A (small) spoonful of sugar

Maggie Barry, the Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage recently announced (Aug 2016) the government’s new Heritage Earthquake Upgrade Incentive Programme (EQUIP) fund, which is to fund seismic strengthening for heritage buildings to the tune of $12 million over the next four years.

She said at the launch ‘We don’t want to see valued buildings empty and deteriorating, or even demolished, because it isn’t economical to strengthen them. This new fund will support owners preserve our built heritage for future generations’.

It’s nice that she thinks they’re valuable, but $12 million spread over the next four years adds up to not a lot.

The contestable fund will be available for:

  • all privately-owned Category 1 Heritage New Zealand listed buildings across the country; and
  • Category 2 listed heritage buildings in areas of high [Gisborne, Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North, Wellington, Blenheim and Christchurch] to medium [Tauranga, Hamilton, Rotorua, Whanganui, Nelson, New Plymouth, Timaru and Invercargill] seismic risk.

Once you’ve factored in this list, this comes to perhaps 1,000 eligible buildings – the $12 million gets even more stretched.

In response, Heritage New Zealand has, of course, welcomed the scheme by pointing out the benefits of the preservation of heritage – tourism, social vibrancy and creating ‘unique selling points’ for communities, including in small towns.  And that is certainly one of the benefits of this scheme – it will be available in smaller towns where local authorities can’t afford heritage or EQ funding schemes.

As a heritage professional, I am completely on board with the ‘quality of life’ arguments. But has the Cabinet, when allocating the funding amount, considered that not only does heritage have these slightly fuzzy and hard-to-quantify-by-an-accountant benefits, but basic infrastructure protection benefits as well?  As we found in Christchurch, collapsed balconies kill people and collapsed buildings block roads or entire CBDs, sometimes for years.

Privately owned heritage buildings, particularly in small towns, house transport hubs, civil servants, council staff – all the things and people that our towns use to function, and line our roads.  To risk-proof our towns, big and small, with strong heritage buildings must surely be a good thing.

Factor in that owners will not only be paying for the price of strengthening, but also resource and building consent fees, consultants and earthquake engineers, and any number of other expenses, it remains to be seen how many heritage buildings $12 million will even have strengthened by the end of scheme.

Surely it is time to support heritage and heritage owners, and our basic infrastructure, with real money?

For more information on the scheme see: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/12-million-support-quake-prone-heritage

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