Call for aid to quake-proof buildings

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How will it look in 20 years? . . . Central Timaru is increasingly coming under the spotlight as earthquake strengthening becomes a more pressing issue. PHOTO:CRIS TOBIN

A Timaru building owner believes the Government should make the costly process of earthquake strengthening buildings tax deductible as an incentive for owners.

“It would be a big help,” Gaire Thompson, of Nelson, said.

“I have pressed the Government for years, firstly Nick Smith, who wasn’t interested and now Stuart Nash.

“I thought there might be something out in the taxation review earlier this year. We believe it is essential and necessary.

“In provincial towns, because it can be uneconomic for possible tenants, you could have to destroy a lot of the buildings and a lot of the character disappears.

“To me, it seems short-sighted not to make it tax-deductible.”

Mr Thompson’s company owns buildings in 12 centres around the country.

In Timaru, he owns the railway station building, the nine-storey Cantec House in George St (the tallest building in Timaru), as well as the Warehouse Stationery and old Butterfields buildings in Stafford St.

Mr Thompson also owns buildings in Wellington. He found at the time of the Kaikoura earthquake that old buildings that might have been considered earthquake prone remained intact, while others built in recent years, and above required seismic standards, have since been demolished due to earthquake damage.

This evening, the Timaru District Council will host a workshop for which the theme will be taking the fear out of earthquake-strengthening work for building owners grappling with the problem of deciding whether their old buildings have a future or not.

The process

The Timaru District Council has five years from July 1, 2017, to identify earthquake-prone buildings and notify owners.

If a building is found to be quake-prone, with a rating lower than 34% of the National Building Standard, owners have 12 months to have an engineering assessment done.

The owner must then strengthen or demolish the building within 12.5 years.

Mike Frew, of Heritage Equip, which provides funding to assist building owners in seismic strengthening, will be in Timaru for the first of three workshops in the district. The others are to be held in Temuka and Geraldine.

He will outline what help is available for owners as well as options.

Among buildings defined as possibly earthquake prone under the Building Act are unreinforced masonry buildings, which would mean a significant proportion of Timaru’s Stafford St and CBD buildings.

Mr Frew said there was a likelihood of demolition right across regional New Zealand.

“Yes, it’s a real prospect but only when the EPB (earthquake-prone buildings) compliance window closes, which is 12.5 years or 15 years for Timaru.”

The Timaru District Council has rules for Stafford St which require owners to have plans in place for a possible replacement building before consent could be given to demolish.

Mr Frew welcomed a move by the Timaru council to establish a group to develop a city hub strategy and other councils doing similar work.

“I’m encouraged by the many councils that are seeking to increase demand for buildings by addressing the health of our town centres.

“Greater demand eventually leads to higher rents, and without more rent, upgrade projects are often not viable.”

Grosvenor Hotel owner Ping Lim has been among the first Timaru CBD owners to publicly commit to seismically strengthening his historic hotel in Cains Tce. He has urged other owners to do the same.

Under the Building Act, the Timaru District Council is required to identify priority earthquake prone buildings with the owners.

At the end of last year, the council finished public consultation determining priority thoroughfares and strategic routes, and identifying priority owners and contacting them was expected to begin this year.

“No buildings have been identified, nor any owners notified yet,” council communications manager Stephen Doran said.

“We had various bits of work to do regarding priority routes. We’ll be beginning the notifications process following this round of workshops.”

The notification signified only a possibility; the owner then had a year to get an assessment to identify if it was earthquake prone, he said.