30 Oct 2017

Quake reinforcement deadline in trouble

2:23 pm on 30 October 2017

With owners of 100 Wellington buildings ordered to reinforce facades by March, many want the deadline extended so they can strengthen the whole building at the same time.

Wellington waterfront night generic

Wellington city Photo: 123RF

Under the Hurunui/Kaikōura Earthquakes Recovery Act put in place following the quake last November, buildings have been ordered to fix unreinforced parapets and facades because of fears they could fall on pedestrians or vehicles following an earthquake.

The government originally estimated a cost of $30,000 to tie back a parapet and, along with Wellington's council, set a limit of $25,000 they would contribute - though that figure is likely to rise.

Wellington City Council chief of resilience Mike Mendonca said some owners were finding it made more sense to deal with the entire building at once.

"They've figured out that for the fixed costs of securing a site, like scaffolding and hiring an engineer, it makes sense for those owners to look at securing the parapets and facades at the same time that they undertake the structural strengthening of the building."

However, only a handful of the parapet fixes were proving straightforward, Mr Mendonca said.

Owners of the heritage-listed Ashleigh Court Hotel in Newtown, Wellington are facing problems getting its facades fixed.

Owners of heritage-listed Ashleigh Court Hotel in Newtown, Wellington, are facing problems getting its facades fixed. Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

Construction work has begun on only six buildings.

Mr Mendonca said only half of the 100 owners were in a dilemma and 20 cases were proving to be very complex. He was now in talks with the government over what to do about it.

"It's something of a surprise to us. Yes, it's fair to say that it's significantly different [from what we expected]."

Temporary fixes may be possible at some sites, but not before the deadline.

Heritage-listed former Ashleigh Court Hotel in Newtown was one such case.

Its body corporate chair Tim Browne said an assessment they arranged shortly after the deadline was set, at a cost of $60,000, proved unreliable. Seven months later they were still waiting for a second assessment about overall seismic strengthening including the facades, he said.

"We still believe that come March we could potentially be prosecuted and that hangs over our heads.

"But the reality is we know we've done every single thing that we can, within our power."

He said they had told the council in May that even with all the help they continued to get from Heritage New Zealand they could never meet the deadline.

Other building owners told RNZ they had already spent $200,000 on consultants.

Money was also proving a problem, with one resident at Ashleigh Court, 76-year-old Tineke La Plant, saying the banks did not appear keen to lend for the strengthening work.

"Most of my superannuation goes on to these costs. And so I have to work to make enough money just for living."

She was having to weigh the costs and anxiety of the seismic work against her love for the flat she has owned for 15 years.

"It's all, at the moment, 'should we do this, should we do that, can we do this, who's paying for what?'," she said.

Tineke La Plant

Tineke La Plant Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

Councils, engineers and government officials are expected to meet this week on the issue, while the new Minister of Building Jenny Salesa said she would make it a priority to look at it after being briefed.

As well as the Wellington buildings, there were 50 in Petone. Hutt City Council said owners there had not raised the issue of needing to do all the seismic upgrading at once.

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