15 Feb 2019

Quake-prone building owners fear 'destruction by legislation'

7:27 am on 15 February 2019

Earthquake-prone building owners are warning the axe still hovers over them despite the government's offer of more money to help.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Some provincial mayors have banded together over the threat of what they call "destruction by legislation" say the offer is good, as a first step.

The government has moved to offer bigger grants for owners of heritage listed quake-prone buildings nationwide to pay up to half of the fees of the likes of engineers to do assessments or plans, or to pay for up to two thirds the cost of strengthening work.

Clothing retailer Kerry Gracie faces a $500,000 bill to strengthen his shop which Feilding locals have rated among the top four heritage buildings in that town, though it's only heritage B listed.

He called Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Grant Robertson's announcement "tinkering".

"If they're talking $10,000 or $20,000, that's a drop in the ocean.

"We'll look at it but I don't think it'll cut it with us at all, and I think I'm talking for thousands of landlords throughout New Zealand."

Steve Quinn of Hunua near Auckland bought an old bank on Marton's main street after seeing it online, to stick up for it, he said.

"There is an absolutely beautiful building there and we thought, 'Well, let's get stuck in, we might be able to do something for one building'."

It sits in the main street, maintained by Mr Quinn, but empty.

He might see about applying for one of the new grants to get a detailed seismic assessment done, to challenge the desktop assessment that has put the old BNZ in peril.

Steve Quinn

Steve Quinn Photo: Supplied.

"Before a lot of money is started to be chucked into things, they should review the basic policy of labelling these buildings as earthquake-prone," Mr Quinn said.

"We shouldn't need to prove something that isn't. This building's stood there for 110-plus years."

The four central North Island mayors who united to pressure the government have not got what they really wanted - a reworking of the 2016 legislation and longer deadlines to do seismic strengthening.

But one of them, Helen Worboys of Manawatu, is putting a brave face on it.

"This announcement with the fund is great news because if we're having to work to a shortened timeframe and we can't change that, well at least now our building owners have some opportunity for assistance.

"For some of our buildings this could well help."

Meanwhile, work is underway in Feilding by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, and Engineering New Zealand, on testing a cheap prototype fix for old low-level buildings.

Andy Watson of Rangitikei, another of mayoral quartet, said one building owner had told him the funding might allow him to hire an engineer.

"He is thinking around finding out first of all what state his building is at, what it's going to cost to repair.

"The question is for those building owners that are not heritage listed, and they may also be iconic-looking buildings, this doesn't provide any further assistance to them."

That applies to 17 buildings in Marton's main street.

Mr Watson has heard from two main street owners now opting for strengthening but also from two others likely to abandon their buildings.

Mr Watson said it was disappointing the government would not budge on the strengthening deadlines, the tightest of which is just 7.5 years, though 15 years is standard in high-risk zones such as the central North Island.

The group of mayors argue it is nonsense to lump small towns and rural areas in with high-risk Wellington under the same rules.

The first round of applications for the new heritage funding close on 22 March.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has $5m left in the overall fund to the end of the 2019/2020 financial year, in two types of grant:

  • Upgrade Works Grants to a maximum of $400,000, , or for regional building owners up to two thirds of seismic upgrade works
  • Professional Advice Grants to a maximum of $50,000 per project, or for regional building owners up to two thirds of professional advice costs

The new professional advice grants are aimed specifically at regional building owners outside the three main centres.'

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs