Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Quake proposal fans heritage fear

Council baulks at 'execution order' risk in recommendation for 10-year time limit on strengthening buildings.

The Auckland Council has indicated it would go along with a 15-year period to strengthen buildings. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Auckland Council has indicated it would go along with a 15-year period to strengthen buildings. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Giving building owners 10 years to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings would amount to an "execution order" for many heritage and character buildings, says the Auckland Council.

The council has grave concerns for heritage buildings in a Government consultation document arising from the recommendations of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission on Earthquake-Prone Buildings.

The document has recommended that 15,000 to 25,000 earthquake-prone buildings should be strengthened within 10 years of councils assessing a list of buildings.

Councils would have up to five years to compile a quake-prone list.

Auckland Council's draft policy gives the owners of about 4300 quake-prone buildings in Auckland 30 years to strengthen them, based on the low risk of a quake big enough to bring down buildings.

But since the Canterbury quakes and the royal commission's recommendations, the council has indicated it would go along with a 15-year period to strengthen buildings.

Ten years, a council submission said, "would create an execution order for many heritage/character buildings held by reluctant owners seeking to develop" and the city could lose a "considerable portion" of its heritage and character stock.

It wants a robust appeal process against owners wanting to demolish buildings at the end of the 10 years and the establishment of a national fund for heritage buildings administered by the Historic Places Trust.

It has also called for the cost of seismic refits to be deemed "repairs and maintenance" rather than "capital expenditure" for tax purposes to reduce costs for building owners.

The council broadly supports several other ideas in the consultation document, issued by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. These include a national policy for earthquake-prone buildings so long as it reflects varying risk across the council, maintaining the 33 per cent standard for strengthening buildings and creating a national database of earthquake-prone buildings.

It disagrees that strengthening quake-prone buildings should take precedence over other concerns, including heritage and planning regulations, saying heritage preservation needs to be balanced with safety considerations and cost implications.

The council's response was approved yesterday by the parks, recreation and heritage forum.

As the council sees it

Earthquake-prone building recommendations*:

National policy to improve consistency between councils.

Auckland Council response: Support, so long as its reflects varying risk across the country.

Reduce timeframes for strengthening buildings to 10 years.

Council response: Too short for Auckland and will lead to the demolition of heritage buildings.

Maintain 33 per cent minimum standard for strengthening buildings.

Council response: Support with allowance for councils to set higher standard.

Create national database of earthquake-prone buildings.

Council response: Support.

Strengthening of buildings to take precedence over other concerns, including heritage.

Council response: Disagree, saying heritage needs to be equally balanced with safety considerations and cost.

*Government proposals arising from the recommendations of the Christchurch Earthquakes Royal Commission.

- NZ Herald

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