Heritage buildings could be demolished in weeks

9:34 pm on 6 October 2010

Christchurch City Council has voted to seek special warrants to fast-track the demolition of two heritage buildings damaged in a devastating earthquake, including New Zealand's first high-rise building.

The council held a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss the fate of six heritage buildings seriously damaged in the 7.1 magnitude quake on 4 September.

After inspection, engineers recommended that Manchester Courts in Manchester Street and a commercial block in Colombo Street should be knocked down.

Manchester Courts was designed by architects Alfred and Sidney Luttrell and built in 1905. At seven storeys, it was the country's first high-rise building.

The council is issuing a warrant under Section 129 of the Building Act to allow for the demolition of Manchester Courts and the Colombo Street building, saying they present an immediate danger.

Under the usual consents process it would have taken up to 18 months to get approval, but the demolition are now likely to happen within weeks. The four other properties inspected will have to go through the normal consent process.

The owner of Manchester Courts says his business would have been crippled if he had been forced to wait 18 months.

Richard Peeble says he hopes the demolition will start in about a week and is looking at building a two-storey commercial structure on the site.

Mayor defends decision

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker on Wednesday defended the decision to demolish Manchester Courts, telling Checkpoint it will help nearby businesses which have been unable to operate since the quake.

"The council inspectors went into the building and they refused to stay in the building. What they saw alarmed them and they felt it represented a clear and present danger to everybody."

However, the chair of the city's Civic Trust says knocking down the building is short-sighted and it holds too much historic value.

Neil Roberts told Checkpoint the building is not as unsafe as the council is making out and decision to knock it down has been based on insufficient reports.

Mr Roberts says the architects would have built Manchester Courts with a steel core following a 6.9 quake in Cheviot in 1901.

"We cannot believe that the Luttrell brothers would have constructed a seven-storey building four years later and not have put into it several considerations for strengthening."

However Mr Parker says engineers drilled into the building and found no significant steel above the ground floor.