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Friday, March 11, 2011

Christchurch building owners fight for answers

Christchurch building owners fight for answers

Last updated 05:00 12/03/2011
Distraught business owners are locked in a battle for answers as they fight to save tens of thousands of dollars worth of stock and Christchurch's heritage from condemned buildings.

Owners of buildings in the red zone say pleas for information and assurances they will be able to save their livelihoods where possible have fallen on deaf ears.

Repeated Fairfax requests for answers from Civil Defence national and local representatives since Tuesday were deferred or referred to other agencies. At the time of going to print, no responses were provided.

To date, at least two buildings have been knocked down without owners being identified, with one of those the possible subject of legal action after officials denied consent had been granted.

Sydenham Heritage Trust spokesman Neil Roberts was still waiting for answers from Southern Demolition after the historic Sydenham Heritage Church was demolished last week.

Officials said no consent had been granted for the demolition, which was done without the knowledge of the building's owners.

While acknowledging officials were busy, Roberts said they had heard "a lot of hearsay" but had no official word.

"We've got nothing so far, it's a bit of a smokescreen there and our worry is that it will all get more and more forgotten and nobody will take responsibility for it ... we just want some answers."

They were concerned it could happen to somebody else.

"It's already happened to us. It's a real problem."

The trust was contemplating legal action if the paperwork was not presented to them.

Southern Demolition director Alan Edge has previously said the company had demolished the building "under strict instructions" from the council, but a Civil Defence spokeswoman said the council had not ordered the demolition.

It is understood some business owners have had confrontations with demolition companies who were attempting to knock down buildings before they had a chance to collect items from inside.

Owners were reluctant to talk, saying they did not want to draw further attention to themselves as they sought the right to stall the demolitions to allow them inside.

Brendan Ryan has been working with business owners to help them salvage what they could.

Ryan said owners were fighting to be able to allow their own engineers to inspect the buildings.

Official responses were inconsistent and not forthcoming, he said.

He had approached the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Te Papa with no result. Business owners had also failed to get answers from the Christchurch City Council and Civil Defence.

Some of the businesses he was working with, such as Portobello Antiques, held items which were "massively important" pieces of New Zealand's heritage and dealt with museums such as Te Papa.

Ryan said there did not seem to be a process around the demolitions, all of which must be approved by the National Civil Defence controller. "They're just trying to find out exactly what is happening.

"At the very worst if they said that your building is coming down and there's nothing you can do about it then you can prepare for it."

Some owners were still in shock. "The guys just have to battle on and on for their stuff."

Ryan said he had organised a temporary stall for Christchurch antique dealers in Auckland so they could resume earning if some of their goods were retrieved.

- The Press

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