Brownlee not out to bulldoze Christchurch

Gerry Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee has defended his commitment to heritage buildings in quake-devastated Christchurch, saying he has "no desire to bring out the bulldozers and take Christchurch to the ground".

But the Earthquake Recovery Minister this morning stood by comments over the weekend that the Government was taking the lead on the issue to "punch through the bureaucratic red tape".

"There are many heritage category buildings that were severely damaged and if I had my way they'd be down tomorrow, and I stick by that," he told Radio New Zealand.

"There is no desire to bring out the bulldozers and take Christchurch to the ground, but there is a huge desire to see the city open up as much as possible and unsafe buildings removed as quickly as possible."

Mr Brownlee has been criticised for trying to rush through the demolition of some of Christchurch's 1600 heritage buildings.

He said today that many had been severely damaged and were unlikely to be rebuilt, "and I think being realistic about that right up front is important".

"They are becoming community hazards and given the scale of this event I worry a great deal about public health and safety," he said.

"There is a need to move fairly quickly on these things."

Mr Brownlee defended his commitment to heritage in the city, saying he had been chairman of the trust that saved Riccarton House when it was being considered for demolition.

"I understand conservation architecture very well. I know that where you can successfully save a building for heritage purposes then it can be worthwhile, but I question whether 1600 buildings in Christchurch meet that criteria."

But he added that focusing on heritage buildings was "undue and unacceptable in the current circumstances".

"There are thousands of people, tens of thousands of people out in the suburbs who have got very, very disrupted lives, and I'm not interested in getting into some sort of an academic scrap with people over the quality of inner-city buildings when our main focus for quite a time is going to have to be return of infrastructure and the accommodation needs."

Mr Brownlee said Civil Defence would work together with the Christchurch City Council in an advisory role, but would exercise its emergency powers if a building was unsafe.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told Radio New Zealand the central business district had to be reinstated quickly, but "I wouldn't agree that all of those buildings would need to go tomorrow."

Prime Minister John Key today backed Mr Parker's position that a joint approach was needed to governance.

"It will be a partnership between the council and central government," he told TV One.

He said the Government was yet to decide on a structure for recovery governance but it was likely to be different from the Earthquake Recovery Commission set up after the September quake because the job was so much bigger.

"It's very much going to be hand in glove with Christchurch city."

Mr Key said Christchurch's chief executive would meet government officials on Friday to discuss a proposed new bureaucratic structure.

Labour leader Phil Goff said decisions needed to be made thoughtfully.

"We don't want to make politics out of this but I think Gerry acted prematurely, he overstated the case, he sounded like he was making arbitrary decisions, they were going to knock the whole lot over, they weren't going to talk to people there were no other considerations. That would be absolutely wrong," he told Radio New Zealand.


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