Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Govt on right track with scheme to make buildings safer - chief

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend has expressed concern about the future of heritage buildings, the costs of upgrades and labour supply.
Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend has expressed concern about the future of heritage buildings, the costs of upgrades and labour supply.

The boss behind New Zealand's biggest heritage building revitalisation project has praised Government moves to have the country's building stock strengthened.

Peter Cooper, Cooper and Company executive chairman, said the right balance between public safety and landlord interests had been achieved in Building Act (2004) amendments passed on November 28 which took effect immediately.

"I don't fear wholesale destruction. It's not overly bureaucratic," said Cooper, whose business is restoring 17 heritage buildings in Auckland's Britomart in a job worth more than $500 million.

Seismic assessments must be carried out on all at-risk commercial and high-rise, multi-unit buildings, believed to be about 193,000 properties. The focus is on pre-1976 buildings. Those not upgraded to withstand a moderate-sized earthquake within 10 years of assessment would have to be demolished. It is estimated between 15,000 and 25,000 buildings will have to be strengthened or demolished but this could rise.

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend has expressed concern about the future of heritage buildings, the costs of upgrades and labour supply.

Cooper, made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit this month, said the Canterbury quakes had forced big changes to building regulations and it had been traumatic to see how unsafe many old buildings were. "I think the Government had to react," he said.

The 15-year time frame gave people options, so no changes were being forced too fast.

"What's implemented is still the key question and it's not as though it would be an instant move," he said.

Some old buildings will have to be demolished, but those would include structures with minimal heritage value, Cooper said.

New Year Honours' notes said the Cooper and Company founder had financially backed the redevelopment and restoration of 17 historic buildings and new buildings in the Britomart Urban Restoration Project.

"Mr Cooper established the Britomart Arts Foundation, seeding an initial donation of $1 million, and donating works by New Zealand artists," the notes said, adding that The Landing, his rural property development in the Bay of Islands, involved the extensive creation of wetlands, native bush planting and preservation of areas of high archaeological value.

In 2008, Cooper was awarded the University of Auckland Business School Outstanding Maori Business Leader Award.

- NZ Herald

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