Revoke demolition power, Labour says

TIM FULTON
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014
Christ Church Cathedral
DEAN KOZANIC/FAIRFAX NZ
IN LIMBO: Christ Church Cathedral owners the Church Property Trustees are seeking to have a Court of Appeal ruling preventing the demolition of the building discharged.
Jacinda Ardern
Olivia Hemus
JACINDA ARDERN: Wants public debate on the demolition of Christchurch Cathedral.

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"Extreme wartime powers" that allow the demolition of Christ Church Cathedral and other heritage buildings without public consultation need to be revoked, Labour says.

Section 38 of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act allows building owners to ask the Government for a demolition order without public consultation.

The provision was meant to protect the public from earthquake-damaged buildings but was no longer needed and could be open to abuse, Labour's arts, culture and heritage spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said.

"The fact that this power remains now is an abuse of power. It's fair and right that these powers be removed."

Removing Section 38 would make demolition of Christ Church Cathedral subject to public debate under the Resource Management Act and could have saved buildings like the Majestic Theatre, Ardern said.

"Basically we're saying that extraordinary power should not be arbitrarily used on something as iconic as the cathedral. It's time for that power to go."

There was originally a need for swift action on unsafe buildings under Section 38 powers, "but we are three years on now" and it was doubtful that buildings like the Majestic had to be removed under the law.

"Some would argue that it was removed for a transport plan, not for public safety, necessarily. We want to put an end to that kind of action."

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the Government was not anti-heritage.

"But in managing the recovery we're very mindful of ensuring people aren't injured or killed in dangerous buildings. Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] has done everything practical to see buildings retained but this was a big event and sadly many buildings could not be saved."

Ardern said Christchurch had moved beyond the Section 38 presumption "in favour of safety" to a point where remaining heritage buildings were considered safe and could be brought up to standard. The removal of Section 38 was "particularly pertinent to the Cathedral", she said.

Labour also wants to work with territorial authorities and heritage groups on a full audit of the status of heritage buildings in Christchurch and Canterbury.

An audit would create "a true picture of the remaining state of the buildings so that we're able to sit down and have a look at what can be preserved", she said.

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Ardern said about half of the central city's heritage-listed buildings had been lost as a result of the quakes, with only 165 of 309 heritage buildings remaining as at December last year.

She would not commit Labour to directly funding heritage protection, however.

"I think it was right for the [city] council to raise whether there are other mechanisms that can be looked at to incentivise, those that are in private ownership, to maintain a heritage building. But that's probably something that we need to have a bit more of a debate and discussion about."

- The Press

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