Town Hall call likely to proceed

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 11:00 28/11/2013

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The new-look Christchurch City Council is set to proceed with plans to restore the Christchurch Town Hall at a cost of $127.5 million.

Candidates-turned-councillors who argued that the vote in August, before the local body elections, should be deferred to this term's council told The Press that the decision should stand.

The council yesterday unveiled the repair strategy and new designs for the city's landmark performing arts facility, which was badly damaged in the February 2011 earthquake.

However, questions remain about the finer details of the restoration, including a business case for the revamped facility and the fate of the remaining arts precinct.

Cr Paul Lonsdale said in August, before he was elected, that the "emotional" decision to spend $127.5m repairing the town hall put the rest of the arts precinct "on the line".

About $30m would be left for the remaining precinct - on land purchased by the Government as part of the central city blueprint - to build a smaller auditorium and homes for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and Court Theatre.

Yesterday, Lonsdale backed the previous council's decision.

"Sometimes when you look at these issues from the outside looking in without knowing all the facts behind it, you can actually form an opinion that's not valid," he said.

Cr Ali Jones said previously the council had made a "heart over head" decision, which may have been more about point-scoring between the council and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera).

Criticising the decision or seeking a re-vote would not be helpful, she said yesterday.

Architects Warren & Mahoney had done an "amazing job" on the restoration plans, Jones said.

"I think there's a bigger issue here - that it's not only about the aesthetics.

"We do need to look at the bigger picture and hear more about the performing arts district as a whole."

Community arts groups needed clarity about what facilities would be available and when, "so they don't have to spend the next four years putting performances on in school halls".

"We need to make some good decisions and really ramp up the engagement with the groups who are going to use this and the surrounding area."

New councillor Raf Manji said he wanted the project managers to employ professional theatre consultants.

The James Hay Theatre's future use needed "thorough discussion" from the arts community, he said.

Cr Yani Johanson, chairman of the committee expected to oversee the project, said the council had twice voted in favour of restoration after "overwhelming" community support.

More consultation with arts groups would be needed, he said.

Council community services general manager Michael Aitken said a business case for the revamped town hall would be sought next year.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel, who was not at yesterday's event, said there were "gaps" in her knowledge because the new council had not been briefed on how the town hall restoration decision affected the future of the the wider precinct.

Property owners in the Armagh St/Oxford Tce block were still waiting for the Crown designation to be lifted, she said.

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A Cera spokeswoman said properties north of Armagh St were no longer being sought, but work to negotiate and buy land south of Armagh was continuing.

Agreements to sell had been reached for 61 per cent of the land area subject to Crown purchase.

- The Press

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