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         Christchurch Civic Trust Heritage Week Lecture held on 16 October 2016


Dr Geoffrey Rice speaking on the future of Cathedral Square



The Christchurch Civic Trust’s Heritage Week lecture this year was a followup to our public forum held during Heritage Week 2015:’ Future of Cathedral Square’

Dr Geoffrey Rice delivered and illustrated lecture on Sunday 16 October at Novotel Hotel,titled: ‘Regenerating Cathedral Square:Mad Ideas that Might Work’  

Some of those who attended had participated in last years forum so there was an opportunity to discuss the progress or lack of development that has occurred in Cathedral Square as well as share idea about future possibilities for the development within that significant central city area. Dr Rices’s suggestions referred to squares in European cities he had recently visited,in particular cloistered Italian town centres. His ‘Mad Ideas’ were not entirely new as the forum last year had also discussed the concept of cloistered or covered walkways to link all areas of Cathedral Square precinct floated by Trust chair Dr Chris Kissling.Dr Rice also presented his own personal suggestions for the restoration of Cathedral Square which had also been a significant impulse for the Civic Trust’s forum last year.

The people of Christchurch have been given these two major events to share and and debate their views about this public space.One important outcome will be arranging a followup meeting with local authorities responsible for the co-ordinating development in this area,as well as encouraging all interested groups to make constructive contributions toward revitalising Cathedral Square.




1 April 2016, at the Civic Trust’s 50th Anniversary celebration by John Wilson author of ‘ Civic Pride-Civic Trust 50 years work of the Christchurch Civic Trust 1965 -2015′


I usually try to find an excuse when I’m asked to deliver a talk. But I agreed quickly and happily to speak to this gathering tonight, for two reasons.

The first reason is personal. As some of you may remember, my father was minister at Knox from 1951 until 1966. It feels special to be delivering an address in Dad’s church all these years later – but you can relax, I won’t make you listen to a twenty-minute sermon!

It’s also special to me to be talking in Knox because of the success of its reconstruction. Initially I was apprehensive about this fine, and familiar, interior being encased in a new exterior of modern design and of modern materials. But those apprehensions have been completely dispelled. It’s a superb job. And a telling demonstration of a principle that leads me straight into my second reason for being pleased to have been asked to speak tonight.

The reason is that I have the opportunity to applaud the Christchurch Civic Trust for consistently upholding the principle which the restoration of Knox so convincingly vindicates.

Knox has been restored to the city because the members of the congregation set to and solved for themselves the several problems (structural, financial and aesthetic) that resulted from the shaking down of the building’s gables and walls. What does this tell us except that it should have been left to the local community?

I am sure you all know what I mean by ‘it’ in that sentence – the recovery of the city after the earthquakes. All knowledge, all good sense about what should have been done, all sensitivity to what the city needed, resides in people who are on the spot, who have a passionate devotion to the city and who know it as outsiders never can.

The reconstruction of Knox is one demonstration of the truth of that claim. So, negatively, are the tragic results of five years of the city’s recovery being in the hands of authorities that have exercised their powers without reference to the local community and without consulting the public. That they were once obliged to take heed of local opinion, over Victoria Square, only emphasises how wrong-headed have been most of the decisions they made on their own, as if Christchurch no longer had an informed citizenry, desperately keen to have its say on the future of the city.

In the longer perspective, further proof that involving individual citizens and public interest groups in planning and other decisions almost invariably leads to better outcomes is the Christchurch Civic Trust’s proud record over 50 years of making sure that the city environment was protected against adverse changes and was improved rather than damaged when changes had to happen.

The Civic Trust has played an exemplary role partly because it has always recognised that good new developments and the preservation of heritage are the twin foundations for the liveable and appealing city it wanted Christchurch to be. The Trust’s fighting to protect the city’s heritage has always gone hand in hand with encouragement of good contemporary architecture. Just as its interest in the built environment has always been associated with a concern about the natural environment, trees and public open spaces.

Christchurch would have been an incomparably inferior place in the early 21st century (that is before the earthquakes) if back in the 1960s people devoted to the city, sensitive to the good qualities it had acquired through more than a century of growth, and alarmed at the threat to those qualities posed by the master transportation plan, had not got together to question the wisdom of aspects of the plan. The city is bad enough today for the domination of private motor cars and trucks. It could have been much worse if those who founded the Civic Trust had not articulated at that crucial moment an alternative vision for the city.

Do you ever stop to think that but for the City Planning Study Group and the Civic Trust after it we might have a traffic bridge by the boatsheds and heavy trucks using Rolleston Avenue and Park Terrace?

It is significant that the Civic Trust grew out of the City Planning Study Group. I put emphasis on the word ‘study’ deliberately. The Civic Trust has never pursued cranky causes, despite the denigration it had to endure it when it took stands inimical to the interests of its critics. Its work has been considered and informed by sound knowledge and reasoned arguments that were the result of careful study of the issues and alternatives.

I wonder how many of you like me give silent thanks for the Civic Trust at different places all over the city. When I picnic at Mona Vale, enjoying the grounds that might have been swallowed up by tract housing. When I walk on the Port Hills that were almost all private farmland during my childhood. When I cycle across Hagley Park – harmed by some recent changes but still a treasured place. As I watch the Arts Centre being restored. When I sit by the Peacock fountain.

Not all the credit for all these achievements belongs solely to the Civic Trust. But it has had a hand in all of them, and in a host of others. Take the Arts Centre for example. The Civic Trust has been there from the inception of the Centre through to the successful fight to prevent the proposed new Music School disfiguring the site, perhaps never the main player in the Centre’s affairs, but always in the wings, watching, ready to act if necessary.

Most of these achievements I’ve mentioned were tangible, as were many more discussed in the book being re-launched tonight that I don’t have time to go into. But those highly visible achievements are only the tip of the Civic Trust iceberg. One of the chapters of the book is pertinently titled ‘Public Participation in Planning’. It deals with the Trust’s ‘behind the scenes’ work – preparing submissions, writing reports, attending hearings. The Trust has been a highly influential body only because of the diligent, unceasing work of this nature undertaken by scores, even hundreds, of volunteers for a full half century, work undertaken not for gain, prestige or fame but simply because concerned citizens wanted the best for their city.

What I haven’t done tonight, deliberately, is mention any names. I was worried I might leave out the names of people here tonight. Looking around I can see a number of people who deserve to have their individual contributions acknowledged publicly and I might easily have overlooked some. Also if I did start ‘naming names’ you would be listening to me for twenty minutes or more. There are so many others no longer with us who deserve to be remembered for the work they did as members of the Civic Trust. But I suspect all these people, those present tonight and those who are not, would be among the first to insist that one other distinguishing feature of the Civic Trust’s work has been the way it has ensured that the voices of individuals with a passionate commitment to one cause or another would be heard by the powers that be. ‘Team Civic Trust’ to use that ghastly modern phrase.

These reflections bring me back to the start of my talk. If those powers that be fail to heed what Peter Beaven called ‘the voice of an informed, concerned democracy’ then the Christchurch of the future will never compare with the Christchurch of the past, a city now largely lost, but one that the Civic Trust did so much to make a city worth mourning.


Anniversary Book

All Trust members are entitled to a free copy of ‘Civic Pride -Civic Trust 50 years work of the  Christchurch Civic Trust 1965 -2015’                                                                                           Contact the secretary : for your copy.