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Subsidy doesn't add value

26 Jan 2017

Engineers have backed the Government's decision to compel building owners to secure earthquake-prone facades and parapets in the Wellington region and Blenheim within a year.

But property owners fear the Government's subsidy won't stop them being out-of-pocket.

New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering president Peter Smith says the measure is important in a period of increased earthquake risk.

"Engineers are very conscious of the lives lost when facades collapsed in the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake," he said.

"Thirty-nine people were killed and more than 100 people injured as a result of masonry falling onto footpaths and roads."

Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand chief executive Susan Freeman-Greene added: "If there is an aftershock centred closer to Wellington, securing the facades could save many lives."

In announcing the decision, Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith said the November 14 Kaikoura earthquake had significantly increased seismic risk in Wellington, Lower Hutt and Blenheim during the next three years.

He said the Government and councils would provide a 50 percent subsidy up to a maximum of $15,000 for a facade and $10,000 for a parapet, with $3 million allocated for the fund.

About 300 buildings are expected to be eligible for the grant.

Wellington Chamber of Commerce said the deadline would be tight and building owners would take a hit even with the subsidy, "but we cannot afford to let this slide".

"If the property was fully earthquake-strengthened, then landlords would be able to charge more of a premium," says CEO John Milford.

"But if it's just to get the façades work done, property owners won't be able to pass that cost on to tenants…. Because whilst it does obviously protect the public, it doesn't add intrinsic value."

Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said it was welcome news that building owners could access funding, but more support was needed to get buildings in the capital back up to scratch.

"Hundreds of Wellington buildings, many of them residential with multiple tenants, require urgent earthquake strengthening," he said.

"The Government should come to the party and provide support either through tax write-offs for strengthening or low or no-interest loans tied to the property."

 - NZN / Newshub.

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