Fears for churches as hearings begin

Barry Mackay
Barry Mackay
Dunedin's policy for earthquake-proofing the city's ageing building stock will be scrutinised, amid warnings about the future of the city's historic churches.

Public hearings on a policy that could have significant ramifications for owners begin today, with a debate on whether the proposed policy is too restrictive or too permissive.

Those presenting submissions include the University of Otago, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Otago Foundation Trust, which owns all Presbyterian churches in the city.

The trust raised fears its parishes, which had static or declining memberships, would be unable to pay for strengthening work.

Hearings committee chairwoman Cr Kate Wilson yesterday said people died in churches in the February earthquake in Christchurch, and she hoped to hear about possible options to fund the work.

A review of the Dunedin City Council's 2007 policy on dangerous, insanitary and earthquake-prone buildings began last year, but took on a new urgency after the Christchurch earthquake in February.

The review was completed in April, followed by public submissions, and a hearing today will consider the 23 submissions received.

It will take place before Cr Wilson, Cr Lee Vandervis and Dr Tom Moore, who has international experience in the area and was nominated by the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand.

A report to the committee from council heritage policy planner Glen Hazelton and chief building control officer Neil McLeod said submissions fell into two categories.

Some believed the policy was too permissive, and wanted more strengthening to occur in a shorter time frame.

Others believed the policy was too restrictive, and wanted lower levels of strengthening for older buildings.

"Each different element will have repercussions for public safety, economic viability, heritage, and the overall look and feel of the city."

The University of Otago's submission, from property services director Barry MacKay, said the Christchurch earthquake had increased the urgency of protecting Dunedin.

The council's amendments to the policy were "reasonable and timely" but the university was concerned about the cost of building work.

The Otago Foundation Trust board, the registered owner of all Presbyterian Church properties in Otago and Southland, said buildings such as First Church "immediately come under the influence of the policy" as category one historic buildings.

The board and the Presbyterian Synod believed that for category one historic buildings and other church buildings that fitted into the category of historic, "any requirement to bring the relevant buildings up to current minimum earthquake requirement standards is not possible without seriously compromising the architectural integrity and aesthetic heritage value of those particular buildings".

Parishes "may be forced to abandon or demolish the buildings concerned".

Cr Vandervis said there were solutions for strengthening that were simple and cheap.

The hearing will be held in the Otaru Room of the Civic Centre from 9am today.

- david.loughrey@odt.co.nz


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