Heritage building owners hit

By Anne-Marie Emerson

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Wanganui heritage building owners are facing huge hikes in their insurance bills and are concerned at the flow-on effects this could have for Wanganui's future.

One building owner, Mark Simmonds who, with his wife Bronwyn Paul, owns the century-old Heritage House in St Hill St, has had his insurance premiums for the building tripled over the past year - up from $23,000 to $72,000.

"The costs have come down but that's because we don't have earthquake cover or indemnity anymore," Mr Simmonds said.

He put the blame solely on the insurance industry's "knee-jerk reaction" to the Christchurch earthquakes.

"We are being punished because of those earthquakes - while the insurance companies line their pockets."

Mr Simmonds said Heritage House had been maintained and insured since it was built in 1915. "So what I want to know is, where has that insurance money gone? Why do we even have insurance if Heritage building owners reel

insurance companies are going to squeal when something like [the Christchurch earthquakes] happens?"

Mr Simmonds said he and his wife were passionate about their beautiful building and did not want to be put in a position where they had to decide whether to keep it.

"If we walk away from it, no one else will pick it up," he said.

Another heritage building owner, who did not wish to be named, said his insurance premiums had gone up more than four-fold in the past three years.

"When it comes to any building built before 1935, you're in trouble," the man said.

"The building may be perfectly safe and well built but it's judged by the building standards of its day."

He said the issue was not just about soaring insurance costs, but about the knock-on effects of those costs. The man said tenants of commercial buildings paid part of the costs such as rates and insurance, and when those costs became too high, tenants would often move to other buildings where the costs were lower.

That left landlords with untenanted buildings and, as they could not afford to maintain them, they would either be left to fall into disrepair, or be replaced with new buildings, he said.

"If this happened on a large scale, we could see Wanganui's built heritage under threat. People come to Wanganui for our heritage history. If we let that decline, it threatens our whole tourism industry and Wanganui's future."

He said it was unfair to expect building owners to protect Wanganui's heritage on their own. "Some people in the community wonder why we should help private building owners, but this issue potentially affects the whole community."

The man said owners of private heritage buildings were required to have initial evaluation reports done on their buildings by the end of the year, although he praised the Wanganui District Council for allowing some leeway. He said building owners can pay up to $20,000 for detailed engineering reports alone, with the cost of any earthquake strengthening work on top of that.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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