Bid to save historic house fails

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 27/07/2011
Colombo Street historic home

The 107-year-old Colombo Street home was damaged in the earthquakes.

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A legal bid to prevent the demolition of a historic Christchurch home has failed, despite concerns Cera did not try hard enough to save it.

On Wednesday, High Court judge Justice Whata dismissed an attempt to stop the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) from demolishing a 107-year-old earthquake-damaged home on Colombo St.

However, in his judgment, the judge said Cera should have made more effort to consider alternatives, and expressed concern about the short notice given.

"Given the invasive and drastic consequences of demolition, Cera should have, in its decision-making process, expressly considered alternative methods of dealing with the property," he said.

It is the first time Cera's quake recovery powers have been challenged in the courts, although it has faced criticism from several building owners over demolitions.

The judge said that while in this case the demolition was justified because of the risk to life, the courts should "not be shy" about scrutinising Cera-ordered demolitions.

David Hampton, who owns the house indirectly through a trust, sought a judicial review this month after Cera gave him four days' notice of the demolition. Hampton argued the house could potentially be repaired.

He said it had not suffered further damage in the June 13 quake, but was unable to provide engineering evidence to support this.

The judge said Cera had assessed the house seven times since March 8 and the authority said it was so unstable it could collapse in high winds or a minor aftershock.

While a Cera engineer had said the building could possibly be made safe, it could take three weeks, during which time there would be ongoing risk of a damaging aftershock.

"All of this does suggest that granting interim relief has an air of futility to it," the judge said.

Cera wasted no time after the High Court decision, demolishing the house the next day, last Thursday.

In a statement yesterday, Cera said it "welcomed the [court] decision and any assistance it provided to help further clarify the processes".

Yesterday, Hampton told The Press that while he accepted the judge's decision, he wished he had been given more time to gather his own expert engineering evidence.

"People with damaged buildings need to get another assessment or engineer's report after June 13," Hampton said.

"Forewarned is forearmed."

Hampton said it would have been cheaper to let the house be demolished but given its historic value, he felt obliged to try to save it.

"I felt I needed to challenge it because once it's gone, it's gone."

The category 2 heritage-listed timber Edwardian house was built in 1904.

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- The Press

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