Town hall not top priority - Dalziel

TIME STANDS STILL: The Christchurch Town Hall remains severely quake-damaged.
TIME STANDS STILL: The Christchurch Town Hall remains severely quake-damaged.

The $127.5 million restoration of the Christchurch Town Hall is not a top priority for the city council because of its limited finances, Mayor Lianne Dalziel says.

Dalziel told The Press yesterday she wanted the council to focus its limited funds on repairing or replacing damaged swimming pools, libraries and community facilities.

Sir Miles Warren, the architect behind the town hall, said if the complex was demolished, Christchurch would never have a venue "of that size or quality ever again".

Dalziel said the council had a responsibility to the wider community to make sure "community needs are being fulfilled".

"Swimming pools, libraries and community facilities are at the top of the list," she said.

In recent weeks the council has begun turning down plans for fixing or replacing quake-damaged community facilities, including the Bishopdale Library, pending a review of its spending priorities.

That review is needed because the council's facilities rebuild programme is facing a $121m funding shortfall, which could grow bigger depending on the outcome of the council's insurance claims.

Dalziel said yesterday the council could not keep allocating money to projects without an overview of what the priorities were across the whole community.

"All of these decisions have been made on a piecemeal, individual basis without any overview of what the [financial] capacity is and what the community priorities ought to be."

The council, with input from community boards, was working to establish what projects should be given priority.

"People need to get life back on track and there are areas where there are gaping holes and we have to make sure we have the resources to address those," Dalziel said. "We need to look at what can we get on with quickly that restores to the community that sense of normality."

Council facilities rebuild manager Darren Moses said at the end of the prioritisation exercise he hoped to have an idea of which projects would proceed.

Dalziel said the town hall would be looked at as part of the prioritisation exercise.

"There may be certain elements of it that can wait or maybe the whole of it can wait," said the mayor. It was at her instigation that the project was put on hold.

The council was supposed to have begun seeking expressions of interest from companies for the $127.5m restoration project two months ago but it has decided not to until it has greater certainty about its insurance position.

"It is extremely challenging not knowing what the outcome of our insurance will be," Dalziel said.

"It would be in the interests of the city to have a global settlement but that requires various parties to come together and agree. We'll continue to work towards that, but if that's not achievable we'll just have to continue as we have been doing on a case-by-case basis."

Warren was disappointed to learn of Dalziel's latest comments.

"Dear oh dear. The town hall, especially the main auditorium, is one of the most important buildings in New Zealand."

Warren said the restoration plans were well advanced and putting the project on hold now was a "considerable waste of effort and energy".

Restoration of the Limes Room could be delayed as a way of saving money, he said, but the current council should honour the unanimous decision to restore the complex made by the previous council.

"The town hall is a place where the city gathers . . . and the [planned] convention centre will not be able to replace it."

The Press