Harcourts building here to stay

The Environment Court has stuck by its previous decision to refuse consent to demolish the heritage listed Harcourts Building on Wellington’s Lambton Quay.

Building owner Mark Dunajtschik had challenged the Environment Court’s decision in the High Court, which sent the issue back to the Environment Court to consider whether demolition was necessary due to the danger that the building poses to the public, and surrounding buildings. In a large earthquake, the Harcourts Building would likely threaten the neighbouring HSBC building (also owned by Mr Dunajtschik) and cut off escape routes for workers on that building’s upper floors.

The Harcourts Building was built in 1928, and has now been declared earthquake prone. Most of the tenants have left, and Mr Dunajtschik wishes to demolish the structure. He argued that strengthening would be uneconomic, as it would likely cost $12 million yet the entire building’s worth sits at just $14.5 million.

The Court however considered that strengthening would mitigate the danger to the public and surrounding buildings, and that the building’s worth would actually be much higher than the $14 million stated once strengthened. The Court could not compel Mr Dunajtschik to carry out the strengthening, but considered that he would have motivation and economic incentive to do so given that he also owned the threatened HSBC building.

This case highlights  the issues facing Wellington property owners in a post Christchurch environment. Earthquake strengthening is a big economic driver in Wellington, as owners of at risk buildings struggle to keep or obtain quality tenants – and as Mr Dunajtschik has learned, a costly strengthening exercise may be the only option where demolition would erase part of Wellington’s built heritage.

For further reading about the decision, see the following articles: Harcourts building must stay; Court blocks demolition plans; Saved again: Environment Court again rejects demolition of Harcourts Building

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