The removal of a late-1800s Devonport villa from its special character zone and its replacement with Onehunga's Edwardian 'Leura' has angered heritage advocates on both sides of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

But the man behind the scheme, heart specialist Professor Ralph Stewart, says he is saving heritage because Leura would probably not even stay in Auckland if he wasn't relocating it across the bridge.

Leura at 184 Arthur Street, Onehunga, to be shifted to Devonport soon. Photo/Richard Robinson
Leura at 184 Arthur Street, Onehunga, to be shifted to Devonport soon. Photo/Richard Robinson

Stewart got Auckland Council consent to remove the Devonport villa he says was built around 1890, replacing it with the 1903 Onehunga home

for sale last year by civic leader Richard Northey and his wife Robyn, marketed with a CV of $1.4 million.

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"I'm not sure people have all the information," Stewart said reacting to news of strident opposition from heritage specialists, the Devonport Locals Facebook Group and Onehunga residents' reaction published in a local newspaper.

Margot McRae, a Devonport heritage preservationist and film producer, said local residents were disappointed approval was given to truck out the existing villa from its Vauxhall Rd site in the Cheltenham/Narrow Neck area and replace with one from miles away.

The result was neither a victory for Devonport or Onehunga, she said, but a loss for both areas.

Onehunga should keep its heritage places, just as Devonport should, she said.

"This is a terrible decision to take away an original Devonport house that is authentic and then bring in one which belongs in Onehunga and should stay there," said McRae.

Devonport heritage preservationists, including McRae, sent a statement to Auckland Council, objecting to the loss.

Robyn and Richard Northey at Leura when it was advertised for sale last year. Photo/David Rowland, Getty Images
Robyn and Richard Northey at Leura when it was advertised for sale last year. Photo/David Rowland, Getty Images

"Devonport residents are renown for understanding the value of the authenticity of the house they have purchased," the statement said.

"The planning rules that protect Devonport's pre-1944 houses from destruction or removal have been in existence for some time. A Devonport pre-1944 house is an authentic structure and should not be replaced by something that does not contribute to the recognised streetscape and pattern of Devonport's settlement.

"The applicant's intention to replace the current house with a 'better' house will simply change the known streetscape. It is the Unitary Plan's intention to retain authentic structures. The Unitary Plan sets a high threshold for the retention of pre 1944 houses in Devonport and the heritage character overlay rules clearly state that it is their intention to retain original structures in-situ," the statement said.

Auckland cardiologist Professor Ralph Stewart, an owner of the Devonport property. He defends the scheme to swap a local villa for one from Onehunga. Photo/Jason Oxenham
Auckland cardiologist Professor Ralph Stewart, an owner of the Devonport property. He defends the scheme to swap a local villa for one from Onehunga. Photo/Jason Oxenham

Across in Onehunga, one resident said she felt "sick" about seeing a wonderful villa disappear and little importance was being placed on heritage. Others complained to the council of their shared concern about Leura's loss.

But Karl Cook and Mary Wong at planning specialists and consultants Barker & Associates for the applicants Ralph Stewart and Fiona North, argued in favour of the villa's removal.

The Edwardian villa at 184 Arthur St in Onehunga, to be moved to the Devonport site.
The Edwardian villa at 184 Arthur St in Onehunga, to be moved to the Devonport site.

The Onehunga dwelling is an Edwardian villa from 184 Arthur St, they said. The main entry would be orientated to the east rather that the south, which the existing dwelling on the site was orientated towards, they said.

Heritage specialists Salmond Reed Architects said the Devonport villa "has undergone substantial modifications to the extend that original and early elements are either missing, removed, added to, or are in a state of disrepair."

The Devonport villa was in a relatively poor and plain condition featuring very minimal decorative elements, the report said.

Richard and Robyn Northey, inside the stately Leura in Onehunga. The villa is being moved to Devonport. Photo/David Rowland, Getty Images
Richard and Robyn Northey, inside the stately Leura in Onehunga. The villa is being moved to Devonport. Photo/David Rowland, Getty Images

The replacement Edwardian villa was in excellent condition, was an attractive example of its type and it had fine details on the veranda and ornate bay windows.

Stewart said last night the Devonport villa would be removed in about two day's time.

"Our view is that it's a good solution. We are retaining a very special property that will enhance Devonport. We are saving a house for Auckland. There's no question [Leura] would be lost to Auckland. It would probably end up going outside Auckland," Stewart said, also adding that the project was being undertaken "for personal reasons rather than the greater good."

We are retaining a very special property that will enhance Devonport

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Keeping the Devonport villa was not an option, partly because it was so run-down, he said, because it was extremely plain, lacked many traditional features and had been significantly altered.

"We looked at renovating it and it would need two thirds of it replaced. The other one is in pretty well original condition," he said.

No consideration was given to developing a new house on the Vauxhall Rd site, he emphasised.

Asked about the fate of the Devonport villa, Stewart said: "It will go to another place but we don't know where that is."

The Herald reported last year that Leura was built for Louise, the widow of Archibald Somerville, and her daughter Alice. The grand kauri villa was once part of the Somerville family estate that stretched from Arthur St up the Spring St hill and across to Victoria St.

The council's decision said the Devonport villa had reduced special character integrity due to alterations and moving the Onehunga villa to the site mitigated the Devonport villa's removal.

Read the full council decision here: