3 Nov 2014

Court blocks demolition plans

9:22 am on 3 November 2014

One of central Wellington's most historic buildings has been blocked from demolition even though it is an earthquake hazard.

Harcourts Building on Lambton Quay.

Harcourts Building on Lambton Quay. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The eight-storey Harcourts Building on Lambton Quay, which was built in 1928, has been declared earthquake prone and most of its major tenants have left.

Its owner, Mark Dunajtschik, says he cannot afford to strengthen the building, but after one consent hearing and three court cases he has been told he cannot demolish it.

Neither Mr Dunajtschik nor his lawyer is commenting for now. But Ian Cassels, a property developer with deep knowledge of historic buildings, said the court was making comments about the fraught world of building management that it did not understand.

The ruling is welcomed, however, by Wellington City Council.

In seeking the right to demolish, Mr Dunajtschik argued earthquake strengthening would cost $12 million, which was not worth it for a building worth just $14.5 million.

However, the court ruled an earthquake-strengthened historic building would be worth $18 to 20 million, changing the economics completely.

Property magnate Sir Bob Jones, who gave evidence to the hearing, thinks the post-strengthing value of the Harcourts Building would be even greater, and accused Mr Dunajtschik of not understanding the market.

Mr Dunajtschik declined to respond to that.

The Environment Court ruling leaves everyone in limbo, saying only that the building cannot be demolished. It does nothing for a building owner who does not earn enough from it to pay for its upkeep.

The ruling also does little for public safety, since the building would not be legally required to be strengthened for at least another decade.

Nor does it do much for a nearby tower block housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which the Environment Court itself says could collide with the Harcourts Building during a major earthquake, and have its lift shaft wrecked.

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