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Morrison unveils plans to save Wellington’s heritage buildings

Media Release: A plan to save, strengthen and make safe the Cuba Street Quarter and a selection of Wellington’s top heritage buildings, has been unveiled by Wellington Mayoral candidate John Morrison.

Morrison says a key goal, if elected as Mayor in October, will be saving the best of Wellington’s heritage buildings and the city’s historic Cuba Street.

He will set up a process that will enable building owners to raise finance exclusively to strengthen their buildings. The borrowings or bonds will be backed by the assets of Wellington City, but to protect ratepayers they will be attached to building titles and paid back through a special rate.

Morrison said he was very mindful of the need to contain council spending and his plan would deliver a highly positive result for the cost to ratepayers of just the administration.

“If we are serious about saving and preserving our history, then we have got to give our property owners and body corporates an incentive to provide safe and secure residences and places of business, while preserving the culture of Cuba Street and elsewhere.

“We can’t sit on our hands and do nothing. The time to get going is now. If we don’t do something about our wonderful old buildings, another earthquake will make the decision for us and people will be killed. There are few tangible benefits from strengthening a building, making it very difficult for an owner to raise money for the work.

“We can’t save them all and I will ask Wellingtonians to draw up a list of historic non-earthquake-compliant buildings, so that people can rank them. We’ll make the list as long as possible, but the availability of money will determine which ones stay and which ones go.

“There is no getting away from the fact that some old buildings will have to be demolished, and when these have been decided, we should acknowledge their demolition and be thankful the best of the best remain safe and future-proofed.

“For our most important heritage buildings, though, the public could be expected to pay some of the cost of their preservation. There is public value in retaining buildings like St Gerards Monastery above Oriental Bay.”

Morrison said simply putting a coloured sticker on an old building and hoping something would turn up that would save them all, was grossly unrealistic.

“The reality of doing nothing will be empty, boarded-up buildings that will blight key sites in the CBD. They will moulder away as eyesores until the next half-decent shake brings them crashing down, potentially killing or injuring people walking past.”

The Mayoral candidate said the concept may need a legislative change and he would be opening up relationships with the Prime Minister John Key and his senior Ministers if elected into office. He has already made contact with executive staff in Gerry Browlie and Chris Finlayson offices with positive responses around his ideas for saving heritage buildings.

Morrison said he had been approached by property owners and business interests to lead the campaign to save our heritage buildings.

On top of Morrison’s list after strengthening Cuba Street is the recently red-stickered Public Trust Building on the corner of Lambton Quay and Stout Street.

The proposed funding mechanisms will have low impact on rates

Morrison says there are a range of different financial tools that were under discussion and could be applied exclusively to save and strengthen Wellington’s heritage buildings.

The key element is that they don’t increase the city’s debt and have negligible impact on the city’s rates.

Wellington City Council, with its large asset base and strong balance sheet could offer a loan or guarantee special bonds to be used exclusively for the cost of strengthening heritage buildings. The loans or bonds will be attached to the title and become a rating liability that will guarantee the repayments.

“I quite like the idea of the heritage bonds. They would be low risk-low return and guarantee a modest income above the banks,” Morrison said. “But they would enable Wellingtonians to leave their mark on a favourite building for future generations to enjoy and occupy.”

Morrison said the loan or bond would be attached to the rates and would be repaid over 30 years. Monthly payments may need to be pegged to the CPI. It is estimated the cost to the ratepayers would be 0.2 percent ($2000 for every $1 million borrowed) to cover administration.

The loan might be considered an impediment over the first few years, but over the extended life of the building, it would become a small proportion of the building’s net income and consequent value.

The model would be made available for both commercial and residential buildings. For residential buildings the rental income may not be an issue, but the ability to resell will be immediately improved and the value at resale should be enhanced after a few years.

The advantages of strengthening include:
Enable buildings below 33% of the seismic code to be occupied
Reduce insurance costs
Change the public perception of a building’s safety
Potentially attract higher rentals when the building is above 67% of the seismic code

Another financial option being worked on by Morrison and his advisors are transferable development rights. These were widely used during the pre-1987 construction boom, and are another mechanism that could be directly linked to saving and preserving historic structures that are not economically or commercially viable.

“It’s no good sitting and hoping the Government will come to our rescue. They’ve got hundreds of earthquake prone heritage buildings all around the country to worry about. Let’s take control of our own destiny and solve the problem ourselves,” Morrison said.

For further information contact John Morrison Tel 027 289 5894.
Released by Iain Morrison from Morrison McDougall Public Relations Tel 021 688 668.

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