Rebuild of Christchurch Town Hall not assured

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012

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A multimillion-dollar plan to save Christchurch's Town Hall could yet be undone.

Christchurch City councillors voted unanimously yesterday to spend an estimated $127.5 million on repairing the town hall.

However, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told The Press after the meeting that further discussions were needed before any decision was made.

"My understanding was it was a very compromised building left in a pretty disastrous state and the preliminary information was that the ground [it] was sitting on was in a pretty bad state as well," Brownlee said.

"They might know more than we do. We'll have to talk to them over the next short while to see what their intentions are."

He said he was not ruling out the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority overriding the council's decision.

"It is inside the CBD perimeter and would therefore have to be part of the CBD plan. We'll just talk to them over the next short while to get a better understanding of why they've made such a big commitment to such a damaged building."

Brownlee also said he believed the councillors had made the decision without all the relevant geotechnical information.

"I have heard post-decision that they haven't got the geotech information just yet so if the decision is contingent on that, those sort of decisions have to be talked through."

The decision would also affect the future of the performing-arts hub outlined in the central city blueprint, he said.

Last night, after Brownlee's comment, Mayor Bob Parker told The Press the council's desire to see the Town Hall saved and the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) desire to see a new performing-arts precinct in the city were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

"This vote will inevitably create some challenges for us and for the CCDU around location of performing-arts facilities in the central city, but this building is too important for us to lose."

Parker said the council would happily provide Brownlee with any additional information on the Town Hall, but the council was firmly committed to keeping it.

"We have to accept, though, that the minister has the power to make that call."

Council staff had recommended saving only the main auditorium of the Town Hall. That idea was rejected late last month by the council's community recreation and culture committee, which voted unanimously to recommend the council save the entire complex. Yesterday, the full council agreed.

The estimated $127.5m repair cost will be spread over four years and will be offset by an insurance payout of about $69m.

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Addressing councillors ahead of the vote, Sir Miles Warren, who designed the Town Hall along with Maurice Mahoney, said it would cease to be "the pride and joy" of Christchurch if part of it were demolished.

Cr Yani Johanson urged councillors to give the community - and the Government - certainty over the future of the Town Hall, saying it was one of the most important decisions the council had been asked to make on a facility since the earthquakes.

"It is my strong belief that retaining the Town Hall to 100 per cent of new building standard is the right way to go," Johanson said.

- The Press

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