D-day for Wellington quake-affected buildings

8:40 am on 10 February 2017

Today is D-day for the owners of 80 buildings in Wellington which were forced to undergo emergency earthquake testing in the wake of the 14 November earthquake.

David Jones Lambton Quay Wellington

Among the 80 buildings on the list is the David Jones building on Lambton Quay (pictured), the InterContinental Hotel, government offices and apartment buildings. Photo: RNZ / Emile Donovan

They need to deliver reports to the Wellington City Council on how earthquake resistant their buildings are by 5pm.

The deadline was set last December, after the 7.8 Kaikoura quake badly damaged Kaikoura, surrounding areas and many Wellinton buildings.

But a prominent Wellington property developer, Maurice Clark, said the eight-week window was not a practical arrangement.

"There will be some superficial examination done. People will report on those, but unless they are peer reviewed the interpretation of any damage that is found can be very suspect."

Mr Clark earlier restored several historic, earthquake prone buildings, including the Art Deco Defence House in Stout St and Victorian Gothic Public Trust building on Lambton Quay.

He said the council's time line was unrealistic.

"The time is just not there for the engineers to consider all the matters that might arise from just one crack, and the implications that may have for the original design assumptions for the building," he said.

"I think most people are going to apply for an extension."

Structural Engineering Society president Paul Campbell said the work required for the assessments would have been complicated.

"The first thing you would do would be get hold of all the records for the particular building to understand how the building was expected to perform in an earthquake.

"You would then go into the building, looking for cracks.

"You might have to lift up carpets, you might have to remove ceilings and walls and you might have to organise a builder to put some holes in the cladding so you can see what is going on."

The Wellington City Council's 80-strong list of buildings includes some of the best known structures in the city, such as the Intercontinental Hotel, and the David Jones department store.

Property Council Wellington president Mike Cole said the high profile buildings would be best placed to deal with the council's demands.

He said they would already have engineer's reports, and financially, the costs would not be big, compared with the value of the building as a whole.

But today's requirement is just one of many for Wellington building owners - another is the need to tie back parapets and unreinforced masonry within a year.

Wellington City Council has also pledged to reduce the time available for owners to strengthen earthquake prone buildings.

Mike Cole said that put some building owners in a difficult financial position.

"A building that used to be worth $1 million and is declared to be earthquake prone and is potentially a heritage building probably becomes almost worthless," he said.

"If the person had a normal mortgage on that property they would effectively be in a position of negative gearing.

"To then strengthen the building you would owe more money than the building is worth at the end of the day. Most banks won't entertain that so most building owners are caught between a rock and a hard place."

Wellington Council said it would review the response it received regarding the 80 earthquake-prone buildings over the weekend and will comment on its findings next week.

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