15 Oct 2015

'Can we save everything? Probably not.'

7:59 am on 15 October 2015

As Christchurch celebrates Heritage Week, local heritage advocates warn people shouldn't assume the city's remaining heritage buildings are safe from demolition.

Inside the former Trinity Church, which was built in 1875 and designed by architect Benjamin Montfort.

Inside the former Trinity Church, which is undergoing a $4 million restoration. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Over 130 heritage buildings in central Christchurch have been demolished in the five years since the earthquakes.

The former Trinity Church, built in 1875 and designed by Benjamin Montfort, is one of those still standing.

Heritage trust Christchurch Heritage Limited now owns the building and is undertaking a $4 million restoration.

The chair of the trust, Anna Crighton, said a lot of the building had been boxed up to offer workers protection, but the timber wooden roof, the mezzanine floor, and the original clock were all still intact.

She said the main restoration work would be around the stonework outside and the church's three rose windows.

The chair of the Christchurch Heritage Limited trust, Anna Crighton, outside of the Trinity Church which is undergoing a $4 million restoration.

Dr Crighton outside the Trinity Church, which was built in 1875 and designed by architect Benjamin Montfort. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Dr Crighton said, before the earthquakes, Christchurch had the best collection of all types of heritage buildings of anywhere in the country.

She said the earthquake legislation was abused by some owners, who used the disaster to knock down buildings which they no longer wanted.

"There's no reason for any more heritage anywhere in the city to be demolished," said Dr Crighton, "but it is still happening. Not because they are unsafe but because they are hindering development, and that is just way of out the frame."

Heritage advocate Ross Gray says the former Post Office in Christchurch's Cathedral Square is one of many building's whose future is uncertain.

Heritage advocate Ross Gray says the former Post Office in Christchurch's Cathedral Square is one of many building's whose future is uncertain. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

That view is backed by Ross Gray, who is the deputy chair of Historic Places Canterbury and is involved in a number of other heritage groups.

He said there was still a long list of significant buildings that were at risk.

"The Public Trust (Building), we don't know... the former Post Office, the Orion - lovely little functional art deco building, I think that is due for demolition. Still buildings like McLean's Mansion we are unsure of, Antonio Hall in Riccarton Road.

"Quite a few quite major buildings and I think it would be a great tragedy if at this stage they were to be demolished."

We can't save everything, council says

In the wake of the earthquakes, the Christchurch City Council introduced a Landmark Heritage Grant of up to $2.7 million per year, in addition to its existing heritage incentive grants from a fund of $763 000 a year.

Natural environment and heritage unit manager Helen Beaumont said the Landmark Heritage Grant was focused on the buildings which were important to the identity of the central city.

She said $1.7 million in a Landmark Heritage Grant went to the Christchurch Club, on Latimer Square.

"Otherwise that building, we would have lost it, it would have been demolished. Another was to Victoria Mansions up on Victoria Street, which is again a well-known landmark property, to do seismic strengthening on that."

She said the council has had to be pragmatic in the face of a major disaster, and could not dictate what private owners did with their buildings.

Ms Beaumont said the council has done what it can with the resources it has.

"That is both the human resources, so the people and the specialist knowledge that we have, and the financial resources.

"Can we save everything that deserves to be saved? Probably not, and that is very sad. Have we done everything that we humanly could? Yes, we have."

Ms Beaumont said the city's heritage was not just displayed in its buildings and, with that in mind, Heritage Week has put a special focus on stories of the city's people and how they came to live here.

This year, Heritage Week in Christchurch lasts from 9 to 26 October, with an extra 11 days added so Akaroa's French Festival could also be included.