Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
In the 2010s the New Zealand Historic Places Trust – Pouhere Taonga underwent a restructuring process aimed at further professionalising the organisation as the government’s advisor on historic heritage matters. The volunteer regional committee structure was disbanded and some affiliated to a new organisation called Historic Places Aotearoa. The change was aimed at relieving the inherent tension between the trust’s statutory and advocacy roles, where the trust’s ability to lobby for the retention of historic places had been restricted by its regulatory functions. Henceforth, Historic Places Aotearoa would focus on advocacy. Under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 the trust was renamed Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. The register was renamed the list. The act also introduced a National Historic Landmarks list in which New Zealand’s top historic places would be placed and accorded greater recognition and prominence.
The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act created a new category of wāhi tūpuna, 'places important to Māori for their ancestral significance and associated cultural and traditional values'. The Waitangi treaty grounds became the first wāhi tūpuna in November 2014.
The Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 changed the social, political and economic environment for historic places. Collapsing old masonry buildings killed 42 people in Christchurch and most such buildings still standing were deemed unsafe by authorities. Heritage advocates argued that many of these structures could be strengthened and made safe, but the government did not want to override private property rights to support this approach and favoured the construction of a brand new city. Arguably, it was a return to the progressive mentality, where new buildings signalled a city’s advance. This was supported by insurance industry policy, which made it near-impossible for property owners to re-insure earthquake-prone structures. Hundreds of historic buildings were therefore flattened, providing a largely clean slate for the city’s rebuilding. A few important historic buildings such as the Christchurch Arts Centre were saved as monuments to the city’s colonial past.
Who owns the cathedral?
The Anglican Christchurch Cathedral had long been the city’s symbol, but it was severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake. Church authorities thought it best to demolish the structure and build something new, but were forced to reconsider this position by those wanting the building restored. The ensuing debate raised the question as to whether such an iconic building belonged not only to its legal owner but the city as a whole.
How to ensure public safety while retaining the valued heritage of cities and towns has exercised the minds of decision-makers since the Canterbury earthquakes. Most communities support the strengthening of earthquake-prone historic buildings but not all have the resources to undertake such measures quickly. Compromises over timeframes to complete such works may be necessary if such structures are to remain standing.