Property Council calls Government’s new heritage support fund “underwhelming”

Arts, Culture & Heritage Minister Maggie Barry said on Friday the Government would put $12 million into a contestable new fund over the next 4 years to support retention of built heritage.

The Property Council called it “underwhelming”.

Ms Barry said at the launch in Feilding the heritage earthquake upgrade incentive programme fund (Heritage EQUIP) would support the cost of strengthening privately owned heritage buildings: “We don’t want to see valued buildings empty & deteriorating, or even demolished, because it isn’t economical to strengthen them. This new fund will support owners to preserve our built heritage for future generations.

“Applicants to the fund will need to look to match Heritage EQUIP funding with local government, philanthropic, community & their own contributions. We will be setting up an expert advisory panel to assess applications, which will open in the New Year.”

The fund will be available for all privately owned category 1 Heritage NZ-listed buildings and for category 2 listed heritage buildings in areas of high to medium seismic risk such as Manawatu & Wellington.

Ms Barry said the Ministry for Culture & Heritage and Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment would develop a comprehensive information package in the next few months, providing guidance to heritage building owners on how to manage strengthening projects.

Property Council: “We want a comprehensive scheme, not enough for a handful”

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said: “The fund is a very welcome but underwhelming development. $3 million/year over the next 4 years will only be enough for a handful of buildings. In cities like Dunedin or Whanganui, we have hundreds of earthquake-prone buildings built well over 100 years ago. The economic viability of these cities hinges on either strengthening these buildings or allowing owners to demolish & replace them with modern & safe buildings.”

Mr Townsend said a number of councils understood the issue and were providing leadership: “Wellington City Council provides financial levers & incentives for earthquake strengthening. The approach taken by the council with its rates remission policy & building consent subsidy is helpful in providing some financial relief when strengthening buildings.

“Yet, what we are missing is a joint approach by government & councils in meeting the challenge of earthquake strengthening. A lot more needs to be done in this space. What people tend to forget is that commercial property is a key driver of economic & social prosperity in our towns & cities”.

He said the Property Council had been advocating for years for the Government to provide assistance to all building owners to earthquake-strengthen because of the high risk to public safety and affordability constraints: “We prefer a more comprehensive scheme, such as making earthquake strengthening costs tax deductible. That’s a much fairer system and allows for many more earthquake-prone buildings to be made safe.

“It is unclear how the advisory panel will prioritise buildings for strengthening – whether it will be purely on heritage value or if it will also look at life safety, technical feasibility & affordability issues.”

“A number of Property Council members have extensive experience earthquake-strengthening heritage buildings. We would be happy to work on the advisory panel to ensure that the new fund is effective in safely strengthening as many buildings as possible and preserving critical New Zealand heritage.”

Heritage EQUIP
2 Property Council submissions on earthquake-strengthening, July 2015 & April 2014

Attribution: Ministerial & Property Council releases.

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