Auckland's WORST KEPT secrets

Locals call it ``The Castle'. Once a grandiose home towering over Cheltenham Beach, the two- storey villa halfway up Mt Victoria is now decrepit, hiding behind a high, rusting fence, surrounded by an eerie, haunting aura.
Embroiled in a 14-year battle between heritage groups, North Shore City Council and its owners, the house remains dark, dank and structurally at- risk.
It is, we discover, just one example of Auckland's rotting heritage.
Dan Holloway recently sold the 1885 category II-rated mansion to an unnamed buyer. The future of the quaint, but decaying, Mays Rd build ing remains uncertain.
Mr Holloway says he could not start extensive renovations because heritage campaigners and the council argued he was not maintaining the house's his toric properties.
``Once you're listed, you have virtually no rights. I have absolutely had enough. I am out-of-pocket more than the average house is worth. This is someone else's problem now.'
On the other side of the corrugated iron fence is Margot McRae, chair woman of Devonport Heritage. She has been at the forefront of the battle to maintain The Castle's unique style.
``This is heritage in the raw. It is untouched. Things like this need protecting or they will go to rack and ruin.'
Hers is an unending campaign. Mrs McRae and her committee are now trying to save the 144-year-old Masonic Hotel from developers who want to turn it into shops, cafes and apartments.
IN ENGLAND it is considered a status symbol to own a listed site. In New Zealand, many owners and developers think it's a pain in the back porch.
Mr Holloway's frustration is echoed around the region as councils, heritage groups and property owners argue, fire off lawyers' letters and procrastinate over the future of empty and rotting heritage buildings.
Of our 5500 listed heritage places and areas, most are in private hands (yes, that includes McDonald's in Queen St and the Belgian Beer Cafe in the old Ponsonby Post Office).

Often the owners can't subdivide or alter their property without drawn-out resource consent processes.
Unless they have enough money or - in Mr Holloway's case - the gumption to fight in the courts.
The region's eight councils, including the regional council, show varying degrees of concern. There are 19 historical societies, the NZ Heritage Trust with a legally enshrined voice, and hundreds of private owners who find varying levels of cooperation from officials.
The Parnell Trust offers 10 heritage trails around Auckland's oldest suburb. Looking at our colonial past is a growing tourist pastime, says general manager Phillippa Pitcher, especially since Auckland City launched an annual two-week heritage festival in 2007.
More than 41,000 people took part in the 2008 festival, up 200 per cent on the first year. ``There has been a surge of interest for the heritage walks. We have a lot of overseas visitors wanting to see our history.'
In this historically rich suburb, privately owned Hulme Court is thought to be Auckland's oldest house still standing on its original site. Built in 1843 for Sir Frederick Whitaker, an early Premier, it once served as Government House.
Parnell's historic walks brochure waxes lyrical: ``This elegant house in the Regency manner ... constructed of bluestone (which has since been plastered) it has a hipped slate roof, and was once surrounded by a finely detailed trellis work veranda ...'
People who've walked the trail told The Aucklander they were disappointed to see an unkempt, ramshackle property.
A PUBLIC-PRIVATE partnership, perhaps. Auckland City's approach to maintaining historic buildings focuses on having private investors renovate and tenant them.
(Dare we mention the old railway station, where student tenants have been forced to move out so the leaky-building repairers can move in, or the St James Theatre, where developers want to build an apartment tower in Queen St?)
Sites long-ignored by the council and available to investors include the run- down tea kiosk on Mt Eden and a boarded-up gardener's cottage in Victoria Park.
More prominent in the park is the gothic Logan Campbell Free Kindergarten. The 98-year-old, red-brick eyesore has been empty, fenced-off, boarded- up and rotting since the 1980s.
``It's a disgrace and not a shining example of the council's commitment to heritage,' fumes Robin Byron, the Historic Places Trust's heritage architecture adviser.
With legal privileges conferred by Parliament, the trust promotes the identification, protection, preservation and conservation of the country's historic and cultural heritage.
It identifies some buildings not under council protection and distributes Lotteries Commission grants to heritage-place owners around the country.
``There are too many owners who do not care appropriately for the heritage places,' Mrs Byron says.
``It may be a lack of knowledge about how to maintain the heritage significance of a place [or] it may be lack of financial resources to properly care for them.'
In some cases, she says, owners wilfully neglect heritage buildings so they can clear the site for development. ``Many examples exist where valuable heritage places have been ravaged by neglect and lack of care. There is certainly a great need to address this problem.
``Heritage places contribute to our knowledge, history and sense of place and community, and their value goes beyond individual owners and extends to a wider public. I think it is appropriate that more incentives be developed and adopted which assist and encourage owners of heritage places to look after and maintain them.'
She challenges the present Auckland councils' commitment, pointing out they offer woefully small amounts of money to help owners.
Christchurch's council has set up a Heritage Incentive Fund to assist owners of heritage items listed in the City Plan. It allocates about $500,000 a year - more than our seven city and district councils combined.
Auckland City allocated $50,000 to its cultural heritage fund in 2008-2009. Waitakere devoted $50,000 in 2008, with a $4000 cap on each project. The ASB Community Trust, Lottery Grants Board, Regional Council and the Historic Places Trust also help.
HISTORY NEVER REPEATS ... or so Alan La Roche hopes. The long-time south and east Auckland historian would like to see the super-city council do more than leave heritage matters to private owners.
He cites Manukau City Council and efforts to preserve Guy Homestead. The council bought the house overlooking Ti Rakau Drive in the early 1980s, but sold it in 1997, hoping a private investor would spruce it up.
Bought by a Hong Kong consor tium, it is on the market again - sitting on an empty lot, vandalised, decrepit, rotting.
Mr La Roche says the council should never have sold what he describes as ``the only good example of 1900s' architecture in Manukau City'.
Historic Places Trust covenants protect it from removal, require its architectural style to be retained and restrict subdivision.
Mr La Roche admits that may dissuade buyers but, ``You can't just put fibrolite verandahs and aluminium windows in an historic building.'
The standoff over the 132-year-old Baverstock schoolhouse is a prime example of a council not in control of our heritage, he says.
Manukau City allowed the landowners, the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple, to build on the site containing the schoolhouse provided it maintained and preserved the old building. Falling apart, the schoolhouse faces demolition.
Waitakere City bought the 130-year- old New Lynn Hotel in 2005 and put a heritage order on it. The hotel was demolished in July 2008.
West Auckland Historical Society president Trevor Pollard says the building was too far gone by the time the council acted.
He's more interested in spurring the council to save the 123-year-old Chapel of Faith in the Oaks at Waikumete Cemetery. It looks sound but, behind the security fence, deep cracks are appearing. Roof tiles are damaged, beams rot and mortar has returned to sand.
In February, The Aucklander wrote how, after 30 years, the restoration board tending the chapel handed the keys to the council because members couldn't afford the upkeep. The council has agreed to keep the building weathertight.
A LEAKY BUILDING. It seems an apt metaphor for the state of Auckland's historic places, and endless arguments between councils, developers and land owners while our heritage rots.
A TIME AND A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING
The NZ Historic Places Trust / Pouhere Taonga, set up under the Historic Places Act 1993, compiles Rarangi Taonga / the Register of Historic Places, Historic Areas, Wahi Tapu and Wahi Tapu Areas. This list of 5500 national heritage treasures is divided into:
Historic Places bridges, memorials, pa, archaeological sites, buildings, mining sites, cemeteries, shipwrecks, etc
Historic Areas groups of related historic places. Think Maungakiekie / One Tree Hill or North Head
Wahi Tapu places sacred to Maori
Wahi Tapu Areas groups of wahi tapu.
Historic places are in two categories: Category I for places of special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value; Category II for places of historical or cultural significance or value.
The Trust and public bodies own many heritage places but most are privately owned.
Places are registered to inform owners and the public about our heritage and assist their protection. Registration is for identification; it does not prevent places being altered or sold.
Councils must take note of the Register when developing civic plans and notify the Trust about resource consent applications affecting registered places, so it can be involved in decisions. Councils must also tell someone seeking a Project or Land Information Memorandum.
Anyone may apply to have a place or area considered for registration. You do not have to own it or have any formal relationship with it.
Before modifying a registered place, the owner should contact the Trust to discuss the work. The Trust permits change to the use and function of places, and is open to discussing how this can be achieved with minimum impact.
Source: NZ Historic Places Trust see: www.historic.org.nz
04 06 2009

- The Aucklander

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