Anger at decision to bulldoze mansion

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

A historic Christchurch mansion facing the wrecking ball is dangerous, authorities say.

Heritage advocates are angry that McLean's Mansion, a large wooden homestead in the central city between Manchester and Colombo streets, will be demolished.

Campaigner Ross Gray questioned why the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) had issued a section 38 [demolition] notice for the ''national treasure''.

INTERIOR: McLean’s Mansion is filled with beautiful timber features.
INTERIOR: McLean’s Mansion is filled with beautiful timber features.

A Cera spokeswoman said yesterday that peer-reviewed engineering reports confirmed the building was dangerous, but she could not discuss the report without the building owners' permission.

It is owned by brothers Andrew and Scott Murray, who run Academy New Zealand. The Murrays have not responded to repeated interview requests from The Press.

The house, built in 1900 for wealthy Scottish immigrant Allan McLean, is listed as a category 1 heritage building by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. It is set on two hectares, has 53 rooms and was believed at the time to be the largest wooden residence built in New Zealand.

Cera said on Friday that it was satisfied the owners had ''exhausted all avenues'' for funding the ''substantial'' repair costs for the building.

However, Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Buildings Fund chairwoman Anna Crighton said yesterday that her trust had not been asked for funding.

The trust has contributed several million dollars to heritage restoration projects since the earthquakes, including the Canterbury Club, Trinity Church and Ironside House.

Grants were given on a case-by-case basis, and McLean's Mansion was a ''significant'' heritage building.

''We haven't heard a thing, so all sources have not been exhausted,'' she said.

Total demolition should not be the first option despite any structural damage, Crighton said.

''If you've got a reluctant owner who does not wish to carry on, then it's very hard to save heritage,'' she said. 

''Our biggest enemy are owners who are reluctant to really push for and save the heritage that I see them as being caretakers of.''

Historic Places Trust  southern region general manager Rob Hall said the property's ''high heritage value'' had been conveyed to Cera.

''We explored options with the owners to repair and strengthen [the building], and with significant investment that could have been achieved,'' he said.

Gray, a Christchurch Civic Trust board member, said he had contacted three groups that might be interested in saving the property.

The Press