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Draft Levin Town Centre Plan and priority earthquake targets

Why the draft Levin Town Centre Plan relies on areas being identified as priority earthquake targets

Unlike Rangitīkei District Council that voted no to adopting earthquake priority areas Horowhenua District Council's Transforming Taitoko/Levin draft Town Centre Strategy depends on a yes vote.

Under the Building (Earthquakeprone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 council's must identify priority earthquake buildings by 1 Jan 2020 and owners must carry out seismic work within 7.5 years from the time the Earthquake Priority Building (EPB notice) has been issued by the council. Other building owners don't have to be identified until 1 July 2022 and have 15 year to make repairs in high risk seismic areas like Horowhenua.

But unlike comments made by Rangitikei councillors that small towns would be killed if priority areas were identified the draft Levin town centre strategy relies on priority areas and buildings being identified because owners of priority buildings only have half the time that other building owners have to bring their buildings up to standard.

In a report presented to council late last year on supporting the establishment of a property investment trust council’s economic development manager Shanon Grainger stated, “Meeting the requirements of the legislation and consequent obligations (public and private) arising from national Earthquake Prone Building policy. Varying actions or proposals are required over the next seven years, all of which involve potentially large sums of money and considerable economic opportunity.”

The property investment trust, which economic development board members are directors of, also intend to drive planning opportunities like “Levin/Taitoko’s spatial plan and housing redevelopment and housing redevelopment [and] shopping precincts”, said Mr Grainger in his report, including the new medical centre deal which saw the 100 year old formerly council owned Jack Allen House in Levin’s Central Business District demolished.

The property investment trust, named as the Horowhenua New Zealand Trust in the draft strategy, will, "Undertake commercial activities and development initiatives on behalf of the community. HDC expects to work collaboratively with landowners to assist them with addressing issues, such as earthquake-prone buildings or building upgrades, in return for owner investment in the strategy aims."

"If the majority of building owners opt to demolish earthquake-prone buildings on Oxford Street ‘between the lights’ they would (if not replaced) leave large holes in the main street which presents opportunities for change."

According to information guides by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), "It is important to ensure that as many iconic heritage buildings as possible are retained and the new legislation reflects a balanced approach by providing owners of key buildings with more time if they need it.”

Other options include applying for an exemption but the characteristics that a building or part must have to be eligible for an exemption are not prescribed which means there is a danger an eligibility criteria may be developed that favours plans council and the Horowhenua New Zealand Trust have for Levin.

Frequent references are made to identifying buildings as earthquake priority buildings including the use of, "transitional structures to ‘decant’ businesses vacating earthquake-prone buildings and retain activity and viability in the town centre", "Allow timely exit from under pressure businesses so they can relocate or their capital can be liquidated and reinvested in Levin", "The removal of certain buildings can enable new connections to be made that allow better east-west movement", "The removal of some earthquake prone buildings allows for new functions…to be created in an efficient fashion" and "Strategically located car parking that does not dominate the core and can be readily linked to some earthquake-prone building/land use opportunities."

Submissions on the Transforming Taitoko/Levin draft Levin Town Centre Plan close on May 25 at 4pm.


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