Heritage issues held up demolition, hearing told

5:44 pm on 1 February 2012

An insurance loss adjustor says the demolition of an earthquake-damaged building that later collapsed, killing 12 people, was held up by heritage issues.

The building was one of a row on Colombo Street that collapsed in the 22 February earthquake, killing eight people in a passing bus and four people on the footpath.

Loss adjustor Peter McLeod told the Canterbury Earthquake Royal Commission that shortly after the Boxing Day 2010 aftershock it became clear it would be too expensive to repair the building and, as a result, it should be demolished.

He said he belatedly discovered the building had a heritage covenant attached and work on its demolition then ground to a halt.

Mr McLeod said there seemed to be no way for speedy action to be taken by engineers when a heritage building was involved, and this needed to change.

Builder Matthew Bushnell told the hearing that, at a meeting with council staff, he was told a resource consent was needed to demolish the building and that could take up to six months to approve

Were heritage concerns given too much weight?

Earlier, questions were raised at the hearing over whether there was more concern to protect a heritage church than the men working inside it.

Three men removing an organ from the Methodist Church in Durham St in central Christchurch were killed when the building collapsed in the February quake.

John Hargraves from the South Island Organ Company says he learnt for the first time at the Commission that an engineer's report five days before the earthquake said it now looked unlikely the building could be saved.

He said he would not have sent his employees into the building if he had known that.

The 1864 stone building was cordoned off and closed after the first earthquake on 4 September.

A lawyer for the families of the organ workers asked Christchurch City Council why it had lots of requirements to ensure the organ and building were not damaged, yet none concerning the workers.

The council said, in this case, it was not its role to ensure there was an appropriate health and safety plan in place.