annex has been yellow-stickered by Wellington City Council since 2014, with an order for the owner to fix or demolish the building by December 2029. 

No other buildings across the complex needed strengthening work as they were not earthquake prone. 

The two statues on Parliament's front lawn - Seddon and Balance – have previously had strengthening and remediation work undertaken.

A Parliamentary Service spokeswoman said they were considering "various options to remedy the situation as part of the work in developing the Parliament Accommodation Strategy".

It emerged in September that Parliament was deliberating over three potential options.

One favoured by a number of MPs including Speaker David Carter, was to rehouse the offices of MPs and Ministers currently in 22-storey Bowen House on the corner of Bowen St and Lambton Quay, in a new purpose-built office block. 

The Bowen House lease expires at the end of 2018 and while a renewal is one of the options Carter said it was very expensive at an annual cost closer to $6m than $5m, and was leased from a foreign company.

 - Stuff

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