Historic Places Trust 'gutless' in face of Cera

The Historic Places Trust has been called "gutless" as Christchurch's dwindling heritage falls beneath the wrecking ball.

Christchurch Central Labour MP Brendon Burns has lashed out at the trust, which he says has been too quiet while dozens of quake-damaged heritage buildings are lost. "The Historic Places Trust has been woeful. It's a disgrace," he said.

But trust chief executive Bruce Chapman said the trust was heavily involved in retaining heritage buildings in Christchurch. It was also assisting building owners, Christchurch City Council and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera).

The trust has assessed 176 heritage buildings for Cera, in most cases arguing for the building to be retained rather than demolished, he said.

However, it was unclear how many of these recommendations had been heeded, with the trust losing much of its influence under emergency law changes introduced since the quake.

"There is no longer the presumption of protection left. It comes down to the wishes of the owner," he said.

The trust was "disappointed" with the loss of heritage, but did not have a view on whether it was happening too quickly, Chapman said.

More than 150 quake-damaged heritage buildings have been approved for total or partial demolition, with dozens already reduced to vacant lots. The fate of other badly damaged heritage buildings – such as Christ Church Cathedral – is yet to be determined.

The post-quake heritage group Iconic – of which Burns is a member – met Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee for the first time last week to discuss heritage preservation.

Burns said the results had not been encouraging. "He [Brownlee] said the Government would not intervene in any cases to uphold the need for heritage buildings."

Burns said the public should have a say in the demolition of heritage buildings, especially when public money had been used to preserve and strengthen some buildings that owners were now trying to pull down.

The council had paid $750,000 for the quake-strengthening of Warners Hotel in Cathedral Square, which Cera had now approved for demolition.

However, heritage building owners say they face an uphill battle to save anything, combating skyrocketing insurance costs, tougher building codes and lack of revenue while the buildings remain damaged.

Warners Hotel owner Gordon Chamberlain said the building had been deemed dangerous by three separate engineering reviews. It was not possible to bring it up to code. "The buildings that are coming down deserve to come down because they are a safety hazard," he said. "I'm a bit concerned that we have some Labour MP poking his nose into this."

KPI Rothschild director Dean Marshall said his company applied for a grant to help save one of their heritage buildings, but could not secure enough money to make preservation financially viable. The company had 16 central city buildings – almost all of them heritage – but 13 have already been demolished.

"There is not enough heritage funding out there and even if there was the insurance is too expensive."

The Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Building Trust Board has received about $4.5m in donations – including from the Historical Places Trust to save heritage buildings – and thus far made three grants totalling $450,000.

These include the Masonic Lodge in Lyttelton and the New City Hotel on Colombo St. DemolitionA2

The Press