1 Apr 2015

Opposition fires up over historic square

6:06 am on 1 April 2015

Hundreds of Cantabrians have voiced their opposition to a proposed revamp of Christchurch's Victoria Square at a public meeting.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) announced plans for a multi-million-dollar revamp of the central city square involving an overhaul of the layout, removal of trees and the relocation of historic statues.

But after a blacklash from some city councillors, heritage advocates and the public the Government announced it would shelve its plans and consult with the public.

More than 300 people attended the No Need For Change meeting at Knox Church last night, and demanded to know why the Government decided that the square, largely untouched in the Canterbury earthquakes, required a $7 million redesign.

CERA development director of anchor projects Rob Kerr had the difficult job of fronting for the Government to talk about the public engagement process.

Some members of the audience shouting and heckled but others thanked him for being there.

Mr Kerr said the plan had clearly aroused strong feelings, which had sent a clear message to the Government. The public engagement would help narrow down what change, if any, people wanted, he said.

A former deputy mayor of Christchurch, Carole Evans, was sceptical about how genuine the engagement would be but said she hoped if enough people spoke their mind the Government would listen.

Historian Dr Geoffrey Rice, author of the 2014 book Victoria Square, The Cradle of Christchurch, described his reaction to the Government's redesign plan.

"My heart sank and I thought 'good grief', have we gone back into a Stalinist era where we need big square parade ground for military displays perhaps, with all those straight edges?

"I really didn't like the look of it at all," he said.

Dr Rice said Victoria Square was a peaceful haven in the central city and should not be made to look more formal, with straight paths and right angles.

"The 1980s design, I think works very well. It's satisfying to the eye, it reflects the curve of the river.

"In the words of various American pundits - I think several have claimed it - 'If it aint broke, don't fix it'."

Landscape architect Grant Edge was involved in the design of the square in the late 1980s.

He said he was encouraged that the Government had set aside its plans to allow for public opinion to be heard, but still did understand why a redesign needed to happen.

"They're calling it a blank canvas, open to further public consultation and ideas.

"This still doesn't indicate to me a recognition that this park is a special place of heritage value."

Mr Edge said the money could be better spent, and all that was required in the square was maintenance, tree pruning and earthquake repairs.

The public is able to have their say on the future of Victoria Square for the next six months, before CERA releases a final plan.

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