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City council faces tough decisions on quake-safing

Sep 24th, 2012 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

QUAKE DILEMMA: Heritage buildings – Wellington town hall and council administration building.

TO quake-strengthen or demolish heritage buildings like these – that’s the choice facing organisations like Wellington City Council.

Its councillors have been advised to liken the dilemma to that of a museum facing curating its collection.

Ann Neill, Historic Places Trust central region manager,  used this metaphor when addressing the council’s strategy and policy committee meeting to discuss its Earthquake Resiliency Programme report.

Some 248 heritage buildings (constructed before 1976) have been identified as potentially earthquake-prone and their assessments will be completed by December.

The Earthquake Resilience Programme will identify key areas for revisions to buildings and areas on the heritage list.

The report says key issues faced by the council include high risk elements like chimneys, veneers and ornamentation, and completing a review of the buildings and areas on the heritage list itself.

Heritage provisions may need to change to incorporate new assessment criteria on building integrity and public safety.

The report also recommends the 67% National Building Standard of earthquake resiliency be applied to heritage buildings.

Priority is being given to heritage buildings and areas needing earthquake strengthening that are close to vital transport routes in and out of the city.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust says a new system is needed to help the council prioritise which buildings mean most to the capital’s image and story.

One concern is adapting heritage buildings for reuse.

Councillor Iona Pannett said giving heritage buildings new lives in the market by strengthening them would ensure secure investment for owners.

For those buildings not making the cut to be saved, a tribunal process is suggested as a way to help deal with the difficult decisions some owners will face.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown commended the report that “tells the story of earthquake resilience”, but noted the economic impact now was a lack of confidence for building owners to take action to secure their investment in heritage sites.

Councillor Andy Foster said “Mother Nature would do what Mother Nature does” but the city could still be prepared for it.

“Roughly 95% of Lambton Quay is quake resistant, but the other 5% aren’t and it could be a Crown Plaza scenario [in Christchurch] all over again.”

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