Success stories as strengthening deadline looms

14 August 2018

A clampdown on dangerous buildings in Wellington has sparked some unexpected transformations in the historic Cuba Street quarter as the deadline for remedial work looms

168 Cuba Street URM work

URM work happening on Cuba Street

Following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, Wellington City Council identified 113 buildings made with unreinforced masonry (URM).

URM is clay brick, concrete block or stone units bound together using lime or cement mortar, without any reinforcing elements such as steel bars in their original construction.

Thirty-nine people were killed and more than 100 people injured by URM buildings in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Along with other building owners from the Hurunui, Hutt City and Marlborough Districts, the 113 Wellington owners were given a Government-imposed deadline to secure the masonry.

The deadline, which was extended by six months, is between 15 and 27 September. 

As of this week 65 sites have completed the work and 48 are works in progress. Four building owners are yet to start work.

“Almost all owners have seen the important public safety aspect of this and taken the opportunity to look at the long-term future of their building,” says Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, who thanked those going above and beyond.

Since the deadline was announced, 14 buildings have changed hands and the new owners taken on the URM work.

There have been some stunning results. “One site in Cuba Street, the Maguires Building, had sat partially empty for four or five years and when the strengthening work is complete it will be at 80 percent of the building code,” says the Mayor.

The Maguires Building, at 168-174 Cuba Street, was bought in August 2017 by William Broadmore and his wife and they have quake-strengthened and restored the 1901 building over the past year.

Mr Broadmore says while the building was taken off the URM list in February, the most challenging part of the job was coordinating with the existing tenants to strengthen their ground-floor premises. Olive Cafe was vacated for six weeks over June/July while this work was carried out.

"It's been important to us to show Wellingtonians that these sorts of heritage listed buildings can be strengthened quickly and efficiently,” Mr Broadmore says.

"Most building owners out there are faced with a daunting minefield of consultants, technical reports, consents and contractors. These strengthening projects can be incredibly complex to navigate for someone without industry experience."

To assist with the urgency of the work, the City Council has contributed $1 million and the Government $2 million.

Properties that don’t get the work signed off in time will miss out on the funding. The deadline for funding applications is December 30.

The fund contributes up to half of the costs of the actual work involved in securing the parapet and/or facade, up to a maximum of $25,000 for buildings two storeys and below, and up to $65,000 for buildings three storeys or over.

The legislation allows councils to take a number of actions if the URM work isn’t completed before the notice expires.

These actions include:

  • Closing the site: Councils may issue a warrant to remove the immediate danger and prevent access to the building’s street front until work is completed. The owner of the building is liable for the costs associated.
  • Prosecution: A person who fails to comply with a dangerous building notice commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding $200,000.
  • Takeover: A council may choose to apply to District Court for an order to carry out the building work required under the notice. The owner of the building is liable for the costs of the work.