Christchurch‘s Antonio Hall had been ’left to rot', councillor says

Antonio Hall after the fire. - Photo: RNZ / Nicholas Pointon

A Christchurch City Councillor says the fire at a historic building was an accident waiting to happen.

Fifty firefighters battled a blaze, which is being treated as suspicious, at Antonio Hall in Riccarton, on Friday night.

About 50 houses were evacuated, as Fire and Emergency Services worked throughout the night to put out the flames.

The fire caused extensive damage to Antonio Hall, a former Catholic seminary and a category two heritage building in Riccarton.

The building was built between 1904 and 1909 for Thomas Kincaid, who ran a successful bacon factory.

Wellstar Co Limited bought the building in 1993 with plans to develop it into an accommodation facility.

Christchurch City councillor James Gough said the mansion had since been left to rot and Friday's fire was hardly surprising.

"Everyday the local community here is wondering is today the day this place burns down because it is such a hazard for the local community."

"It presents a whole host of opportunities for unsavoury people to light fires or start a P-lab."

Wayne Telfer, who lives next door to Antonio Hall on Riccarton Road, said the building had been a 'magnet' for trouble since the 2011 earthquake.

"You would hear people at night, probably drunk, with students because it is a student area and they all wanna have a look."

Mr Gough took aim at property owners, who he said were to blame for the fire.

He said developers landbanked properties and let them become neglected, which attracted unwanted behaviour.

"It's critical we get on top of this and put the pressure on these useless absentee owners that have been hugely disrespectful to our community and our rebuild and get them off their backsides and doing something positive with the sites."

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Photo: Supplied / Fire and Emergency

He called for the City Council to expand it's name and start a shame campaign of property owners who were slowing down the rebuild by sitting on underdeveloped property.

The report targeted 30 unoccupied, unsafe and deteriorating buildings called 'barrier sites' in the central city.

Mr Gough said the approach had been successful and thought it should be expanded to capture the suburbs.

It would allow council staff to send owners warning letters, offer guidance, list enforcement options if action was not taken and enable the Crown to compulsorily acquire the site if necessary.

The council's, head of urban regeneration, urban design and heritage, Carolyn Ingles, said it listed 10 with a further 12 sites signalling a "commitment to action".

Wellstar Co Limited consultant Murray Withers said he has not been familiar with people sneaking into the property.

"I was aware of the odd vagrant that went in there and was ejected but I was not aware of an ongoing squatter-type issue."

Mr Withers downplayed whether the Friday's fire was an event that was bound to happen.

"A [fire] hasn't happened in the last 24 years and it happened once.

"Somebody might say something was due to happen, you know there's 24 years of not having fire.

Mr Withers did accept in principle that when a building is neglected it could lead to issues.

"At the end of the day there are fires all over Christchurch in buildings that have been left or not left.

"This was one was occupied up until 2011 and we had this fire, but it could have lasted another 25 years without a fire."

Prior to the quake, the property was undergoing a significant internal conversion to turn the small single bed-sized rooms into more liveable spaces, Withers said.

He said post-quake redevelopment had been a slow and complex process due to a combination of lengthy and expensive building assessment and consents.

Mr Withers said the next step for the fire-damaged building would be to get an engineering assessment to determine what is needed to make the building safe.

Until then, the future of Antonio Hall is unknown.

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