Brownlee 'rides roughshod' over city heritage

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012

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Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is refusing to place a moratorium on the demolition of Christchurch's quake-damaged heritage buildings.

Christchurch City Council wrote to the minister in October asking for a moratorium because it was concerned at the rapid rate heritage buildings were being pulled down.

As of the middle of this year, about half of the 308 listed heritage buildings in central Christchurch had been demolished.

The council wanted a moratorium on further demolitions until the Culture and Heritage Ministry had put its heritage buildings and cultural heritage places programme in place, but Brownlee has ruled that out.

The programme aims to strike a balance between saving heritage buildings and ensuring a speedy recovery.

In a letter to the council, Brownlee said it was not viable to halt demolition of unsafe buildings or delay recovery where it was clear that a building could not be retained.

Considerable time had elapsed since the September 2010 and February 2011 quakes, during which building owners, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and local authorities had had opportunities to explore retention options for individual buildings.

"I do not consider that a moratorium is either merited or in the best interests of recovery," Brownlee said.

The minister's response has disappointed heritage campaigners.

A longtime heritage campaigner and chairwoman of the Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Buildings Fund Trust, Anna Crighton, said a moratorium was desperately needed as too much of the city's heritage had been lost because decisions had been made in haste.

"It does not hurt to take a little time and check the boxes to make sure these buildings are truly dangerous before you decide to take them down," Crighton said. "Haste and speed are the biggest enemies of heritage retention,"

Brownlee's decision demonstrated he was to "ride roughshod" over Christchurch's heritage "without giving it the thought and dignity it deserves".

City councillor Yani Johanson, who chairs the council's community, recreation and culture committee, said the minister's response was very disappointing.

The moratorium was needed because the Government was taking too long to put in place a strategic framework for saving the city's built heritage.

In the absence of that framework, Cera was approving the demolition of heritage buildings based solely on building owners' individual circumstances.

The result was that many important buildings had been lost forever and others were under threat.

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Johanson said he had asked council staff to provide an update of what buildings had been lost and which were at risk of being demolished to the next meeting of his committee.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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