Battle brewing over Christchurch Town Hall

UNANIMOUS: A key city council committee has voted to save the Christchurch Town Hall.
UNANIMOUS: A key city council committee has voted to save the Christchurch Town Hall.

The Christchurch Town Hall's main auditorium is the only part of the complex that city council staff are recommending for repair.

After detailed engineering advice, staff have concluded that only the auditorium is worth saving and are recommending the remainder of the complex should be demolished and a new public foyer, function space and ticketing area be built in their place.

They estimate the cost of repairing the auditorium and building the new facilities at between $70 million and $80m.

Cr Yani Johanson, who heads the community, recreation and culture committee, believes the entire town hall can be saved and is recommending the committee push for it to be repaired to 100 per cent of the new building standard.

His committee will consider his recommendation and the staff's recommendation when it meets next on October 30.

Keep Our Town Hall group member Ian Lochhead said this afternoon that it would be ''greatly to the detriment of the architectural integrity'' of the town hall if the James Hay Theatre was demolished.

He said the complex's functionality would also be comprised as many large events staged in the town hall, such as university graduations, required both the auditorium and the James Hay Theatre.

''The loss of the James Hay Theatre would be a really serious loss, both in terms of the total concept of the building and the way in which it is used,'' Lochhead said.

Heritage consultant Jenny May, who was asked by the council to comment on the plan to retain only the auditorium, said the town hall was Christchurch's most important secular landmark, and demolition of part of it would significantly diminish its ''sense of place".

Ian Bowman, of Heritage Management Services, who was asked to peer-review May's report, said only in ''the extreme case, as a last resort, and where there were severely limited funds, could the retention only of the auditorium be considered''.

''Removal of all but the main auditorium will lose a substantial section of the building,'' he said.

''It would no longer occupy its corner site, the view and appreciation of the building from Victoria St would be altered considerably and the stepped terraces and fountains would be gone.

"Removal of all these elements would significantly diminish its landmark status, its contribution to the Kilmore and Colombo streetscapes and to the landscape qualities of the Avon and Victoria Park.'' 

Architectural firm Warren and Mahoney, which was engaged by the council to produce an indicative design of  how the town hall could function with the main auditorium alone, said it could still have a ''strong architectural and urban presence''.

The Press