Cera must focus on safety not heritage

ROGER SUTTON
Last updated 10:08 17/07/2013
McLean’s Mansion
Stacy Squires

HERITAGE: McLean’s Mansion was badly damaged in the earthquakes.

Roger Sutton
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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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OPINION: The current debate about the historic McLeans Mansion is not the first, nor will it be the last, when it comes to the challenge of preserving our city's history. But the question of who pays to save historic buildings is not one for Cera.

There are private funding avenues, and the Government supports a building restoration fund that matches private contributions dollar for dollar, up to a maximum of $10 million.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act is not heritage focused and was never intended to be. It is safety focused with an overarching mandate to push the recovery forward and ensure that everyone affected by the earthquakes has an opportunity to move on. And to suggest this process is cavalier does a disservice to all those in need of a level of support that the usual processes cannot offer.

After two years without being able to find the financial means to repair the building, the owners of McLeans Mansion are in a precarious position. They have been unable to find a financially viable solution despite extensive efforts. So should they cling on for two more years, hoping for an outcome? Four more years? Six more? At what point will the owners be allowed to accept no financial solution is forthcoming?

Regardless, Cera's involvement comes from the primary perspective of safety. Our engineers have not only reviewed the owner's detailed engineering evaluation, but have also inspected the building. Their resulting assessment found that the earthquake damage is to the extent that the building may fail in a less than moderate earthquake. It is by definition dangerous and the appropriate legislation, a Section 38 notice, has been applied.

This is a wooden building and there is a perception that this makes safer. But the risk of collapse remains at a level high enough for this to be considered dangerous. Any building collapsing on any person who may be working inside is not a risk we are willing to take.

Cera continues to work with the building owner who must now present a detailed plan outlining the demolition methodology.

But this does not mean demolition is imminent. Should the owner be able to sell, or request more time, we will wait.

I appreciate the heritage community want to save this important historic building, but with the owner financially unable to do so, that demand of retention surely falls to that community to meet.

If our community cannot assist each other in tangible terms, the very least we can do is accept that everyone needs a shot at recovery.

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