Media release: New approaches needed to protect heritage while reducing earthquake risk

19 May, 2016

Wellington (19 May 2016): Wellington’s historic buildings help make Wellington a wonderful city. But they also pose a deadly threat in case of  an earthquake.

A report released today by The New Zealand Initiative and Deloitte documents the dangers posed when policy does more to protect buildings than to protect lives.

Deadly Heritage argues that too few public resources are spread too thinly over too many heritage listed buildings – many of which are of only minor historic value.

Owners of earthquake-prone heritage buildings face high strengthening costs, but the broader public reaps both the safety benefits of reinforced facades and of improved streetscapes when buildings are strengthened.

Co-author Dr Eric Crampton, Head of Research with The New Zealand Initiative, says “The city could do a lot to ease the burden on the owners of heritage buildings. Simply identifying the buildings that are stuck in the process and providing a bit of engineering advice to those buildings owners could go a long way.”

The report recommends that Wellington City Council provides simple how-to guides, along with specialised engineering assistance, to help owners of heritage buildings undertake needed strengthening.

Listed buildings held under unit title by multiple owners of limited means are especially concerning. “Strengthening mandates, combined with complicated consenting processes for anything other than like-for-like replacement, wind up imposing a huge burden on people of often very limited financial resources. Repairs then are delayed, and the broader public bears the risk.”

The report also encourages Council to remove heritage listed status for earthquake-prone buildings of limited heritage value, and suggests that central government cap the proportion of buildings that may be listed.

Co-author Linda Meade, Partner at Deloitte, explains, “Listing too many buildings spreads Council’s limited resources too thinly. Increasing the Built Heritage Incentive Fund to $3 million over three years is a good start, but investigation and reporting costs alone easily exceed $60,000 per building. Would we not do better by putting more effort into protecting and preserving our real gems, and letting the owners of other buildings proceed with more cost-effective strengthening?”


Dr Eric Crampton and Linda Meade are available for comment.

To arrange an interview, please contact:

Simone Evans  
Communications Officer, The New Zealand Initiative  
Phone +64 4 494 9109  
Mobile +21 2937 250  


About The New Zealand Initiative  

The New Zealand Initiative is an evidence-based think tank and research institute, which is supported by a membership organisation that counts some of the country’s leading visionaries, business leaders and political thinkers among its ranks.    

Our members are committed to developing policies to make New Zealand a better country for all its citizens. We believe all New Zealanders deserve a world-class education system, affordable housing, a healthy environment, sound public finances and a stable currency.    

The New Zealand Initiative pursues this goal by participating in public life, and making a contribution to public discussions.  

For more information visit


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