Call for govt help to quake-proof central Wgtn homes

12:00 am on 9 December 2016

Wellington's inner city residents say they will need financial support if they are to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings.

Earthquake damage in Central Wellington.

Damage to central Wellington buildings from the recent earthquake. Photo: RNZ / Susie Ferguson

The City Council's strategy committee today debated its position on the government's proposed regulations for assessing and strengthening quake-prone buildings, of which Wellington has nearly 700.

At least one of those is an apartment block with seven tenants and a strengthening bill of more than $1 million.

The Inner City Residents Association said now was a good time to distinguish between commercial and residential buildings to ease that burden.

Its president, Geraldine Murphy, said a one-size fits all approach would impose significant costs on residents.

"This the whole conundrum... We've got legislation that's applying across the board to residential owners and buildings that the public are using," she said.

"If the government wants to get [the strengthening] happening faster, they have to provide support."

She said that meant engineering and technical support as well as cash.

The council's strategy committee chair, Iona Pannett, said strengthening was expensive, and the government needed to take that into account.

"The issue of cost is a bugbear and has been a particularly difficult issue, unfortunately when the legislation was developed the government in the regulatory impact statement refused to acknowledge there would a cost on owners," she said. "They just ignored the issue."

Some building owners have baulked at the commercial interest rates of having to take out a loan to pay for the strengthening.

The Local Government Funding Agency (LGFA) provides loans to councils at lower interest rates and for longer periods than commercial banks.

Its chief executive, Mark Butcher, said councils could borrow that money if they wanted and then lend it out to building owners.

"If they had it factored into their long term plan or their annual plan budgets, then the Local Government Funding Agency could lend to councils [for that]," he said.

"We don't make a call on what councils use their borrowing from the LGFA for," he said, so long as it was within the agreed covenants.

Ms Pannett said they had been looking into that option.

"We need to make sure we look at all of the options, whether it's tax deductibility or loans, or grants and to see what's going to work for people," she said.

"The great risk is this legislation will not work if people can't afford to do the work."

Andy Foster, who chairs the council's finance committee, said the council was looking at whether it had a "mechanism to provide access to cheaper finance".

"The pro is that you are able to help building owners out, the cons are you do expose yourself to some risk," he said.

Mr Foster said strengthening was a good investment because it was much cheaper to strengthen buildings than repair them.

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