Mayor's column March 2017

(Posted on: March 10)

The new Earthquake Prone Building law becomes effective from 1st July and all Councils around NZ are required to enforce it. This new law sets out specific criteria and timeframes for earthquake prone buildings to be strengthened or demolished. The cost of strengthening is substantial. Many of our buildings are joined to their neighbouring building by party walls, further complicating the process.

Given that the majority of our earthquake prone buildings sit within the town centre in Feilding, this raises some serious issues for our community. In my view, how we, (the Council in partnership with our building owners, businesses, advisors, stakeholders and community), plan and ultimately manage this process will determine the future of our town centre. This issue gives us the opportunity to carefully plan the future of our town centre, which is currently regarded as one of the most attractive in NZ, which has contributed to much of the recent growth in population, new developments and new businesses. Get it wrong, and potentially we could ruin or even shut down our town centre.

It would be easy for Council to say that our role is simply regulatory to enforce the new rules, and only work with building owners to achieve the required standards. However the Earthquake Prone Building issue is far wider than this. What happens to our businesses and employees, tenanted in these Earthquake Prone buildings once the process has been started and how do we maintain the everyday shopping needs of our community with as minimal disruption as possible? How does the town centre stay accessible and open when any amount of strengthening or demolition work is being done? What happens when building owners consider it not economically viable to either strengthen or redevelop? What happens if they don’t have the resources to do either?

Then there is the matter of our Edwardian heritage which forms part of Feilding’s identity and uniqueness. As a community we have said that our Edwardian heritage is important to us and we have put rules in our District Plan which restrict what owners of heritage buildings can do and cannot do with their buildings and facades. Already I am aware of situations where our District Plan heritage protection rules and the requirements of meeting building safety, under the Earthquake Prone Building standards do not match. Building owners are stuck between trying to bring their facades up to standard and creating a safer environment, while also being required to preserve our unique heritage.

Most of our brick unreinforced masonry Edwardian buildings are two storey, with the first floor empty due to little demand to occupy these spaces. This makes it commercially uneconomical for a building owner to invest in strengthening and retaining the building above the verandah. Yet this is the part of the building that our community values, and which is the main reason for the heritage protection rules..

This whole issue needs an urgent review and a wider community conversation. Council acknowledges that our role is much greater than simply enforcing the new legislation. We want to be proactive in leading this community conversation and together formulate a plan of action for the viable future of our town centre.

To initiate this process, Council has invited building owners, the business community  and anyone interested to a meeting this month. Our aim is to inform on the new legislation requirements and invite representatives from all sectors to form a stakeholder’s focus group. This group will then meet regularly to discuss the options, provide information and come up with a plan to manage the process. This is likely to be our biggest challenge of the next 10 years.

The EQPB/Town Centre Planning meeting will be held on Tuesday 14th March 6pm in the Feilding Little Theatre, 21 Stafford Street, Feilding.

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Helen Worboys
Mayor Manawatu District