Quake-risk buildings 'need help'

By Staff Reporter

A community-wide approach is needed to deal with heritage earthquake-prone buildings in Wanganui according to the man heading the Wanganui Earthquake-prone Buildings Community Taskforce.

Richard Thompson said that while many of these buildings may be privately owned, collectively they formed a huge part of the fabric of the city.

"Our old buildings and the river are what make Wanganui special. They stand us apart from other provincial centres and are what attract people to visit and live here," Mr Thompson said.

He said without its heritage precincts it would be a poor imitation. While perhaps functional, it would be bereft of character.

"Who then would go out of their way to visit?"

He said the implications of earthquake strengthening requirements for Wanganui were huge and agreed with Wanganui district councillor Michael Laws that "we cannot be bystanders".

"While it is good to finally have a sense of direction from the Government it is disappointing that the prospect of funding assistance is very low.

"As others have pointed out, commercial building owners in Wanganui are already under pressure. With a requirement to bring up to code, the economic drivers will simply be to demolish."

Mr Thompson said that the Wanganui District Council already has a policy that building owners are required to meet the 34 per cent standard by 2030 so the proposed government policy simply brings that date forward by a few years.

"Nonetheless, time is important here; time to understand the implications and develop a decent policy response. Also, there are new retrofitting techniques being developed that could make strengthening much cheaper."

He said that the taskforce's early conclusions were that the greatest risk to human safety were the building canopies, facades and parapets in the CBD, especially from masonry buildings that were not reinforced.

"We agreed that if you were to start somewhere, this would be it and it is interesting to note that the Canterbury Royal Commission's recommendations, not taken up by the Government, are for higher strengthening levels for these parts," he said.

He said the taskforce has been waiting for this announcement and will be developing a response.

He said the group had been working on a number of fronts, including researching the performance of masonry buildings not reinforced, looking at the economic importance of heritage to Wanganui, understanding the costs of ownership, applying for a district plan change permitting the use of verandah posts, and producing an information leaflet for CBD building owners.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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