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Friday, March 4, 2011

Christchurch church torn down without consent

Christchurch church torn down without consent

Last updated 05:00 03/03/2011
The Sydenham Heritage Church, built in 1878, was demolished without the consent of the owners and Civil Defence.

A historic Christchurch church has been demolished without the consent of the owners or Civil Defence officials, in breach of emergency regulations.

News of the demolition follows Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's statement that the Government would push through the demolition of old buildings with "any damage at all".

The trust that owns the church said the demolition raised concerns over whether the city's historic buildings could be saved from the wrecker's ball.

Sydenham Heritage Trust deputy chairman Neil Roberts said the Sydenham Heritage Church, on the corner of Colombo and Brougham streets, was demolished by Southern Demolition last Thursday without the trust's consent.

The trust became aware of the demolition when the work set off an alarm in the building, Roberts said. "Nobody got in touch with us – not a word."

While the church had been significantly damaged by the earthquake, Roberts said it was not a risk to the public. "It was cordoned off, the street was shut down and there was no danger."

In 2001, the trust was given a $412,000 loan from the council to save the church, which was built in 1878.

Roberts said the trust had spent more than $500,000 on restoration and renovation work since.

He said a group of Lyttelton residents had held a "vigil" to save some buildings from demolition.

He believed some companies were too eager to knock down buildings that could be saved.

"They're seeing opportunities when they're coming along. It's business for them, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Demolition workers needed to observe "due process" and speak to building owners before knocking anything down, Roberts said.

A Civil Defence spokeswoman said the council had not ordered the demolition. She said all demolitions needed the approval of the Civil Defence national controller, but the controller's office had not been contacted about the demolition.

Southern Demolition director Alan Edge said the company had received an urgent call from city council engineers concerned about the safety of the building. He said the workers had demolished the building "under strict instructions" from the council. "We don't touch heritage buildings unless the paperwork's in place."

Roberts said the trust would make a complaint about the demolition company at an appropriate time.

The demolition comes after a Lyttelton man had his cafe knocked down without his knowledge last weekend. Lyttelton Lounge owner Tom Lewis did not have the chance to retrieve any items.

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