Mayor says council had no choice but to close centre

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 17/12/2013

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Nelson mayor Rachel Reese is aiming for a swift decision on the future of the Trafalgar Centre, which, she warned, could have a serious effect on the local economy the longer the city was without a large venue.

"As a city there's no handle yet on the implications of all this but in dollar terms it's going to be significant," Ms Reese said.

The high risk of fatalities in an earthquake left the city council with no choice but to immediately close the Trafalgar Centre on Friday.

The decision prompted a swift reaction from the public, who questioned how it was possible in light of the $7 million upgrade to the southern end of the building in 2009.

Ms Reese said she understood ratepayers' concerns.

While the upgrade was done before the effects of the Canterbury earthquakes changed building laws, she would also be asking questions over whether the centre was upgraded to the standard it should have been.

She said there were some materials used in the construction of the centre which did not perform well in buildings in Christchurch, and the effects of liquefaction, which were not widely known, were not considered in the building process of the upgrade.

Ms Reese said the decision to close was a result of engineering and legal advice, which identified that if the centre was in use during a moderate earthquake, the risk of loss of life would be high.

"The advice we were given by engineers and lawyers meant it crossed the line of good governance to leave the building open.

"The only appropriate response to managing this risk was to close the centre to public use immediately," Ms Reese said.

She stressed that they were taking one step at a time, beginning with the detailed assessment of the building's structure, which led to Friday's decision.

The next step would be to determine if money was to be spent on strengthening it, and how much.

"The degree is not yet known.

"It could be $3 million or it could be $20 million, but right now we don't know where it sits.

"All we've done so far is deal with the issue in front of us, which was to close, or not to close.

"But this Thursday there will be a lot of questions, and I have some myself," Ms Reese said.

She said people should not compare the Trafalgar Centre with other public and private buildings around the city and assume they were in a similar category.

"People don't need to panic if they work in a building that's classified as earthquake prone.

"You can't compare other buildings with the centre which is a large building accommodating up to 4000 people and it's in a risk category very unique in Nelson.

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"There are issues around egress and how difficult it is to get out of the building," she said.

Other councils were facing similar challenges, said Ms Reese.

She was in Dunedin at the weekend for a family occasion, and noticed the aquarium at Portobello was now closed because it had been assessed as a high risk building in an earthquake.

She said a number of events booked for the Trafalgar Centre had needed to be re-housed elsewhere.

These included a local government conference in July for which the dinner would now likely be held at Saxton Stadium.

"If we can keep events in the top of the South Island, it's better than cancelling them altogether," Ms Reese said.

"What all this means is that we can't have too much downtime between now and making a decision for a future events centre.

"If that's the case then my personal view is that it would need to be right in the CBD, as close if not closer than the Trafalgar Centre," Ms Reese said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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