Earthquake issues focus of meeting

Concerns about the future of Nelson's heritage buildings will come under the spotlight at a public meeting on Thursday focusing on earthquake strengthening.

The meeting, to be hosted by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, will seek to address concerns being raised by owners of heritage buildings in the wake of changes following the Canterbury earthquakes, NZHPT central region area co-ordinator David Watt said.

"Potential amendments to the Building Act arising from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch earthquakes could affect everyone who owns or occupies a heritage building. How building owners can adapt and strengthen their heritage buildings in this new environment is a crucial issue," Mr Watt said.

He said there was concern in communities around assessment and how buildings may perform in an earthquake. There were also concerns about tenants vacating buildings that were considered unsafe to occupy and increasing insurance costs that building owners had to face.

The Nelson City Council said last week that failure to attract a structural engineer to help assess buildings considered earthquake prone was causing a backlog of work, which was threatening to hold up sales and lease transactions on commercial properties.

The council set aside funding this year to hire a structural engineer, but so far it has not been able to attract anyone.

Mr Watt said property owners and other interested parties would have the chance at Thursday's meeting to hear Win Clark, a leading structural engineer in New Zealand and executive officer of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE), and Jason Perrett, associate director at Aon New Zealand Risk Services.

The Historic Places Trust is working with the Society for Earthquake Engineering, the insurance industry and local authorities on a series of seismic resilience community meetings to provide information for property owners on lessons learned from the Christchurch earthquakes.

The aim is to develop response strategies and to work together on the assessment, management and preservation of buildings at risk.

"The challenges and opportunities associated with strengthening, insurance and preservation of property is one of the biggest issues facing New Zealanders. We hope this public forum will show that while many of the issues we face are difficult, they are not insurmountable, and that there is a future for our treasured heritage buildings that prioritises public safety, as well as issues of affordability," Mr Watt said.

Mr Clark, who has been working with the Historic Places Trust to assess heritage buildings in Canterbury since the September 2010 earthquake, has addressed meetings around New Zealand on how earthquake-prone buildings can be strengthened.

Mr Perrett has addressed many forums around insurance risks.

Public meeting on earthquake strengthening issues in Nelson on Thursday, at the Baptist Church, Bridge St, 5.30pm.

The Nelson Mail