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Don’t buy apartments in Wellington, councillor says in wake of heritage Toomath building blaze

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Individuals should not buy apartments in Wellington City due to rising costs for earthquake strengthening and insurance, a central Wellington city councillor says.

The comments come after a heritage building in the city was gutted by fire after more than 20 years of wrangling over the owner’s earthquake strengthening responsibilities.

Iona Pannett said the new government needed to review laws around earthquake strengthening which had been unworkable since they were put into place in 2016.

“We’ve known for a long time that this was a problem and the legislation that was passed in 2016 was never going to work,” Pannett said.

Iona Pannett has previously run for the Wellington City Council on support from the Greens.

Wellington city councillor Iona Pannett. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

“We need to look at what we can afford, focus on the public buildings because obviously we have to ensure public safety. But there needs to be a more detailed risk analysis when we’re talking about private buildings.

“The insurers are getting quite bullish, particularly with climate-related disasters so, even if the government does review, the insurers can say ‘well we’re still going to keep charging you or we won’t cover for you’ but this does mean that people who don’t cover for earthquake risk are breaking the law. It’s a very difficult situation.”

The late-Victorian era Toomath’s building on Ghuznee Street caught fire on Sunday afternoon.

No-one was injured in the blaze but the building was in such disrepair, it was too unstable to enter.

An Urban Search and Rescue team used a drone to see inside and found significant structural damage.

The building had been subject to quake-prone building notices for over 20 years and had stood empty since 2019.

Fire crews respond to a fire on Ghuznee Street, Wellington.

The blaze on Sunday. Photo: Supplied / Harry Meadows

Since then, the neglected property had been swamped by graffiti, vines and the detritus of squatters who came and went from the back of building which faced onto a Cuba Street car park.

Police said they wanted to talk to four young people – three boys and one girl, aged about 10-15 – who were seen entering the building prior to the fire.

Felix Wenzel of neighbouring store Capital Fishing said it was a shame the owners and council had not been able to come to an agreement and had let the site deteriorate.

“The council’s got to bend a little bit I think. It gets to a point where eventually it’s just going to get pulled down anyway because it’s so deteriorated. It’s just frustrating that there was no decisions being made,” Wenzel said.

In response to the fire, Wellington mayor Tory Whanau said the city council wanted to look at the way it managed heritage buildings.

Whanau said her priority was to rebuild and revitalise the city and she knew the public would like the heritage look to be retained where possible.

“There are a number of us on council who would like to look at the way we can manage heritage buildings. Whether we need to change legislation so we can work through difficult buildings with earthquake prone issues,” she said.

Tory Whanau

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau said the city council wanted to look at the way it managed heritage buildings. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The fire came less than a fortnight after the council announced a multi-million dollar blow-out in the cost of strengthening and redeveloping Wellington Town Hall.

The $182 million project, which was already subjected to a nearly $40m cost increase in 2022, would now cost an additional $70m-$147m to complete.

In April, the council unveiled plans for the $188m strengthening rebuild of Wellington Library – Te Matapihi ki te Ao Nui – which was due to reopen in 2026.

Pannett said the local or central government had to look at how much it could afford to support private owners who were required to strengthen buildings as a matter of public safety.

“There is a loan scheme in place but it is not enough to cover all the costs so there does need to be some grant funding given the benefits to public safety,” Pannett said.

Pannett said, in the current environment, renting long term just made better sense for inner city living.

“It’s better that they’re either maintained by the state or the city so we’ve got social housing, which we will need to strengthen too. Or you get institutional investors.

“People of course can choose to [buy] but I wouldn’t because of the cost,” she said.

 

VIA RNZ

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Police guarding scene after Massey house fire overnight

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Seven fire trucks were required to put out a blaze in an abandoned house in Massey overnight.

The fire on Don Buck Rd was first reported around 10pm, with multiple calls coming in from the public, said Fire and Emergency NZ northern shift manager Carren Larking.

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Mother of missing Marokopa children posts letter she says is from their fugitive dad

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The mother of the missing Marokopa children has published a letter which she says was written to her by the children’s fugitive father, Tom Phillips.

Police have been searching for Ember, eight, Maverick, nine, and Jayda, 10, since December 2021, when they were taken by Phillips to an unknown location – though police believe it was in Western Waikato within Marokopa or the surrounding areas.

Tom Phillips does not have legal custody of the children and there is a warrant out for his arrest.

A picture posted by Cat on social media which she says is the last birthday we got to celebrate with Jayda as a family.

A picture posted by Cat on social media which she says is “the last birthday we got to celebrate with Jayda as a family”. Photo: Supplied

Posting on Facebook, their mother, known as Cat, said she was “well aware of the hateful rumours being spread around” and asked that people knew her before judging her.

She said she was sharing the letter to show that all was not as it seemed and to assure people that the children would be coming home to a loving and stable family.

Cat said she along with their two sisters, grandparents, aunties and cousins would be waiting for them.

The handwritten letter – which is not dated or signed and which RNZ has not been able to verify – describes the writer’s love for Cat, apologises to her and says he has a good heart and means well.

“I know if I ever give up trying to make things right I will regret it forever,” the letter says.

“Im sorry for everything I have ever said or done to hurt you,” it says.

The letter goes on to say that “although I make multiple f*** ups I have a good heart and I mean well”.

“We have an awesome family and thats worth fighting for,” is the last line of the letter.

Cat said she had not spoken out earlier because she did not believe it would bring her children home, but the fact that police were now offering a substantial reward had given her the courage to break her silence.

On Tuesday Cat broke her silence to make a video appeal provided by police for people’s help in returning the children to her.

Police have offered an $80,000 reward for information that would help discover the whereabouts of three children and lead to their safe return.

RNZ has contacted the police to verify whether they knew about the letter and whether they can confirm it is from Tom Phillips.

 

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Nicola Willis challenged over climate change, cancer drugs

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Finance Minister Nicola Willis has revealed new details about the timeline for cancer drug funding, and faced a barrage of questions over climate under questioning from MPs.

Willis appeared before the Finance and Expenditure Committee on Wednesday as part of Parliament’s first Scrutiny Week, a new initiative which allows for extended questioning of ministers over the government’s spending.

She quickly came under fire from Labour’s Finance and Climate spokespeople Barbara Edmonds and Megan Woods, and the Greens’ co-leader and Finance spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick.

Cancer drugs

The election policy of funding 13 specific cancer drugs had been a glaring broken promise from this year’s Budget.

Willis told the committee MPs that as the Budget for this year was formulated, the cancer drugs policy “did require more work”, and she outlined how the government intended to pay for the drugs using money from next year’s Budget while still working to supply the promised drugs.

“It was not resolved in time for Budget 2024, so we agreed it would be a priority for funding set aside in Budget 2025,” she said. “So we are now working diligently on the policy delivery ahead of Budget 2025, with a view to making a decision on it shortly.”

However, she soon clarified that “we will be funding those drugs this year”, and the reason the policy was not funded in this year’s Budget was “we still had significant policy choices to make as we worked through the problem. And so it wasn’t appropriate to set aside a contingency until those fundamental policy decisions had been made”.

She later explained under questioning from Woods that people would be able to access at least some of the drugs before 2025.

“We will be making an announcement that will ensure that some of those medicines are funded this year,” she said.

Woods questioned if that would mean funding for the drugs this year, and Willis agreed.

Under questioning from Edmonds she said expressed confidence that the government would find the money, noting the government had already approved health funding from the 2025 and 2026 Budgets.

“As the member says, budgets are about priorities – and we are confident that, because this policy is a priority, we can and will fund it.”

She later told reporters at Parliament the word “some” was “just a use of a word, we will be funding the 13 medicines, we’ve made that commitment, we’ll be making announcements on it shortly”.

When pressed, however, she would not confirm whether that meant all 13 specific drugs listed in National’s policy would be funded and available before 2025.

“We’ll make a full announcement with the details of how drugs will be accessed and what dates in due course. I’m not making that announcement today.”

She also refused to shed light on how exactly the drugs would be funded.

Climate change

Swarbrick focused in on the Budget and its effect on climate change, asking how Williis could account for the $700m her Budget assumed would be coming from Emissions Trading Scheme revenue when today’s unit auction appeared likely to fail.

Swarbrick highlighted that at an expected $58 price point they would fall short of the $60 lower limit at which the units would be permitted to sell, and asked what would happen if the units failed to sell, but Willis said she was “not going to go into a hypothetical”.

“We have a requirement for approximately $2.9b in terms of your numbers stacking up here for revenue from the emissions trading scheme,” Swarbrick said, “but you’ve also have presented a Budget which cuts approximately $15m from market governance and integrity of the emissions trading scheme, so I’m wondering if you could help us reconcile those things”.

“It is very important … that I not in any way influence auction behaviour,” she said. “We want it to be a functional, effective, reliable market.”

When Swarbrick pushed her on why the funding had been cut from the efficacy and market governance, Willis said the government did not consider that funding necessary to improving the market’s operations, and rejected Swarbrick’s characterisation there was “next to no meaningful regulation of the ETS market, for example insider trading is technically legal”.

“We do not have concerns about the current way in which the ETS is regulated,” Willis said. She noted the government was yet to release the second Emissions Reduction Plan, due in December. That plan would set out how the government intends to achieve the emisssions reductions set out in the Emissions Budget, in line with international obligations.

“The government is doing its own work on the emissions reduction plan and we envisage the ETS will play a critical role,” Willis said. She also pointed to some initiatives the government had not scrapped in this year’s Budget including the rollout of electric vehicle chargers and the purchase of electric buses for local councils to buy.

Swarbrick earlier asked whether the decisions in this year’s Budget would increase or decrease emissions. Willis acknowledged climate impact policy assessments had showed they “won’t make a significant material difference to emission period 1. Over the second two emission periods, they will have an impact of potentially increasing emissions”.

However, she questioned whether those reports were “as good as they could be”, and pointed to the emissions impact report having included policies like more police on the roads, and upgrades to Defence Force equipment and infrastructure, as examples of where the reports were questionable.

“My point is it is not always appropriate to narrowly look at a policy based simply on its emission impact, because I don’t think there is a New Zealander who would say ‘I don’t want you hiring more police because it might add to emissions’.”

She later told reporters the assessment only looked at a subset of 40 initiatives.

Swarbrick also asked about the $3 billion to $24b the government is estimated to need to fork out in “offshore liability” – buying foreign climate credits to make up for the lack of domestic emissions reductions, and whether Willis had budgeted for those expected costs this year.

“No, I have not,” Willis said. “That has not been a priority in this Budget.”

VIA RNZ

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