Government is dangling the carrot in front of a broader group of building owners in Whanganui, with significant changes made to the national earthquake upgrade incentive programme.

The Heritage EQUIP fund, run by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, is now offering up to 67 per cent of the cost of seismic upgrade work if projects include a number of buildings, as long as one of those is a heritage or listed property.

Last week the Government announced new earthquake strengthening funds were available, specifically for owners of heritage buildings in the regions.

The funding is aimed at providing better support for those building owners in medium or high seismic risk areas and Whanganui is considered one of those.

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There are professional advice grants for owners at the beginning of the process, providing up to 50 per cent of the costs of getting a range of professional advice, such as engineering assessments and architectural advice.

Mike Frew, fund manager for Heritage EQUIP, told the Chronicle the ministry was aware that there were a number of people seriously interested in buying some of the older properties in the central city.

Not all were heritage or listed buildings but were recognised in the Whanganui District Council's district plan heritage list.

But Frew said the multiple building approach could be one that owners would be keen to explore.

"If you get three or four buildings alongside each other, and one of them is a listed or Heritage building, then it makes the multiple package eligible for funding."

He said this multiple building concept was a "game changer".

In places like Whanganui, where building values and tenancy prospects were often low, owners faced significant problems.

"Getting professional advice before you even swing a hammer can be prohibitive. If those costs run to $50,000 for a building worth only $100,000, it's hard to justify.

"But by aggregating projects we hope to encourage owners to consider the fund that's available."

Frew said the new approach gave owners some "wriggle room" when it came to making the decision to press on with building upgrades.

"Ultimately it preserves the city's streetscape as well as its buildings."

Heritage EQUIP has already backed two projects in Whanganui — the A.E.Kitchen building and the old Bank of New South Wales building in the bottom block of Victoria Ave.

Frew said funding applications are considered three times a year and the upcoming rounds close on March 22 and July 29.

District councillor Helen Craig said the increased budget was great news for Whanganui.
"Our heritage buildings have the potential to make Whanganui the heritage town of New Zealand, attracting thousands of tourists annually," Craig said.

She said intense lobbying by council the Regional Heritage Trust and the earthquake prone building community taskforce had helped convince the Ministry to increase its funding support.