Archives for category: heritage

As you may have seen, the council voted this afternoon 12-1 in support of the full restoration of the Town Hall. I think it it’s a marvellous decision, which makes cultural, historical, and financial sense. I was there for about an hour and a half, which included a presentation from 4 council staff to the council, and then a council debate. I think I saw 5 or 6 of the councillors speak before I left, and got the decision via twitter (though it was clear which direction the vote was heading).

The presentation from the council staff was comprehensive, and a number of the councillors said that they were swayed by it. I think that’s good – it is what the council staff are there to do. Essentially, it comes down to this slide, of which I have a very blurry picture of:

The costs to the council of the various options are outlined. As you can see, the most expensive option for the council is actually to knock down, and build new. The two partial options still cost more than half of the full resotration, but only provide the city with half of the facilities. Yet, if you have been following this story via the Press, which is the place where most people get their Christchurch news, you wouldn’t have seen that. I wrote about this on Monday, but I think it needs to be said again; their coverage has been very unbalanced, and I can only assume there was a deep lying resentment for the building. They implied that full restoration of the Town Hall was financially irresponsible, when in fact, the scenarios they endorsed were actually more irresponsible. I had a conversation with my grandmother on Tuesday night, in which she repeated the points made by the Press editorial. I took her through the numbers, after which she agreed that it did make sense. But so many more people will have just taken the paper’s word for it, and I think that is a real shame.

This isn’t just a one-man conspiracy theory; the Mayor herself made it clear that she was disappointed in the reporting of the numbers contained in the report. She said that there was a perception in the media that restoring the Town Hall was the most expensive option, when in fact it was the cheapest. This was the first time I’d been to see the council in action this term, and I was very impressed with the way that she ran things. She clearly understood the issues at hand, and asked a series of very detailed questions of the council staff who presented. She made a number of points which hadn’t made it into the wider public discussion about the building. She was keen to point out that the greenest building was one that was repaired, rather than one that was knocked down and sent to landfill – a sentiment I wish the government had embraced. She also questioned how the cost-sharing agreement had budgeted a figure of $150m to build a 1500 and a 600 seat auditorium, as well as a replacement for the Court Theatre and the Symphony Orchestra, when another report showed that it would cost $190m just to build a 1500 seat auditorium.

The speeches in the debate from the councillors which I saw were very good. Andrew Turner said this was a pivotal decision for the city – and I think he’s right. It’s the Council saying “hang on – this is our city, and we’ll make informed decisions about how to best administer it”. It was quite emotional hearing Jimmy Chen talk about his citizenship ceremony in the Town Hall in ’99, and also seeing his daughter perform there as part of a schools music competition.  Glenn Livingstone said that he’d had plenty of emails from people, all in support. But the only dissenting voice he’d seen was from someone who hadn’t actually read the report – a not-too-subtle dig at the recovery Minister. Jamie Gough said that his gut couldn’t let him vote for this, and he didn’t feel it in his “heart of hearts” – but maybe he should stop listening to those organs, and use his brain when making decisions.

Yesterday, we had some rare good news about a heritage building: an independent business case supported the Council’s plan to restore the Town Hall. The numbers add up – in fact, it’s the best value proposition. That didn’t stop the sad but predictable chorus of opposition. Gerry Brownlee doesn’t think it’s a goer – but admits that he hasn’t actually read the report.

“It does have a ring of ‘it is too good to be true’ about it,” said Brownlee, who acknowledged he had not read the Deloitte report.

So the man responsible for the destruction of Christchurch’s built heritage doesn’t think the restoration is a goer, and he is basing that decision on literally nothing, as he’s too lazy to read the report. Why is his uninformed opinion even being quoted then?

But Brownlee’s opinion is uninformed and easy to dismiss. More concerning is the undying resolve of the Press Editorial to have the Town Hall demolished. In this editorial, they again question the decision, and back it up with a series of factual inaccuracies and half-baked agendas. Firstly, they muddy the figures about how much money is or isn’t available.

Under its insurance policy, if the building is repaired the council could get a payout of up to $68.9 million. If the building is not repaired, the payout would only be the indemnity amount of just over $32 million … But something other than full restoration may be possible. Restoring the auditorium and the foyer alone would cost $91 million. Restoring and reconfiguring the James Hay as a venue for symphony orchestra performances and the like would cost $109 million.

So the total cost for repairing the complex is listed at $127m – and yet the Press is advocating for two options which would see only half the building repaired, but cost much more than half of the full complex? This is also seems to be based on the assumption that if you knock down half the building, you get half the insurance money. If we’re generous, and assume that demo’ing the Town Hall but leaving the James Hay, results in a payout halfway between the repair and indemnity values, that puts the insurance payment around $50m (I think this is on the high side, but let’s play along). The council would still have to find $60m to restore the James Hay. Compare that with the difference between the full restoration cost ($127m) and the payout ($69m) and you find a similar sized gap ($60m). So the city ends up demolishing half of it’s best building for no apparent financial reason. This isn’t how the Press sees it:

Both of these lower-cost options would leave more for whatever is left of the idea of the performing arts precinct.

This seems to be the main reason for all these financial gymnastics.

The original plans for the precinct have long since evaporated but the council is still publicly committed to spending $30.5 million there. That is clearly not enough for any theatre or venue of any distinction, and probably would not be enough to lure the Court Theatre back to the centre of town.

So is the main goal of this exercise to “lure the Court Theatre back to the centre of town”? What no-one has sufficiently explained to me about the “Performing Arts Precinct” is why the ratepayer should be stumping up cash – in part generated by knocking down civic buildings – to try and lure a privately-run company to move their business back into town. The Court Theatre and the Symphony Orchestra might be Good Things®, but they are private businesses. Private businesses, which in the case of the Court, are doing very well in their new locations. The people who write the editorials at the Press, as well as the people who lobby for the Court like Felicity Price, don’t seem to think there is anything out of the ordinary about this.

More than anything, this reflects an ambition for those in power to see a privatisation of public space and the advancement of select private interests. The civic functions of the Town Hall complex – which was, on the 22nd of February, hosting two giant PPTA meetings – can be pushed to one side as the Right aim to frame this as an argument about “poorly used performance space”. The social and cultural benefits of a public space are near impossible to monetise, and thus don’t factor into the calculations of a Minister who will dismiss reports without even reading them.

I can only hope that the Council stays strong, and continues with the full restoration of the Town Hall this Thursday. Despite the best attempts of the Minister and the Press to make this a live issue, their arguments don’t stack up. A full restoration makes financial sense, it makes architectural sense, it makes cultural sense. More than that, it makes sense symbolically, in both showing that the Council still has the power to control the direction of this city, and that in the face of so much needless destruction of our built heritage, Christchurch can pull together to restore one of our greatest buildings.

It depresses me to be writing this piece again. I thought we had put all of this to bed last year. Unfortunately, after the council suggested that the project was on hold, the opinion pages of the Press were once again filled will ill-informed pieces calling for the Town Hall to be pulled down. Then, some sanity. Former Arts Editor Chris Moore wrote this piece in last Friday’s art section, which summed up much of what I had been meaning to say.

There’s a widely held misbelief that the cost of retaining the town hall will prevent the construction of a series of glittering arts palaces custom-made for individual organisations. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch … The sense of entitlement accompanying proposals for the arts precinct is mind-boggling. Some individuals and groups should remember that tooth fairies do not exist.

Richard Dawkins fills the Town Hall for a lecture on evolution in 2010

Gerry’s opposition to the building is well known. We don’t know reasons for his stance; he may just hate brutalism, or internationally recognised architecture, or culture in general. The most likely reason is that he wants to knock down the Town Hall and take the insurance money, then spend it on the Performing Arts Precinct (PAP). Spending money on PAP gives him another opportunity to leave a lasting memory of his magnificence; the CCC voting to save the Town Hall means that he can’t.

The PAP is weirdly considered to be a replacement for the Town Hall; it’s not. The Town Hall does play host to a lot of arts and cultural events, such as the orchestra, choirs, theatre and the like. But it is much more than that. It was often used for conferences, with the air bridge that linked it to the Convention Centre. It hosted speaking events; I remember seeing Robert Fisk speak in the Limes Room as part of the Writer’s Festival a few years back. It had a multitude of rooms, of a variety of sizes, that could be used by a whole range of people for whatever they might think of doing. The PAP doesn’t do that.

What we’re seeing with the PAP is a bunch of very specialised cultural organisations within Christchurch seeing the dollar signs in Gerry’s eyes and putting their hand up for a bit of it. They think that if they play their part, and whinge about how awful the Town Hall was, then when the money starts flowing, it will come their way. It ain’t gonna work like that. There is a chance that if the CCC does knock down the Town Hall, they may just use the money to pay down debt. No one gets a building.

The bizarre thing about this saga is how it has been reduced to a few voices from the arts community siding with Gerry against the Council and heritage advocates. If Gerry does win, and the Town Hall is knocked down for the benefit of a handful of commercial arts organisations, what does the council do without a Town Hall? I mean, we, as a city, are still going to have a Town Hall, right? They will have to find the money somewhere to build a new one. And no, an auditorium in a convention centre run by a casino doesn’t count. We are on the verge of losing the icon of our city – the Cathedral – and the symbol of our civic and cultural lives. The people who came before us in Christchurch had the foresight to leave us with two fantastic buildings, and yet we are on the cusp of watching the last of our cultural history disappear because we left a philistine the keys to the bulldozer.

This is the CPIT War Memorial Hall at approximately 2:30pm yesterday.


July 9th, 2:30pm

July 9th, 2:30pm

And here it is again at 11am this morning:

July 10th, 11am

July 10th, 11am

This building was of no immediate risk. It had been there since the quakes, not causing any harm. There was no need for the Section 38 powers to be invoked to demolish it. It is well beyond the time for these powers to be used.  That the demolition was done overnight shows that the people responsible knew that this was something to be ashamed, hence doing their dirty work under the cover of darkness. It’s a disgrace.

Jim Anderton writes in the Herald in a very strong column about saving the Cathedral:

The picture of the ‘ruin’ that has been put on television and on the front page of the Christchurch Press on dozens if not hundreds of occasions is a totally false perspective of the damage that the Cathedral has suffered.

Some of the most experienced and knowledgeable seismic and structural engineers both in New Zealand and, internationally, agree that the Cathedral has not been terminally damaged and can be both made safe for repair and totally restored to the highest building code justifiably required for public buildings. No similar building in any other part of the world that I have experienced, would remotely be a candidate for demolition.


Jim Anderton with Anna Crighton at the Cathedral last week

Jim Anderton with Anna Crighton at the Cathedral last week


I recommend reading it yourself. Labour’s policy announced last week was not one taken lightly; we recognise the significance of the Cathedral and the ownership of the Anglican Church. All that we have said is that if it is to be demolished, then it should not be under the provisions of the Section 38 powers. These powers were given to the government so that they could demolish buildings for public safety without going through an RMA process. More than 3 and a half years later, it is clear that the building provides no immediate hazard to the public. If the Church wants to demolish it, then they should have to go through the process of having it removed from the register of historic buildings. To do this would require a process under the RMA, in which all sides could present their cases.

If the building is to come down, then so be it. But it should only be through a robust process, not the abuse of extraordinary powers.

(I stole the blog post title from this Decemberist song)



Here in Christchurch, we’ve grown used to the government exercising the extraordinary powers that they’ve had since the quake. While they were granted so that they could get the recovery moving, they seem to have been mainly used so that CERA and CCDU can knock down heritage buildings without going through an RMA process. The most recent case was the Majestic Theatre; the next looks to be the War Memorial Hall at CPIT. This was built in 1935 to honour the 71 students of the college who died in World War I.

Technical College _0001

The building was opened by the Govenor-General, Lord Galway, in 1935. Our current Governor-General has been exercising his extraordinary powers, on something that also has to do with heritage and World War I:

The governor-general has been forced to use his special powers to avoid the embarrassment of New Zealand’s Anzac Day centenary centrepiece not being completed on time … The lack of action eventually threatened the park’s completion to the point where the Queen’s representative, Sir Jerry Mateparae, last week had to rubber-stamp a resource consent to get the ball rolling again and save the Government’s blushes.

In Wellington, the Government is pulling out all the stops to ensure a WWI memorial is built in time for the 100th anniversary of ANZAC Day; in Christchurch, the same government is using Section 38 to ensure that a WWI memorial will no longer exist on the 25th of April, 2015. While the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage hasn’t shown much interest in preserving Christchurch’s buildings, as I’ve blogged about before, he does care about our military history. He’s issued three statements about Christchurch heritage – and 8 about the National War Memorial. As he is clearly concerned with honouring the people who served our country in war, here’s hoping that he steps in to preserve this memorial.

I am disappointed that CERA are invoking their war-time powers to demolish a building that is a reminder of the horrors of war. Labour believes that the time for using Section 38 powers to pull-down buildings is over, and would ensure that a building such as this would not be demolished without first going through a consultation process with the community.

This afternoon I had the privilege to visit the Arts Centre, along with Labour’s heritage Spokesperson Jacinda Ardern and Christchurch Central candidate Tony Milne. We were given a comprehensive look around, and it is amazing to see what they have been able to do.

20140703-151454-54894838.jpgThis is the roof of the old gym building, which used to house the Academy Cinema. This is going to be the new home of Free Theatre – and will be open really soon!

20140703-151502-54902760.jpgIn the space that most people will know as Annie’s Wine Bar, there is a store of all the bits and bobs that have been pulled out of the buildings, labelled, and ready to go back in. This is a library of doors.

20140703-151458-54898441.jpgThis is the view from the first floor balcony, looking into the North Quad. The Great Hall is behind the big crane, and Le Cafe is to the right of the shot.

20140703-151459-54899996.jpgI took this shot from the same place, and the light is very bad, but I loved the sight of the moss growing on the stone work! It is quite lush after 3 years.

20140703-151456-54896814.jpgHere is a concrete mixer, which has its own little shelter, made from the stalls which the Arts Centre Market used to use.

20140703-151504-54904357.jpgThis may not look like much, but it is the spot where I was sitting in Le Cafe at 12:51 on February the 22nd. Obviously, I hadn’t been back there since. It was very odd to be inside again.

We were brilliantly guided around the site by the CEO of the Arts Centre, Andre Lovatt. It really is a hive of activity, with around 100 people working on the site. Seeing all the buildings that have been the back drop to so many stages of my life was a real thrill. It was like an archeological dig site, with people painstakingly trying to put history back to the way it was pre-2011. It will be great to step back into these buildings, as they re-open phase by phase over the next few years.









I can’t remember exactly when I first went to Lancaster Park. I was probably 6 or 7. I remember it being a sunny afternoon, and being fascinated by the TVs that were suspended from the roof of the Canterbury Draught stand (as it was then known.) What an amazing place! It had sport and TVs hanging from the roof!

On another occasion, I remember the closing stages of a one day international, trying to work out how many sixes off no-balls New Zealand would need to win the game. My memories aren’t all cricket related; dad took me on the back of the Honda motorbike to see the Warriors in 1997. We stood in the south-east of the old embankment, not far from the giant inflatable Warrior – who had a patch over the badge on his jersey, as this was the middle of the ARL-Super League war. Dad also rode that bike to see U2 play their Zooropa tour in 1993.

When we were in high school, freed from the parental shackles but with nothing to do, we spent a lot of time at the ground. We went to screeds of Crusaders games, back when they were routinely awful. We’d make the most of the “Take a Kid To Footy” deal, by designating the tallest of our mates as “dad”, who paid $10 to get in, and then it was $5 for each additional “child”. Each of the “kids” would also get a pack of chips and a coke, so it was pretty cheap entertainment for a Friday night. In 1997 we were part of the sell-out crowd that watched as Canterbury beat Jonah Lomu’s Counties to take the NPC title for the first time since the early 80’s.

In the mid-late 90’s, there was a Chris Harris / Chris Cairns testimonial match. They were both still active players, but I think it was held as they had both played 10 seasons for Canterbury. I can’t confirm this at the moment, as “Chris Cairns Testimonial” has become difficult to google for some reason. Anyway, it wasn’t a particularly well attended match. Me and my yobbo mates were in the main stand, just square of mid-on. Rod Latham had come out to bat, and had put on a bit of weight. We shouted out the classic “who ate all the pies” at him. He pulled the next ball in our direction for four, turned and gave us all the fingers.

I was in Dunedin for the first half of the 00’s, so missed one of the most amazing achievements at what was then Jade Stadium. I remember being at a mate’s flat for the England-New Zealand test, watching nervously as Nathan Astle approached 100. Once he got the tonne, we went down to the park to kick a ball around. When we came back an hour later, we saw the score and thought something was wrong. 222? It didn’t make much sense.

Through the late half of the 00’s, the stadium seemed to be constantly undergoing some sort of refurbishment. First the embankment went, replaced by the Paul Kelly Stand. I took an American mate to a Crusaders game. It was against the Bulls. There weren’t many people, so we wandered around an found a seat on the top tier of the PK Stand. It turned out we were next to the Bulls fans, who shouted abuse in Afrikaans, to their players, to each other, and to us. They waved pre-Apartheid South African flags and sung the old national anthem. We moved at half time. The Crusaders won.

The Deans stand opened at the start of 2010. Despite it only being open for just over a year pre-quake, I still managed to catch a few good games. Sitting in the stands as Brendon McCullum scooped his way to the second ever T20 hundred. Kevin Locke scoring a hat-trick to beat the Roosters, including the match winner on the buzzer which saw him leave the ground in an ambulance. Local boy Ben Sigmund heading home a Marco Rojas corner for a 94th minute winner.

Of course, Lancaster Park wasn’t just the home of sporting memories. It also holds political ones. It was the venue for the first test of the Springbok tour in 1981, on August the 15th.

Our Prime Minister was a student at the University of Canterbury in 1981, but doesn’t seem to remember having a view on the tour. Brownlee would have been in Christchurch at the time too. One wonders whether their desire wipe the slate clean and build a new stadium is part of a wider plan of scrubbing out the inconvenient parts of Christchurch’s history. But the history of sport is about the actions on the field, and only incidentally about the built structures. It’s not about the Deans Stand, the Paul Kelly Stand, the Tui Stand or the Hadlee Stand: it’s about Lancaster Park. When clubs move grounds, they struggle to take the years of history with them – like Arsenal leaving Highbury for the Emirates, or Carisbrook being super-ceded by ForsythBarr. Better facilities, sure. But they’ve discarded multiple sporting life-times worth of built-up legend. To give up on all of that history, when something could easily, and probably more economically, salvaged from the site seems a particularly short-sighted move.


The thing is, this place is still standing. It’s not fallen down, it’s not in anyone’s way. The turf is stuffed. The stands have sunk. We don’t really know what the deal is with the insurance. I’m not convinced that the options for the ground have been exhausted yet. Late last year, Brownlee declared that he wanted Christchurch to be the sporting capital of New Zealand; if he’s true to that, then he should be doing everything he can to preserve the site of our city’s proud sporting heritage.






via Porcupine Farm


While the big news with regard to the rebuild has been the scaling back of the Arts Precinct, this is just one part of a wider narrative that sees the grand plan unravelling. Since I wrote my column in the Herald at the weekend, we’ve had the news that Antony Gough’s Terrace Project is taking a wee break, that the Arts Precinct is being scaled back, and that the CCDU is paring back it’s land acquisition. These stories illustrate the point that I made on Sunday; that the rebuild is happening outside of CERA’s control, and that the Blueprint hasn’t worked in the way it was meant to.

The Arts Precinct announcement has been a long time coming. The original plan depended on the Town Hall complex being knocked down, so that the money from it’s insurance payout could be use for this new precinct. Once the council had resolved to restore the Town Hall – which was in August of las year – the rest of the project was always going to have to be scaled back. It is just a shame that CERA’s thinking wasn’t made public earlier, as it could have helped inform the debate around the Majestic Theatre. A restored Majestic could have* brought a beautiful building with a strong cultural history back into the discussion about the wider arts community’s needs. Instead, the demolition proceeds regardless.

There was an interesting comment in the NBR piece on the precinct:

However, the arts precinct has other hurdles to surmount – the Court Theatre, Symphony Orchestra and the Music Centre are pivotal tenants and they have indicated they cannot afford high rentals required in new buildings.

I’m not sure where this leaves the project. If the three key tenants of the project have indicated that they can’t afford the rent for a new building, then what is the plan? If we (the council / the government / both) are going to have to subsidise the rent for these tenants, isn’t that a discussion we should be having? It may be that the arts fall victim to Brownlee’s land-grab, which has pushed the land prices in the central city to a point where they can’t afford to be based in it.

At this point – almost two years after the plan was released – I think it would be a good idea for the involved parties – particularly the CCDU and the cash-strapped Council – to have a bit of a stocktake of where the Blueprint has got us. Best-practice planning means that things aren’t set in stone; strong leadership means making the tough calls about changing direction, rather than just ploughing on regardless. It is not too late to reconsider some of the anchor projects in the plan.

*The Majestic could still be saved, if they ordered an immediate halt to the demo. But they won’t

Last week, Warwick Isaacs claimed that it would cost $18 million to fix the Majestic. He didn’t provide any breakdown of his estimates, and still won’t provide the engineering reports, but I guess he thinks we should just believe him. $18 million is a lot of money. It is an inflated figure, designed to silence the heritage campaigners trying to have the Majestic saved. We have no way of knowing how realistic a figure it is – but I thought a comparison to another heritage theatre restoration might give some context.

Theatre Royal restoration

This is the Theatre Royal on Gloucester St. A lovely building which will be an asset to the city when it is reopened later this year. The total cost of this restoration project is around $30 million. Warwick Isaacs wants us to believe that restoring the Majestic will cost almost 2/3rds of what the restoration of the Theatre Royal will cost. Look, I’m no structural engineer, but I find it hard to believe that it the two could even be in the same ball park. The Theatre Royal project is almost a complete rebuild, based around the original facade, with much of the detail salvaged to be added back later. The Majestic may be badly damaged (Isaacs still won’t release the engineers reports, so we can’t asses that ourselves) but it has a steel frame. And unlike the Theatre Royal when that project started, it still has four walls and a roof.

Theatre Royal facade