Majestic Theatre decision 'not made lightly'

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 13:15 10/04/2014
Majestic Theatre
Fairfax NZ
NO REPRIEVE: Demolition of the Majestic Theatre is to go ahead.
Warwick Isaacs
UNABLE TO HALT DEMO: CCDU director Warwick Isaacs said he had not made the decision to demolish the theatre lightly or in haste.

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The man who ordered the demolition of the historic Majestic Theatre has defended his decision, saying restoration could have cost in excess of $18 million.

In a letter to the city council, Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) director Warwick Isaacs said he had not made the decision to demolish the theatre lightly or in haste. He went on to strongly reject the council's assertion the planned widening of Manchester St was the main driver for his decision.

"While I understand your position in relation to this building I would like to point out some relevant factors to my decision which your letter does not cover,'' Isaacs said.

"Firstly, your own engineering advice agrees that a reasonable portion of the building needs to be demolished due to earthquake damage. Following this, restoration of the building could cost in excess of $18 million which, despite your heritage team's best efforts over the last three years, had not been found prior to my decision-making.''

Isaacs said the CCDU had asked the heritage team to provide any further reports or advice on the building in February of this year but they had simply referred staff to a report they prepared in 2012. They had also advised they did not wish to seek the retrieval of any heritage items from the building.

"I am unable to halt the demolition as you have requested,'' said Isaacs, pointing out that contractors had begun work on demolishing the building on March 31.

Addressing the issue at today's council meeting Cr Yani Johanson questioned whether the council should now be looking at whether it could get a High Court injunction or seeking a judicial review of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's (Cera's) powers to order its demolition.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the internal advice she had received was that there was no grounds for a judicial review but she was happy to seek a further legal opinion. 

Councillors voted 11 to 3 to get urgent legal advice on whether there were grounds for the council to seek to halt the demolition of the Majestic, and on the validity of Cera's reliance on section 38 of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act to order the 1930s-era building's demolition.

"It is really important we look at what we can do in this regard - we have lost so many heritage buildings,'' Johanson said. "We have lost about 50 per cent of our listed heritage buildings within the central city.

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But Cr Jamie Gough said the council had to pick its battle and he was not convinced this was one it could win.

"Cera has made a call,'' Gough said. "I don't want to tie up ratepayer money and staff resources that are lost causes.

- The Press

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