Press gallery evacuated

Stuff reports:

Political reporters from some of the country’s biggest media organisations, including Fairfax Media, are moving out of the Parliamentary because of safety concerns following the November earthquakes.

Fairfax political reporters were told by their managers on Thursday to vacate the press gallery building behind , which has been yellow stickered as an earthquake prone building since 2014.

Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand staff have also been told by their managers to leave.

Fairfax Media executive editor Sinead Boucher said numerous factors underpinned the decision to remove reporting staff from the parliamentary press gallery annex.

Fairfax has five reporting staff based in the Parliamentary press gallery.

There had been engineer’s reports since the major quake on November 14, which indicated the building had suffered no major damage and was safe to occupy.

However, the same building had been under a yellow sticker since 2014 and as recently as Thursday there was confirmation that parts of the building met only 20 per cent of code.

“What is most concerning is that every day we are warned that there are strong prospects of new earthquakes – so there is no comfort in having staff remain in a quake-prone building,” Boucher said.

Civil Defence today warned that there will be further earthquakes – possibly as strong as last week’s 7.8 shake.

“We put our staff first – we need to move and we need Parliamentary Service to find us alternative accommodation,” Boucher said.

The gallery was once temporarily located in the basement of the Parliamentary Library. Maybe they can be shifted there again?

Parliamentary Service general manager David Stevenson said he respected the decision to vacate the press gallery and would work with media organisations to find alternative accommodation.

Speaking from Kaikoura, Prime Minister John Key confirmed Parliament is looking at a plan to construct a new building that would see the Press Gallery moved out of its earthquake prone offices. 

Parliament has been investigating options to revamp the entire parliamentary precinct.

But with Winston grand standing on the issue, it will never happen.

It emerged in September that Parliament was deliberating over three potential options.

One favoured by a number of MPs including Speaker David Carter, was to rehouse the offices of MPs and Ministers currently in 22-storey Bowen House on the corner of Bowen St and Lambton Quay, in a new purpose-built office block. 

The Bowen House lease expires at the end of 2018 and while a renewal is one of the options Carter said it was very expensive at an annual cost closer to $6m than $5m, and was leased from a foreign company.

A new building would be cheaper than paying rent for Bowen House, but again unless all parties in Parliament are behind the plan, the politics of it will turn toxic.

So if the press gallery end up somewhere near Siberia for an extended period of time, they’ll have Winston to blame!

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