Antique dealer slams Chch's heritage demolitions

By Paul Harper

A Christchurch antique restorer is concerned not enough effort is being made to preserve the city's Victorian gothic heritage. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A Christchurch antique restorer is concerned not enough effort is being made to preserve the city's Victorian gothic heritage. Photo / Mark Mitchell

While some believe demolition progress in the Christchurch CBD is going too slow, others argue it is moving too fast.

Christchurch antique restorer Ross Morrison is concerned not enough effort is being made by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority to preserve the city's Victorian gothic heritage.

He said the city's history was being "smashed and dumped".

"This is the only heritage we've got apart from our Maori culture. This is our European heritage from our early settlers and it is going to be all gone. It's happening right in front of our eyes."

Mr Morrison argued areas with heritage buildings, such as the High Street precinct,
should be fenced off and dealt with later, once aftershocks have decreased and plans are made to salvage the buildings.

"Nothing is going to happen on that part of town for years, because - even if they build new buildings - it is going to take five years and it could take five to 10 years if you save the old buildings and do the work anyway," he said.

"It's a known fact overseas that it is cheaper to restore buildings and retain them, than to build new."

Mr Morrison advocated the controlled dismantling of facades from damaged buildings and reattaching them to new structures in the future.

"Earthquake strengthening does cost money ... to rebuild is going to be expensive anyway, but if you can save a facade and put it a new building in behind - that would be the preferred option.

"To rebuild the city is going to take five to 20 years plus. It's a huge undertaking - it might take 50 years. In the whole scheme of things, where we are now is a short time."

Mr Morrison pointed to European cities which were able to retain much of their heritage despite taking a hammering during the Second World War.

"It is the same here. If they can rebuild here with materials that were in these buildings, then fine. At least that's be saving something. But at the moment it is just wanton waste."

Since taking over from the Civil Defence in May, CERA has approved the full demolition of 46 heritage buildings, and the partial demolition of seven heritage buildings. Prior to CERA taking control the Civil Defence approved the demolition of 93 heritage buildings and the partial demolition of 21 heritage buildings damaged in the February 22 quake.

Mr Morrison feared Christchurch will end up a "soulless city".

"Christchurch was renown for its Victorian gothic buildings and people came from overseas to see them, but they're not going to come anymore.

"If people think they are going to end up with a nice brand new city, I think they are fooled, because the developers and building owners don't have the money to rebuild.

"I understand the reasons behind wanting to get on with the city [but] when it is all gone, people are going to be absolutely shocked and appalled that this went on. I understand things have got to go, but we could save elements."

Mr Morrison was critical of efforts to reopen a section of the city - bounded by Hereford, Durham, Colombo, and Lichfield streets - in time for Cup and Show Week, saying heritage buildings that could have been saved have been "wantonly" pulled down.

"It's absolutely pathetic - it might not even happen. Who wants to go to a whole lot of containers on Cashel Street?" he asked. "There is heritage fabric that could have been saved, put aside, and used in future development."

Of particular concern to Mr Morrison is the former Smith & Smith building on the corner of Tuam and Poplar streets, with its large historic glass ceiling, built in 1902.

Although not on CERA's demolition lists, Mr Morrison had been told the building is to be demolished and the ceiling will not be salvaged.

However CERA said there is no work happening on this building "at this stage as the team are still reviewing what needs to be done". A partial demolition is likely with the top of the building removed, and it has been noted the "retrieval of heritage/character items where possible is a factor in any action on this building", meaning efforts will be made to save the ceiling.

CERA is yet to respond to the Herald regarding Mr Morrison's concerns about heritage demolition in general.

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