Mayor Helen's Monthly Column
(Posted on: February 22)
The draft results of our Town Centre Visioning consultation exercise around the District late last year, have been presented to Council and are now being worked into a draft vision public document. Feedback from our community shows that most people value some of our heritage buildings, with a few iconic heritage buildings specifically being named as ones our community has an interest in seeing retained and strengthened.
Lots of your comments relate to how we get around, parking and potential future uses of the town centre, including accommodation in upper floors of buildings.
Another constant theme was the desire to see more events and social activity happening in Manchester Square. You can find out more details on www.haveyoursay.kiwi.nz All this information will give the vital confidence needed to our building owners, developers and investors that our town centre is worth investing in, to make it more vibrant and attractive, not only for business but as a key part of our community’s wellbeing.
The Earthquake Prone Building (EQPB) process continues with Council required to consult with our community on whether we should have Priority Thoroughfares or not. No specific criteria is given in the new legislation as to what is a priority thoroughfare, other than identifying our busiest footpaths and streets where EQPB’s are located, that could pose a risk to life and public safety. Most of the risk is from the frontages collapsing onto footpaths, rather than from people being crushed inside buildings.
While public safety is high priority, the implications of approving any Priority Thoroughfares comes with significant impact on our EQPB owners. As Manawatu sits in a high EQ risk zone our EQPB owners currently have 15 years to strengthen or demolish their buildings. Those buildings that would sit within an approved Priority Thoroughfare have that timeframe reduced to just 7.5 years in respect of those parts of buildings that could fall into public areas. The dilemma for our community is to decide what level of risk we are prepared to take, versus the impact on our town centre, building owners, businesses, employees and customers.
The good news is that our joint effort with Whanganui, Rangitikei and Tararua Councils, lobbying central government to attempt to get them to understand the severe implications of the new legislation on provincial NZ, is being heard and acted on.
We have gained assurance that for buildings in priority areas, only the frontages (generally facades, verandahs and parapets) need to be addressed in 7.5 years and that Councils have discretion with other building requirements when EQPB upgrades are being done.
Discussions have resulted in proposed changes to Building Alterations regulations to change the threshold, where currently any alterations exceeding 25% of the value of the building, the building must be strengthened to over 34% New Building Standard. The problem is that many of our buildings have very little value other than the land value for the property, and 25% of say $10,000 is only $2500. This may prevent a small bathroom alteration without a full strengthening programmes. These proposed changes would see the threshold change to $100 000 or $200 000 (the final amount still being worked on) or 25% - whichever is the higher. We are hoping that the Minister will agree to this change and take it to Cabinet next year.
Engineering NZ has met with our Council team to discuss the idea of EQPB building solutions being developed as NZ Building Standards. While it is a good idea, it faces the challenge that it would shift liability to the Government (Central and/or Local) from engineering firms. 2 pilot projects are underway in both Feilding and Marton to have strengthening solutions devised for final approval by the Building Code Technical Risk Advisory Group. Once approved these could become templates for similar heritage buildings across NZ. The aim is to significantly reduce the cost of engineering design and strengthening solutions.
Our requests for a range of financial assistance packages for building owners to retain and strengthen their heritage buildings are also being heard. The Government’s Heritage Equip Fund will partially fund repairs on Heritage buildings (up to 67%) provided they are listed in our District Plan. New funding was announced just last week where up to 50% of professional advice cost is available for Heritage listed buildings only. Feilding’s Town Centre has 14 Heritage NZ listed buildings so this announcement will be a great help to those building owners.
There are also ongoing discussions about the benefits of building owners working together to find solutions. This is particularly important where we have a row of heritage buildings such as in Manchester Street, that have shared walls.
We are making progress in this important issue but the clock is ticking. Council is asking for your feedback on the proposed priority thoroughfares before 4pm on Monday 11 March, 2019. There will be an open meeting on Thursday 28 February 7pm at the Senior Centre in Bowen Street for more details and you can check out www.haveyoursay.kiwi.nz