21 May 2015

Demolition proposals spark heritage fears

7:41 am on 21 May 2015

Heritage advocates fear Government plans for dealing with buildings after natural disasters will result in historical landmarks being lost forever.

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith has announced proposals to make responding to a disaster more efficient and streamlined.

Christ Church Cathedral remains fenced off and its future is still uncertain more than four years on from the February 2011 earthquake.(photo May 2015)

The future of Christ Church Cathedral remains uncertain more than four years after being damaged in the February 2011 earthquake. Photo: RNZ / Georgina Stylianou

Dr Smith said the changes would greatly improve on the response that occured after the Christchurch earthquakes.

Under the proposals, Heritage New Zealand would not be consulted when it came to demolishing the country's most important heritage buildings, but its advice would be sought on buildings listed in district plans.

Historic Places Aotearoa president Anna Crighton said it was "extremely weird" that Heritage New Zealand would not be asked for advice on national historic landmarks and Category 1 buildings.

Heritage New Zealand oversees about 5700 historic sites of which fewer than 1000 are classed as Category 1.

Dr Crighton said failing to provide any protection for Category 2 buildings in post-emergency situations was a mistake.

Christchurch architectural historian Ian Lochhead said once buildings were damaged, demolishing them was seen by some as the best response to expedite recovery - but there were lessons to be learned from Christchurch.

"No matter how accelerated demolitions can be, it doesn't necessarily speed recovery because [in Christchurch we've] effectively completed demolitions and many of the key projects are on hold at the moment."

Dr Lochhead said the changes placed too much emphasis on the personal views of ministers in charge at the time and whether they held heritage values or not.

Wellington City Councillor Iona Pannett said decisions could not be rushed after disasters because once a building was demolished, there was no going back.

"There may be times when you just have to take action but as a general rule, that should only be done in exceptional cases," she said.

"Private property rights do need to be protected and also, in terms of heritage buildings, I would have strong concerns if there was any wholesale demolition of our precious history."

Ms Pannett said owners of old buildings should obtain engineering reports and strengthen their properties, because prevention is the best way of saving heritage buildings.

Submissions on the proposals close on 25 July.

The Millennium Hotel (left) and the half-demolished former BNZ House are in insurance and commercial limbo.

The Millennium Hotel (left) and the half-demolished former BNZ House are in insurance and commercial limbo. Photo: RNZ / Georgina Stylianou