Chris Finlayson, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage (says a lot if he is the most cultured person the Nats could find!) has pledged that the government will put up to $10 Million up for heritage restoration in Christchurch. This money is on a matched basis, so for each dollar raised by private groups and owners in Christchurch, they will put a dollar in – up to a maximum value of $10 million. Therefore, the total value of the fund will be $20 million. This is the press release in full.

The Government will contribute up to $10 million in addition to local funding to assist with the repair, restoration and strengthening of heritage and character buildings in the Canterbury region, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson announced today.

“The heritage buildings throughout Canterbury are an important part of the region’s character and its history,” the Minister said. “The earthquake caused significant damage to many heritage and character buildings. The cost of their repair and restoration will be considerable, and it is appropriate that Government assists with local rebuilding and strengthening efforts to preserve this history.”

“The community places a high value on our heritage and character buildings,” Mr Finlayson said. “The government shares that view, and will be encouraging further donations by its provision of matching funding for regional heritage repairs dollar-for-dollar, up to a maximum of $10 million.”

Money for restoration = great. I can’t knock that. The questions I have are around how this is allocated:

Ministers and officials will work with the local councils on the best fund for the Government contribution to be made to. Decisions on allocating funding will be made by local representatives, with assistance from the Historic Places Trust.

Given what has happened with regards to democracy around here of late, we may not have much of a say in that. Everyone should join the Historic Places Trust now if they want a say! The bigger issue, however, is that of public money for private buildings. If $10 million is found – through charities and donations, and the government matches that – from the taxpayer – then we will have a pool of cash to go to these buildings. While we will get to see them restored, maintained and not knocked down, I would like to think that we would be able to get more than that. If the public are going to put up money to restore a building, then we should be entitled to have some sort of share.

To try and better explain my point, let’s take a (fictional) example. A developer named Rave Benderton owns a bunch of properties in Christchurch, some of which are old, some of which are heritage. You run into a little financial trouble, and don’t get around to doing the earthquake strengthening on some of your buildings. But you keep hold of them. Suddenly, there is an earthquake, and a heritage appeal, and the government and the community rally to raise money to save some of the cities best buildings. This is your chance, you think to yourself! All your christmases have come RIGHT NOW! So you apply for some money, and as the process isn’t carried out transparently and you happen to know the mayor from a cult you used to be in and the next thing you know – a big wod of money appears to help you fix your building! You do the building up, sell it on to a concerned theatre trust and spend the next year avoiding jail for tax evasion.

The moral of that story would be “don’t do anything to fix up your buildings – someone else will bail you out.” The moral of this story should be that concerned citizens, who love the heritage of Christchurch, will want to contribute to the restoration of these buildings, but only if it is going to be done in a fashion that is open, democratic, and ultimately, benefits the public, not just the private property owners.