Timeball Station to be demolished

Lyttelton's Timeball Station, photographed in December 2008.
Lyttelton's Timeball Station, photographed in December 2008.

The historic Timeball Station in Lyttelton will be dismantled.

The 1876 building was badly damaged in the September quake and sustained even more damage during last Tuesday's 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) chief executive Bruce Chapman said it was too hard to save the category one landmark.

The station, photographed on February 23, the day after the 6.3 magnitude quake.
The station, photographed on February 23, the day after the 6.3 magnitude quake.

"It is with enormous regret that we must take this step, but public safety is paramount,'' he said.

 "Our decision is based on specialist engineering information and guidance, as any decision about heritage buildings damaged in the quake should be.''

''The Timeball Station is too damaged and too dangerous for us to consider anything other than dismantling, but this work will pose problems.''

Chapman said the steep, secluded site will make it difficult to save the building.

"This is an extremely difficult site. The steep site means there's no way to drive on and the potential to position a crane, below or above it is very limited. We are constrained not only by issues of access, but also by the risk of injury to any personnel who will need to be involved with this work. We are not prepared to put anyone's life at risk.''

But he said there could be hope for rebuilding the tower.

"If we can find a way to dismantle the Timeball Station that allows us to retain as much of the building's materials as possible, we will do so. This site remains significant and we would hope that in future we can do justice to this important building,'' he said.

"NZHPT is looking at all possible options for the reconstruction of the tower.  But it may be some time for that decision to be made."

The decision has been met with sadness by local leaders.

Bank Peninsula councillor Claudia Reid said the station was Lyttelton's Christ Church Cathedral.

"The Timeball is every bit a landmark for this place and for its harbour and all who come here as Christ Church Cathedral is for Christchurch. That tells you something about how significant it is to us all,'' she said.

"The fact that the NZHPT want to find a way to dismantle it gives us some hope for some form of restoration or partial reconstruction or partial rebuild at some time in the future.''

Lyttelton-Mount Herbert Community board chairwoman Paula Smith said it would be a "big loss''.

"I think it is sad news, but most people in the community would be philosophical and we are all accepting that some of our category one structures are not going to survive this process,'' she said.

"It is a significant Lyttelton landmark visible from all around the harbour and it will be a big loss.''

The timeball station was one of five working timeball stations in the world.

The station was built in 1876 as a navigation aid for ships. A large ball dropped down a mast on top of the building at a given time so ships could ensure their clocks were running to time.

A property on Reserve Terrace was evacuated this week over fears high winds could topple the building.

Lyttelton chief fire officer Mark Buckley said the building was being monitored as it was in a "precarious position''.

"We are trying to get the right resources and specialists we need to do that [demolition] and it is taking a bit of time,'' he said.

"At the moment we are just monitoring it. It is a very precarious sort of position that it is in.''

The Press