Earthquake Overreaction

In the late 1990s I fell for a beautiful brick building in Egmont St. which is reminiscent of a Melbourne laneway. It has fantastic walkable connections to inner city shops, restaurants and parks.

My apartment in this 1921 building, known as The Tea Store, was completed in 2000. Because the building was converted from a warehouse into 19 residential units, the developer was required to earthquake strengthen the building. It was strengthened to NZCC’s 1965 Chapter 8, which was the Code applying at the time.

All was well and happy until the Christchurch earthquakes.

‘Poor Christchurch’ I thought. But little did we owners realise that the effects of those earthquakes would manifest themselves in Wellington.

Despite the relative lack of damage to heritage buildings in Christchurch, zealous officials and conservative structural engineers in Wellington now deem buildings such as ours to be ‘earthquake prone’.

Most of the now famous art deco buildings built in Napier after the 1931 quake there, are similarly classified as earthquake prone.

To put things into perspective, during the 84 year period, between and including the Napier and Christchurch events, there have been around 36,000 road fatalities.

We know what a ‘black art’ structural engineering is – with most of the loss of life and damage in Christchurch occurring in relatively modern buildings.

In Wellington, several modern buildings built to the current code have had to be demolished, or significantly repaired following the 2016 Richter 7.8 Kaikoura/Seddon earthquake. At The Tea Store, there was no damage.

We strengthened our parapets and façade as required by legislation to protect the public in our lane, which is identified as having high pedestrian traffic. So any risk is to us the occupants, not the public at large.

But this work is seemingly not enough and the Council has now yellow stickered our building and given us four years to either upgrade or demolish. Our current costing is $500,000 per apartment and likely to rise as time goes on. We are also required us to move out for a year.

The Tea Store is one of the first buildings to be so targetted. I would estimate there to be at least 500 similarly affected apartments in central Wellington, meaning at today’s prices expenditure by the owners will be of the order of $250 million.

If we do not do this work ,we will be locked out of our homes and face hefty fines.

We can’t demolish the building as it heritage listed.

We are in a plainly ludicrous situation.

Our ‘earthquake risk’ building has stood here for 98 years resisting everything nature has thrown at it, with no damage.

If Council persists with their demand on inner city buildings, we will now, many of us pensioners, go into irreversible debt, even presuming the banks will lend in a negative equity situation.

It is possible for local authorities to change their minds. The Christchurch writer Joe Bennett bravely fought such an attack by the Christchurch City Council bureaucracy on his house in Lyttleton and won.

But if Council persists we will need financial support either from them or the Government.

If the Council wants to preserve hertage for the enjoyment of future generations they should help us.

At the moment it feels like we are trapped, unecessarily, in a stressful lose-lose situation.


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