Trafalgar Centre to remain closed

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 11:15 12/03/2014

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LATEST: The Trafalgar Centre will remain closed as the Nelson City Council grapples with an estimated $27 million earthquake strengthening bill.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said the council had to follow its public safety duties because "parts of the building are not robust enough to withstand a seismic event" and would put the large numbers of people who used the building at risk.

On advice from engineers, the building would need to be strengthened to 67 per cent of the new building standards to ensure public safety, she said.

"When we reopen the Trafalgar Centre, we must be able to say to the public that this building is safe."

Ms Reese said the council was uneasy with the estimated $27m cost of the strengthening work, and had asked for more analysis from its project team to look at "solutions to isolate or mitigate the risk of the building collapsing".

"If there is a more cost-effective solution, we want to find it."

Other options were not off the table, she said.

"I now need to be really frank. Last week, the views of councillors were very clear. If the cost estimates come back to us at the level discussed so far, we are talking about significant expenditure. Council would be compelled to consider options other than remediating the Trafalgar Centre."

Nelson Giants director Steve Fitchett said it was good to now know what the situation was, and he supported Ms Reese over the strengthening costs.

"I am surprised at the cost at $27 million, and I would agree with the mayor that if it is going to cost $27 million, that all options have to looked at."

Mr Fitchett said that for the same amount of money, it might be possible to build a new, modern facility, especially since Saxton Stadium had cost half as much.

He said many Giants fans had told him before the Trafalgar Centre's closure that they would not have entered the building because of the earthquake risk.

Sport Tasman chief executive Nigel Muir said the decision to keep the centre closed was "obviously disappointing news for sport and recreation, to have a major asset like the Trafalgar Centre down and out".

"It has a double whammy - we not only lose a major event for the region, but it also has a resulting flow-on for community sport."

However, Mr Muir said the "right people with the right information are clearly working to make the best decision for the community".

"My immediate thoughts and challenges are around the indefiniteness of the situation - how we try and juggle things to make sure everyone gets a fair deal, and we walk that fine line between looking after community engagement and sport, which is critically important, and also making sure those major events still have an opportunity in this region, which is also critically important."

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Mr Muir said there were always "underlying tensions" as everyone tried to balance the demands of the community, but everyone was doing a "remarkable job".

The council has asked for further analysis "as quickly as possible" on cheaper options to fix the centre, but Ms Reese was unable to say what sort of timeframe this would have. She hoped a decision would be made before the middle of the year.

She also criticised central government for not giving clear leadership on earthquake-prone buildings.

"It's a complicated issue at the moment because we are working in the absence, to a large degree, of central government direction, and it would be helpful to us at local government level if we had greater certainty and direction from central government on the issue."

Former Nelson mayor Aldo Miccio disagreed, saying there was clear direction from central government that buildings only needed to be strengthened to 33 per cent of the standards.

"The Royal Commission in Christchurch back in August found that 33 per cent is adequate for public safety, and that is what [is in] the bill going through Parliament now," he said.

"The Government is giving very clear direction that 33 per cent is a safe level, and council is saying they want to rebuild it to 67 per cent, so that sounds like the council is not wanting to follow the leadership that central government is giving."

He said it was good that the council was being upfront about why it was closing the building, rather than hiding behind legalities.

Nelson property investor Gaire Thompson, who has spoken against the council's decision to close the centre, was surprised by the decision.

"I find that really hard to believe, and I certainly will be trying to follow that up and see if we can have their minds changed," he said. "Maybe there is an agenda here."

Ms Reese said the council would provide "as much documentation as we can" to the public.

The information will be on the council's website from today.

- Nelson

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