Heritage losing battle to bulldozers

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 02/08/2011
Guthrey Centre

The Guthrey Centre in 1989 received an award from the New Zealand Institute of Architecture.

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One of the first attempts to save Christchurch's earthquake-hit heritage buildings has failed, with advocates warning they are losing the battle against the bulldozers.

Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Building Trust Board chairwoman Anna Crighton said its first grant to save a heritage building had been withdrawn after the owner decided it was too expensive.

"It is not a battle we are winning. Everything is against us; against any sort of heritage retention,'' she said.

Grants of about $500,000 would have helped prop up the Guthrey Centre in the City Mall, removing the top storey but repairing the ground floor, but owner Peter Guthrey said the cost had not stacked up, despite months trying to save the building and the extra money from the trust.

"We were really keen to keep it, so it is quite sad for us to let it go,'' he said.

The Guthrey Centre was a 130-year-old category 1 heritage building first owned by Christchurch's second mayor, John Anderson. Demolition work will start today.

Crighton said  the trust was still considering applications from other owners, but many were struggling to save buildings that were cheaper and faster to demolish. ''It is quite disheartening.''

The latest figures show the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) has approved the demolition of 152 heritage buildings and the partial demolition of another 34. These included The Press building in Cathedral Square, St Luke's Church in Manchester St and the  Harbourlight in Lyttelton.

Only 45 have been approved for make-safe work.

Christchurch Central Labour MP Brendon Burns heads the post-quake heritage group IConIC, which in May published a list of 40 heritage buildings it believed should be saved.

Less than three months later, Burns said, only 15 of those building were still standing.

"The march of the bulldozers is winning the battle,'' he said.

Many building owners were caught between saving heritage and needing to restore income quickly by replacing the building, he said.

Without Government intervention in the next month there would be no significant heritage buildings left in Christchurch, Burns said.

"Our city is facing a loss that will be lamented for generations,'' he said.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said that while some people would always argue a building could be saved, safety came first.

"My strong recommendation is that people stop thinking about yesterday and start thinking about tomorrow,'' he said.

Cera demolition manager Warwick Isaacs said safety came first, but the authority tried to help building owners if they wanted to save heritage elements of quake-hit buildings.

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