Dr Anna Crighton

Dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to heritage preservation and governance

Whenever the fight gets too much, Christchurch heritage advocate Dr Anna Crighton looks to Europe.

After savouring protected and restored historic grand landmarks, she returns to the Garden City reinvigorated and ready to go again.

For Crighton, protecting New Zealand's heritage, including its old buildings, has become her focal point, and one which has made her a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to heritage preservation and governance.

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It's a proud moment for Christchurch-born Crighton, a former long-serving city councillor and Christchurch Heritage Charitable Trust chair.

When she became a councillor in 1996, heritage wasn't on the agenda.

A major step forward, she feels, was when Prime Minister Helen Clark took the Arts, Culture, and Heritage portfolio, followed by the new millennium when New Zealanders paused to think about their nation's history and heritage.

"Even now, the private property rights lobby is very strong and it's been a long hard struggle to put heritage protection and preservation into a situation where it's recognised as being significant," said Crighton, who was appointed a Companion of the Queen's Service Order in 2005 for services to arts, culture and heritage.

Heritage is about nostalgia, stories and memories unique to New Zealand and unable to be replicated, she says.

"They sustain the country's narrative and provide visual connections between us and our ancestors. They're about people, place and time."

The 2010-11 Canterbury earthquake sequence devastated many of Christchurch's historic buildings.

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Crighton is critical of what she calls a "scorched earth policy" by Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] where around half of the heritage and character buildings were wiped out.

"It was cruel because many didn't need demolition. And once they're gone, they're gone," Crighton says.

"People almost unknowingly know their cities through subconscious. When you take away a city's landmarks, you do feel lost."

She's been a vocal opponent of demolishing the city's two cathedrals — the Anglican Church's Gothic church in Cathedral Square and Catholic Church's Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, both badly damaged on February 22, 2011.

Crighton has vowed to continue to fight to save those old buildings.

"I probably will until my toes are turned up. There are always buildings to be saved."