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Renovation trumps relocation as Nelson City Council opts to stay put

Nelson’s main council offices look set to be refurbished, at a cost of $16.5 million, after council voted for a plan to renovate, rather than move them elsewhere.

But some opponents warned renovating Civic House could end up costing more than relocation in the face of climate change, despite being cheaper in the short term.

Nelson City councillors voted 8-4 to develop a business case to renovate Civic House, in a public excluded section of a council meeting last week, council revealed on Tuesday.

Councillors were asked to decide between three options; redeveloping the existing Civic House building on the corner of Trafalgar and Halifax streets, co-locating it along the Maitai River with the Elma Turner Library and any climatorium, or relocating it elsewhere within the CBD.

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The net cost of refurbishing Civic House was estimated to be $16.5m, compared to $32.7m to construct a new building, including the income derived from selling the existing building, a council media release said.

Nelson City Council has voted to develop a business case to renovate its council offices, rather than move them to an area next to the Maitai River (pictured).

Braden Fastier/Stuff

Nelson City Council has voted to develop a business case to renovate its council offices, rather than move them to an area next to the Maitai River (pictured).

Increased risk of flooding due to climate change was also considered, with specific flood modelling undertaken by the council showing the Civic House building could operate for the next 30 – 50 years using the current design, it said.

Additional protections could provide greater resilience for the building, such as raised floor levels.

But Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman member Jenny Easton said having to protect the building later, to last longer, could be costly in the long term, she said.

Climate change was “more likely to be worse, than better than what’s predicted”, Easton said.

“What they don’t seem to have factored in is the Zero Carbon Act, which has New Zealand carbon neutral in 30 years”, she said.

“In 30 years’ time, we won’t have a carbon budget to be able to rebuild to another place.”

Jenny Easton, of Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman, says Nelson City Council plans to refurbish its council offices rather than relocate them, isn’t the long term approach needed to tackle flood risks resulting from climate change.

Virginia Woolf/Nelson Mail

Jenny Easton, of Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman, says Nelson City Council plans to refurbish its council offices rather than relocate them, isn’t the long term approach needed to tackle flood risks resulting from climate change.

Councillor Rohan O’Neill-Stevens voted against the business case for the Civic House redevelopment, because councillors hadn’t seen coastal inundation modelling.

“We’ve been told it’s the most cost-effective [option], but we have also been told it’s $16 million to give it 30 years of life at the lower end [of estimates].

“I didn’t feel that enough consideration had been given to the long-term costings.”

Councillor Matt Lawrey also voted against the proposal, saying it was “a lost opportunity” to help transform the city.

Council should be looking at options to sell Civic House and using the money to build the council offices on another site, potentially on land council already owned, he said.

Civic House should be redeveloped into apartments which would both create jobs in a time when the economy needed stimulation, and bring more residents into the centre city, he suggested.

Deputy mayor Judene Edgar, who supported refurbishment, was uncomfortable with the message that sent.

The Maitai River runs next to the Elma Turner Library and it is a tidal part of the river.

Marion van Dijk/Stuff

The Maitai River runs next to the Elma Turner Library and it is a tidal part of the river.

“What signal are we sending to our community [if we leave]? ‘You stay, but we’re out of here … we don’t think it’s safe for here for us, but you can live here.'”

Edgar said the case for staying put was influenced by both financial and environmental reasons.

“According to the New Zealand Green Building Council, 50 per cent of the emissions of a building are in the construction.

“The flooding data we have, yes there’s issues coming, but they’re beyond that 50 [year] time-frame. What we don’t get to see yet is what will be the impact of our emissions reduction work?”

Councillor Gaile Noonan said the council could “wait forever” for more information, but it was time to “draw a line in the sand”.

“It’s a big decision to not use our existing assets. We should lead on [climate] mitigation. If we’re saying the public should reduce, reuse and recycle, we should start with ourselves.”

She said with the changing “work norms”, like working from home, it was very possible that when the renovation work reached the end of its lifetime in 30 to 50 years, the council may not need to invest so much in new renovation work.

Council was due to consider its options for the relocation/redevelopment of the Elma Turner Library, on September 24.

Both business cases would go to council for approval, before being opened to public consultation via the Long Term Plan.

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