Peninsula communities lose heart

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 08/01/2013
Gaiety Hall in Akaroa is no longer considered safe to occupy.
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ

SHUT FOR THE SUMMER: Gaiety Hall in Akaroa is no longer considered safe to occupy.

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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A conservative approach to building safety after the earthquakes has left many community facilities in the greater Christchurch area closed. Among those feeling their loss keenly are the small communities of Banks Peninsula. Some believe the closures are unnecessary and robbing the community of a way of life.

In summers past, the old community halls that dot Banks Peninsula buzzed with life. But this summer, most are empty.

The Christchurch City Council has closed them because they have been assessed by its engineers as being less than 34 per cent of the new building standard (NBS) and are considered earthquake-prone.

For the communities that use the buildings, for everything from church fetes to dances, the closures have been devastating.

"For little rural communities, the community hall is the centre of their recreational activities," Akaroa Civic Trust chairman Steve Lowndes said yesterday.

"The closure of these halls has stopped socialising in its tracks. I'm not sure if the metropolitan councillors realise that if you live in Pigeon Bay and there is no hall, what that does to the community.

"They need to consider the effect of these closures on small communities who rely on them and don't have any alternative facilities."

Since the quakes, any council-owned building assessed as being less than 34 per cent of the NBS has been immediately closed to the public because of the potential risk to public safety, but late last year council staff recommended amending that policy.

They felt that some buildings that were less than 34 per cent of the code posed little risk of collapse and could be safely reopened, particularly as the level of seismic activity in the area was dropping.

Their recommendation was rejected by Mayor Bob Parker and most city councillors, who said they were unwilling to gamble with people's lives by reopening buildings they knew were significantly below the building code.

"We owe our residents a safe city. I need to know what I'm supporting is going to give people a safe city and I'm not over the line yet," Parker said at the time.

Port Hills Labour MP Ruth Dyson does not dispute that safety has to come first but questions why councillors did not take on board staff advice that some of the buildings closed on the peninsula could be safely reopened.

"I agree with safety being an important factor in regard to the opening of buildings. No-one wants lives put at risk, but the other factor in the equation is the wellbeing of our community," she said.

Council community, recreation and culture committee chairman Yani Johanson said he understood the frustration Banks Peninsula residents were feeling.

He supported reviewing the threshold at which buildings could be occupied, but the council had voted against it, so for now the focus was on repairing and upgrading the buildings as quickly as possible.

CLOSURES INCLUDE

- Okains Bay Community Centre.

- Duvauchelle Community Hall.

- Little Akaloa Community Hall and the Little Akaloa Clubrooms.

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- Gaiety Hall in Akaroa.

- Pigeon Bay Hall.

- The Press

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