Friday, October 5, 2012

Cranmer Courts: Another CERA Casualty?

For a few short weeks, it seemed the iconic EQ-damaged Cranmer Courts in Christchurch were to be saved.
An amazing 11th.hour rescue package came from an Oz-based international disaster insurance recovery firm: sadly, it was too good to be true. Risk Worldwide, after due diligence, decided it was 'a bridge too far'. So yesterday, the demolition of another irreplacable piece of Christchurch architecture, began. Rebecca Macfie wrote this in The Listener:
There was "....a sense of tired disbelief that no-one had been able to mount a successful defence for a building that has dominated its corner of the city and shaped the urban landscape for more than 13 decades – a building listed as Cat.1 on the Historic Places register, equal in importance to Parliament Buildings and the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Serious effort was made to save Cranmer Courts, but the odds were stacked against it. Yes, 10,000 earthquakes had left the building with extensive damage. But the owners had carefully and diligently boarded it up to protect it from the weather, and fenced it off...so that it posed no danger to passing cars and cyclists. Nevertheless, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority several months ago slapped on a Section 38 notice – make it safe, or demolish it – and the owners didn’t have the means to come up with a plan that would satisfy CERA. Section 38 notices suspend all the normal protections for listed heritage buildings – demolition can proceed without the requirement for resource consents or public consultation.
(When) an Australian buyer...wanted to save the historical fa├žade and redevelop the site...CERA agreed to put a hold on the demolition while the owners negotiated a deal. Mind you, it also charged them thousands of dollars a day for the cost of suspending the demolition contract.
But in the end the...key stumbling block was CERA’s Section 38 order, which hang like a sword of Damocles over any potential deal. The risk for the buyer was that he could buy the property, spend large sums coming up with a make-safe plan, and still not satisfy the all-powerful CERA.
CERA...is not entirely to blame – but nor did it help. Its powers are sweeping and, from the moment the Section 38 was issued, any opportunity for heritage advocates to be heard was lost. And, despite having duly drafted up a heritage recovery programme for the city, as an organisation it is – at best – agnostic about the city’s historic fabric.
According to heritage advocate Lorraine North, over 50% of Chch’s listed heritage buildings in the central city have already been demolished; in many cases the demolition has been facilitated by CERA's Section 38 notices. And it will keep on happening."
Food for thought...or has Gerry Brownlee already eaten all the pies?

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