Last year Green MPs had the pleasure of opening our new Christchurch office. We are delighted with the new premises. They’re spacious, warm, sunny and accessible – a stark contrast to the temporary offices we had following the Canterbury earthquakes.
It also came as a huge relief as my fellow MP Eugenie Sage, staff and I had spent more than 16 months searching for offices and visiting numerous premises available for lease only to find them unsuitable. The biggest stumbling block proved to be accessibility. We were astonished at how few offices were actually properly accessible when we checked them out.
Here are some examples we came across – all within the central city.
- A ground-floor office that could be made accessible very easily due to space and layout. The office was being renovated, so we proposed to the landlord that this include upgrading access, but this was rejected due to perceived cost and effort.
- A two-storey building with a lift and wheelchair-accessible bathroom which sounded great… but there was a catch. Inexplicably, the corridor leading to the bathroom was such that the door to the bathroom was inaccessible for those in a wheelchair, pretty much defeating the purpose and expense of installing a lift and accessible bathroom.
- A ground-floor in a building that had three offices with a dividing wall between them and each with their own back entrances. One office was accessible, with a newly built concrete ramp (but already leased); the other two were not accessible, but could very easily be made accessible with the addition of simple ramps. We offered to cover the cost of putting in a ramp (because we really wanted this office!). Initially, the landlord (a major property developer) agreed to, but then his company changed its mind, on the grounds that it would lose a carpark space that was being leased for $30 a week. As the building had recently undergone extensive earthquake strengthening, we consider that the failure to install simple ramps to each office entrance was possibly in breach of section 112 of the Building Code.
It’s clear from these and other examples that some developers are trying to do the right thing, but are getting poor advice on design and layout which undoes the expense and effort they have put in. It’s also equally clear that other developers are trying to use every trick in the book to wriggle out of meeting their responsibilities.
In my view, councils could do much more to provide better integrated advice – looking at the flow between each area and not at elements, such as lifts, in isolation. It also confirmed what I have been saying for a long time now – that the Building Act and Code need be strengthened to close as many loopholes as possible.