Concern over lack of insurance for council heritage buildings

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 13/10/2012

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Heritage campaigners are alarmed the Christchurch City Council has no insurance cover on more than 50 heritage buildings that it owns and only minimal cover on others.

"It is totally irresponsible for a public organisation to not have their buildings adequately insured," Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Buildings Fund chairwoman Anna Crighton said.

"The whole insurance issue is a disaster."

Before the quakes, the council had $90 million insurance cover for the 66 heritage buildings it owned, but inquiries by The Press revealed it now had cover for only about a quarter of those buildings.

The council negotiated new insurance cover this year for its social housing portfolio (valued at $385m) and for more than 100 of its buildings (valued at $724m), but only 15 of its heritage buildings (valued at $13.5m) are included in that cover.

Crighton said that cover was "woefully inadequate" and raised questions about the council's commitment to preserving the city's heritage.

"The council has significantly abdicated its responsibility to the people of Christchurch through ineptness and through not being transparent about their insurance cover," she said.

Council audit and risk subcommittee chairman Cr Tim Carter said his subcommittee was not happy with the council's insurance position and would be constantly reviewing it to see how it could be improved.

The problem was the council's buildings, before the quakes, were insured by the Local Authority Protection Programme, which was administered by Civic Assurance, and it did not have sufficient capacity to offer ongoing cover, so the council had been forced to go out to the market.

After the quakes it had proved difficult and expensive to obtain new insurance, Carter said.

The goods news was the insurance market was changing quite quickly and insurance cover was becoming more readily available, he said.

Council corporate services general manager Paul Anderson said the council had been forced to look overseas for insurance, and because of the scarcity and cost of cover, its brokers had advised it to initially focus on its top 100 assets with the least damage.

It was now progressively working through a prioritised list of the other buildings and assets it owned to see whether insurance could be obtained.

In the meantime, the council was effectively self-insuring.

"If there was another event, the council would have to rely on its ability to borrow funds to repair those facilities," Anderson said.

Most of the heritage buildings that were uninsured were quake-damaged and would be subject to claims under the council's previous insurance policy.

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Historic Places Canterbury chairman Mark Gerrard said it was "deeply concerning" that so many buildings treasured by the community were uninsured and did not even have fire cover.

He said he had been asking the council since last December whether it had any shortfall in insurance cover for its heritage buildings but had never received an answer.

- The Press

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