By Eric Crampton 25/11/2016


Wellington’s quake-prone heritage-listed buildings remain scary. My column in this week’s NBR ($) suggests prioritising the risky heritage buildings, pulling the heritage listings from the scariest ones, and putting public money into the ones where the heritage amenity is really worth it. 

Or, Council could just buy the buildings from their owners, fix them itself, and sell them afterwards – though they would almost certainly take a pretty big loss in doing so. The loss is the same loss they’re currently imposing on private owners via the heritage listings, but putting it on the public account never feels quite as nice for the regulators.

A snippet:

The most recent data say Wellington has 641 registered earthquake-prone buildings. Of those, 20 are Category 1 places listed by the Historic Places Trust and 44 more have Category 2 status. Another 62 are listed by Wellington Council but not by the trust.

These listings are their own kind of basement clutter.

Looking through our basement, I often had a hard time remembering why we had gotten some of that stuff in the first place. Looking through the heritage listings has a similar feel: buildings added to the list with little background documentation on how they ever got there.

quake-prone heritage buildings
The Gordon Wilson Flats from the Terrace in Wellington, New Zealand. Wikimedia / Ballofstring.

It seems amazing that the Gordon Wilson Flats were ever heritage listed, despite their apparently rare status as a state housing high-rise built by a National rather than a Labour government. While I can throw out the ugly wedding present in the garage given by a long-deceased relative, it’s harder to get rid of heritage-listings on dangerous buildings. Appeals processes are still under way for the Gordon Wilson flats.

Those delays can be deadly. In Christchurch, the owner of a heritage-listed building on Colombo St wanted to demolish it after the September earthquakes. The council blocked demolition pending the right processes being undertaken.

February’s earthquake did not bother with consenting processes and killed 12 people in a bus outside the building without seeking the leave of any council official. The council staff who delayed demolition faced no liability for their choices.

I covered similar themes in last week’s Insights newsletter, focusing on the Human Rights Commission’s report on property rights in post-quake Christchurch..

Featured image: Turnbull House, Wellington. A Category 1 heritage building listed as quake prone by the Wellington City Council. Credit: Wikimedia / Ballofstring.