Plan to photograph historic chimneys

Photographs could be used to preserve the chimneys of Southland heritage buildings if local authorities decide to remove them for earthquake safety.

At a Southland Heritage Building and Preservation Trust meeting yesterday, trustee Russell Beck said the province had a wide variety of historical chimneys, all of which would be on the chopping block if new earthquake building strengthening initiatives went ahead.

"The first thing I think that's going to go is the chimneys."

He suggested the trust employ a student to photograph the chimneys of historic and listed buildings so there would be a visual collection preserved on record.

Although there were no formal plans to demolish chimneys, it would be better to start recording them before they were gone, he said.

Earlier this month, the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission recommended local authorities be given the authority to force property owners to repair or remove hazards such as unreinforced chimneys.

Invercargill City Council building regulation services manager Simon Tonkin said the council had not yet made any official decision on how to deal with the chimneys of heritage buildings, but action was needed as chimneys could cause major injury, property damage and even death during earthquakes.

A council scheme, introduced on November 1, let homeowners reduce unused chimneys to roof level without needing a building consent, but this would not be suitable for listed heritage buildings.

Replacing historic masonry chimneys with wood or fibreglass replicas painted to look like the originals was one way to minimise the risk, but would only function for aesthetic purposes, he said.

However, Southland Heritage Building and Preservation trustee Mick Hesselin believed even if replicas were installed, photographs would still be necessary, as the wooden replacements would not look exactly the same.

Mr Tonkin believed the trust's plan to create a photographic collection of heritage chimneys was an excellent idea, and said he would be interested in seeing the images, to assess potential earthquake risks posed by Invercargill's buildings.

He acknowledged strengthening the city's heritage buildings' chimneys would be pricey.

"The problem is the height, and you'd have to scaffold the building to make it safe for your workers."

The council has until at least March next year, when submissions on the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission suggestions close, to decide how to proceed with heritage buildings' chimneys.

The Southland Times