Whose property is it?


The High Court has ruled against a property owner’s appeal for permission to demolish a building he owns:

The eight-storey Harcourts Building on Lambton Quay, which was built in 1928, has been declared earthquake prone and most of its major tenants have left.

Its owner, Mark Dunajtschik, says he cannot afford to strengthen the building, but after one consent hearing and three court cases he has been told he cannot demolish it. . . .

In seeking the right to demolish, Mr Dunajtschik argued earthquake strengthening would cost $12 million, which was not worth it for a building worth just $14.5 million.

However, the court ruled an earthquake-strengthened historic building would be worth $18 to 20 million, changing the economics completely.

Property magnate Sir Bob Jones, who gave evidence to the hearing, thinks the post-strengthing value of the Harcourts Building would be even greater, and accused Mr Dunajtschik of not understanding the market.

Mr Dunajtschik declined to respond to that.

The Environment Court ruling leaves everyone in limbo, saying only that the building cannot be demolished. It does nothing for a building owner who does not earn enough from it to pay for its upkeep.

The ruling also does little for public safety, since the building would not be legally required to be strengthened for at least another decade.

Nor does it do much for a nearby tower block housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which the Environment Court itself says could collide with the Harcourts Building during a major earthquake, and have its lift shaft wrecked.

The owners of Christchurch Cathedral have permission to demolish the building which suffered major earthquake damage but a community group is fighting to have it rebuilt.

A poll  found that 51 per cent of people want the cathedral restored, compared to 43 per cent who want it demolished and replaced with a new building.

About 77 per cent of those polled believe Christchurch people should have a say in the future of the cathedral, while 58 per cent feel a close tie to the building and would be sad to see it demolished. A majority of 68 per cent of those polled believe restoring the cathedral would be a morale boost for the city.

The poll found that 66 per cent of people believe it is possible to restore the cathedral.

More people – 66 per cent – want the cathedral to be restored if there would be no cost to the ratepayer and it would cost about the same as a new building.Thirty per cent would still be in favour of a new cathedral even if there was a cost to ratepayers. . .

The ratepayers don’t own the cathedral and the poll didn’t take into account the safety risks in rebuilding.

In both cases the property rights of the owners are being overlooked.

Whether or not the value of the Wellington building would be higher if it was strengthened, the decision on how and how much money the owner spends should be his unless those telling him he can’t demolish it are willing to contribute to the costs of strengthening it.

The cathedral owners have made the decision to build a new cathedral on the site of the old one on the grounds of safety and cost.

It is their building, their money and their risk and therefore their decision.

Property rights are an important plank of democracy which are eroded if other people can dictate what owners do without compensating them.

Heritage trumps safety


Quote of the day:

. . . Deaths in earthquakes are somewhat unavoidable. But deaths caused by regulatory structures that force that little value is placed on human life, or that prevent a building owner from tearing down a building very likely to kill a pile of people in a quake, are worse than tragic – they’re stupid. Offsetting Behaviour.

It’s in a post on heritage rules which make some buildings untouchable and how the burden of providing the heritage amenity falls on the owner of the building.

He has a better idea:

I’ve suggested an alternative structure where we run heritage protection as an on-budget Council expenditure. Have each Council decide how much money they’re willing to put into heritage preservation, perhaps have Central provide a matching grant, and open it up to further voluntary contributions from the public. Then, have the heritage boards decide how and where they want to spend the money – paying building owners for the amenities they provide. This would force some consideration of the cost of providing some heritage amenities and focus preservation efforts on where they’re most cost effective. . .

If the public values something private and takes away the rights of the owner, the public must be prepared to pay.

As it stands heritage is trumping both property rights and safety and this is what will happen.

The next step in the fracas that the future of the Harcourts building in Lambton Quay has become is likely to result in Wellington’s own version of the Marie Celeste, that abandoned ghost ship of the Atlantic.

After all the to-ings and fro-ings to get the only commercially viable option of demolition and rebuilding approved, the owner has pulled the plug and intends to cordon off and abandon the building for safety reasons because its heritage value is apparently unique but unaffordable to retain. . .

Buildings will be abandoned, become eyesores and still be dangerous.

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