Property editor of the NZ Herald

Historic estate finally open - for a price

The 1856 Westney Methodist church was moved from its original site to Abbeville Farm Estate. Photo / Dean Purcell
The 1856 Westney Methodist church was moved from its original site to Abbeville Farm Estate. Photo / Dean Purcell

A heritage settlement near Auckland International Airport is opening next week as a private commercial venture.

The Abbeville Farm Estate in Nixon Rd, off George Bolt Memorial Drive, holds some of the oldest buildings in the region but the public will not be able to visit without making special arrangements.

The estate is an 11ha area of pasture and mature trees housing historic buildings including the 1855 Westney Homestead, an 1850s barn and the 1856 Westney Methodist church, moved from its original site to the farm.

The village is on the airport's northeastern side, down a farm driveway with a locked gate.

For some years, Auckland Airport worked on buildings in the area.

Heritage architect Dave Pearson and iwi worked with officials on the conservation plan to develop the estate, which will soon host weddings, exhibitions, food events and corporate functions.

Redevelopment cost about $3.1 million, and the airport has a long-term vision to open the secluded green area up to the public with cafes and restaurants. Last April in its Airport Times, the business said a function centre, cooking school, micro-brewery, artisan producer and farmers' market were proposed for the site.

"Located in the common, just minutes from the terminals, the estate will be the ideal place to host events, exhibitions and product demonstrations," it said.

Now, the airport has struck an exclusive commercial arrangement with Sue Fleischl of The Great Catering Company and The Great Hiring Company to hold private functions there. Fleischl, who has a three-year management contract, said the barn, chapel and homestead could be hired from about $3000.

Catering costs were on top of that and could be $300 per person for a wedding, depending on what people wanted to spend.

"The sky's the limit," she said. Four bookings were confirmed, enquiries were strong and the business had been mentioned in a monthly magazine and a wedding publication, she said.

At the end of three years, she hopes the airport will renew arrangements and that eventually restaurants or a cafe will open to the public.

"But I wouldn't want to open it like that right at the start," she said, explaining how the venue could cater to thousands for concerts or wine festivals.

Airport officials have invited about 40 guests to celebrate the opening of the venue, including Historic Places Trust.

Guests will also include descendants of people whose graves were exhumed from the church grounds and re-sited in 2007 to make way for airport work in Mangere.

Last year some relatives had expressed discontent with the outcome of those plans.

Some of Jenny Cornthwaite's relatives were buried at the Westney Methodist Church, and she complained in October that many headstones were missing.

She blamed the Mangere Lawn Cemetery Trust Board but the cemetery's manager, Graeme Cummins, said the job was in hand and problems would soon be resolved.

* Original home of Colonel Marmaduke George Nixon.
* Historic estate on 11ha of the airports' 1500ha.
* One of the first Maori Land Courts held in the barn.
* Weddings, exhibitions, food events, corporate functions to be held there.

- NZ Herald

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