‘Demolition by neglect’ a concern

Southern Heritage Trust chairwoman Jo Galer walks past the former Arkwright Traders shop in Manse...
Southern Heritage Trust chairwoman Jo Galer walks past the former Arkwright Traders shop in Manse St, Dunedin yesterday. She wants the city council to be more proactive with unused buildings. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Councils are calling on the government to make it easier to reuse unoccupied historic buildings, or risk swathes of them becoming "demolished by neglect".

At next week’s Dunedin City Council infrastructure committee meeting, councillors will debate a remit from the Gisborne District Council asking the government for legislative change "enabling local authorities to remediate the decaying condition of unoccupied buildings" and offer incentives to "repurpose vacant buildings to meet region-specific needs, for example accommodation conversion".

Council staff recommended councillors supported the remit, which would then go to the next Local Government New Zealand annual meeting. The remit arose as councils were grappling with vacant buildings which could have heritage status, and a council staff report said "Dunedin residents have expressed concern about demolition by neglect and the council has previously explored options to manage this issue".

Demolition by neglect was when a building was allowed to deteriorate to the point that demolition became necessary, or restoration became economically unreasonable, the report said.

"It could be an issue for historic and heritage buildings that require substantial financial investment to enable ongoing use, typically arising from compliance requirements, earthquake strengthening, amenity upgrades, or repair and deferred maintenance."

Southern Heritage Trust chairwoman Jo Galer was pleased to hear about the council’s approach.

"It makes good sense timing wise; demolition by neglect is an issue across the country.

"It’s a looming problem for Dunedin — there are a number of significant historic buildings that are at risk as they have been unoccupied for so long."

Ms Galer said there were buildings in Princes St and the Exchange Area where there were "clearly no plans to rejuvenate, renovate or retain".

"The council is finally making a move, and it is to be commended that they are. It’s right in the nick of time, we can’t wait much longer.

"It needs to be a sustained and strong effort on behalf of the council. Heritage is really important to the city; without it we’re not as successful.

"Dunedin is different and we need to keep that point of difference."

Ms Galer said she wanted to see building owners taken to task for demolition by neglect.

Cr David Benson-Pope said Dunedin was luckier than other cities in that it missed much of the mass demolitions of heritage buildings over recent decades.

"We’re a bit of a leader in terms of heritage preservation, but it’s certainly a challenge.

"We are quite constrained about what we can do to unoccupied buildings."

The council will debate the remit on Tuesday.