Heritage trust keeps its wharf sheds letter secret

By Bernard Orsman

Sheds on Queens Wharf which were slated for preservation. Photo / Dean Purcell
Sheds on Queens Wharf which were slated for preservation. Photo / Dean Purcell

Historic Places Trust chief executive Bruce Chapman is refusing to make public a letter showing how his organisation rattled plans by the Government and the Auckland Regional Council to remove the two 98-year-old cargo sheds on Queens Wharf.

"A letter to the ARC pointing out the heritage values has been perceived by the Minister in Charge of the Rugby World Cup [Murray McCully] and the chair of the ARC [Mike Lee] as a threat to their proposal," Mr Chapman said in a board report released to the Herald under the Official Information Act.

After a request to Mr Chapman for information on Queens Wharf, the trust refused to release a copy of the letter from northern general manager Sherry Reynolds to Mr Lee on the grounds of maintaining a free and frank expression of views between the parties.

But the Herald has obtained a copy of the letter which shows the trust was in the process of registering the wharf and preliminary investigations showed it had "significant heritage values".

A nomination for registration "would cover the wider area of the wharf and warehouses, including that area under consideration for redevelopment", said Sherry Reynolds.

She said the trust would like to work with the Government and ARC in undertaking a heritage impact assessment.

Since the letter was written, Mr McCully and Mr Lee have produced a plan to remove the sheds and build a $23.4 million pavilion as a "party central" for the Rugby World Cup and a temporary cruise ship terminal.

Trust heritage adviser Joshua Arbury described the proposed pavilion as looking like a "giant slug".

The trust and the ARC are in talks over protecting and promoting the historic features of the wharf, but the future of the two cargo sheds are in doubt.

The Auckland Architecture Association and Heart of the City are leading a campaign to retain the sheds at least until a new masterplan is developed for the Auckland waterfront.

Mr McCully and ARC chief executive Peter Winder have refused a request from the Herald under the act for documents they hold on Queens Wharf from February 19 when Auckland's mayors rejected a permanent $97 million upgrade of the wharf.

The Ombudsman is investigating their refusals.

Responding on behalf of Mr Chapman, the trust's senior legal adviser, Geraldine Baumann, has released hundreds of documents - but by no means all the papers - held by the trust on the latest Queens Wharf proposal.

Included are damning emails from the public about lack of action by the trust to protect Auckland's heritage.

They show that the Tamaki Drive Protection Society nominated the two sheds for registration in July last year on the grounds the structures possessed architectural, cultural, historical, social, spiritual and traditional significance and value.

The papers show that the nomination gained support among trust officers, work progressed on a heritage assessment and the Government, ARC and other parties were kept informed of the nomination process.

In a briefing paper from staff to Mr Chapman on April 1, he was told the sheds were considered "high priority" for registration and were at risk of being lost because of redevelopment.

A day earlier, Mr Arbury emailed a colleague saying interim registration or a heritage order would be drastic and controversial steps for the trust to take. But in another email he questioned the ability of the trust to take either of these protection measures.

"We have the opportunity to publicly promote the idea that, if we're just doing a temporary upgrade for the RWC, why not keep the sheds at least until it is figured out what is going to happen to the whole site. Demolishing the sheds to erect temporary tents or other structures seems crazy when the sheds could do that job," he said.

The trust board met on April 30 where it backed away from registration and decided to "engage" with the Government and ARC on the future of the wharf.

Protest

* Tracy Collins, email to trust, April 21, 2010:

"... Yet again, the Historic Places Trust has done nothing but sit on its hands ... when will the HPT start fighting for Auckland's historic buildings? As far back as the 1980s, Auckland had heritage and history in its heart. Now it's dead."

- NZ Herald

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