Jim Anderton: Does this look like a ruin to you?

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Former Christchurch MP Jim Anderton responds to Herald on Sunday columnist Paul Little on the future of ChristChurch Cathedral.
The Cathedral as it stands today, photo taken on June 7.
The Cathedral as it stands today, photo taken on June 7.

Herald on Sunday columnist Paul Little writes in his column on Sunday June 30, quite properly, about the catastrophic effect on the people of Christchurch of the two or three major earthquakes, not to mention the fourteen thousand aftershocks, that have shattered so many lives here over the last three years.

He then goes on to attack what he describes as 'appalling behaviour', including the fight to prevent the destruction of the Christchurch Cathedral, which he describes as 'severely damaged'. In support of his erroneous conclusion there is a photo of what looks like a complete ruin of the original Cathedral.

Read the previous column here: Paul Little: Failures of seismic proportions

Take a good look at the Cathedral as it still stands today, (taken from a helicopter on June 7, 2014), and ask yourself does this look like a ruin to you?

The picture of the 'ruin' that has been put on television and on the front page of the Christchurch Press on dozens if not hundreds of occasions is a totally false perspective of the damage that the Cathedral has suffered.

Some of the most experienced and knowledgeable seismic and structural engineers both in New Zealand and, internationally, agree that the Cathedral has not been terminally damaged and can be both made safe for repair and totally restored to the highest building code justifiably required for public buildings. No similar building in any other part of the world that I have experienced, would remotely be a candidate for demolition.

Mr. Little blames God for starting all this. Silly me, I thought it was an earthquake. He then goes on to criticise the 'acrimonious and expensive Court battles that show....a poor sense of priorities', because, 'this time and money could have been better spent .... supporting those in need of help and a home rather than fighting over this overrated monument to Anglo-centrism.'

This lack of support for battling to save historic buildings is perhaps understandable coming from a commentator from Auckland, a city which has destroyed more of its heritage than you can throw a stick at, (His Majesty's Theatre, the Victoria Arcade, Brown's Mill etc etc). And I can say that, as an Aucklander of forty-six years, who observed and tried to stop much of the destruction.

No public money has been spent on any of these cases before the Court in Christchurch, without which there would now be no Cathedral to try to save. The members of the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust are heavily involved in developing affordable social housing options through organisations such as Habitat for Humanity and the Christchurch City Council's new social housing initiatives. Generous philanthropists like Philip Burdon and his wife Ros, don't need any lectures from Auckland, or anywhere else, about their responsibilities to those in need in their own city.

And even if we had given to those in urgent need of housing, all of the donated funds we have received for challenging the leadership of the Anglican Church's obsession to demolish one of New Zealand's most important Category One Heritage Buildings, we would hardly have been able to purchase even one building section!

It is not, in any case, a matter of either saving heritage buildings or building houses for those in urgent need. They are not mutually exclusive and we need both. Not one cent of ratepayers' or tax payers' money will be required for this restoration. But a city without its historic buildings is a city without a memory, and Christchurch has never been such a city and I hope it never will.

Mr Little rightly notes that, ' In years to come, the response to the Canterbury earthquakes will loom large in any comprehensive history of bureaucratic folly and governmental intransigence', but high on the condemnation list will be the way in which we laid waste to hundreds of our most important heritage and historic buildings, when it was both unnecessary and a sheer act of vandalism to do so.

I know which side of that inevitable historical review I would like to be on.

Jim Anderton,
Co-Chair,
Great Christchurch Building Trust

- NZ Herald

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