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Heritage insurance concerns

MAJOR sites outside the city appear to have been pushed to the sidelines in the ongoing heritage debate.

A combination of insurance and heritage issues is posing a serious threat to the future of many of the State’s landmark buildings.

When buildings can’t be altered to accommodate a new use, their future is jeopardised, according to Subiaco architect Colin Moore.

“I believe that one of the best ways of conserving a building is to make sure it’s got a sound economic base,” Mr Moore said.

“If buildings lose their economic reason for being, very often they tend to disappear.

“If you give them a new lease of life as a useful part of the community they will go on.”

For some property owners that’s not an option due to the insurance costs for what are, in many cases, old buildings.

The Insurance Council of Australia has issued a statement warning that heritage listings can complicate the process of insuring a property.

The insurance issue relates in part to the age of many heritage-listed buildings and the type of materials used in construction.

“A lot of the buildings tend to be unique in some way,” Insurance Council of Australia group manager Daryl Cameron said.

“It can become very difficult for an insurer to reinstate [the building] and comply with their liability.”

A number of the features of older style buildings don’t comply with the current building codes insurance companies require to issue cover, he said.

That often made securing cover difficult, but there would be few situations where insurance could not be obtained, albeit at a cost.

“We find very few situations where we can’t help people, but obviously it comes at a premium,” Mr Cameron said.

“However if the listing requires it to be re-instated it becomes very difficult to insure.

“With the big old hotels it’s a really big problem, and not just because of the listing, but because of the age of the buildings.

“And it’s very expensive for insurance.”

In the past a number of these buildings have sat derelict, not just because of the cost of structural insurance, but also the burden of public liability insurance.

If a heritage listing prevents alternations being made to the building the property owner can end up in a commercially difficult situation. There are a number of local insurance companies that provide insurance for listed properties in WA, including SGIO.

A spokesperson for SGIO said the group provided insurance for both listed homes and commercial properties, dependent on standard terms and conditions.

“It’s important to understand that you [the property owner] decide the replacement value of a home,” the spokesperson said.

“So the onus is on the person [the owner] to provide the assessment.

“Our relationship with clients is that we are asking them to tell us what they’d like us to insure the property for.”

The Heritage Council’s policy is that any repairs or alternations should aim to preserve the cultural significance of the building.

However, in cases of complete destruction, reconstruction is neither required nor necessarily favoured and reinstatement in accordance with the insurance policy is acceptable.

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