Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Hallelujah, Historic Places Trust finally sees sense

Photo / Richard Robinson
Photo / Richard Robinson

What a bunch of Sunday afternoon tin soldiers the Historic Places Trust board are. The battle to save historic Queens Wharf from the Minister for the Rugby World Cup's ugly "slug" was fought and lost months ago, yet what do we now hear? The thunder of the trust's Wellington-based cavalry as it wheezes to the rescue over the Bombay Hills.

With Shed 11 already half-dismantled to make way for the slug, and plans for a complete makeover of Shed 10, the nation's heritage shock troops have signalled ahead their intention to elevate the old wharf to the highest level of ancientness they can conjure up. They want to make it a Category One historic place, an honour reserved for places of "special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value".

At Wednesday's first Auckland Council meeting, both Mayor Len Brown and chief planning officer Roger Blakeley expressed trepidation about the trust's intentions. The mayor worried it might complicate plans for a new waterfront masterplan, Dr Blakeley that it might compromise development options.

They should relax. From past experience, a loud boo or, alternatively, a gentle rub of its tummy is all it will take to make the Knights of Heritage either run away, or purr contentedly.

Having denounced the trust for its lack of action back in April when it might have really helped, I guess I should direct a begrudging nod at them, now they've finally fronted up.

But as in the case of the Jean Batten Building, you have to wonder why so little so late. It's hard to see the registration plans as anything but a guilty apology for the trust's capitulation to the Auckland Regional Council and Government's joint plans to bowl both old sheds in preparation for building a Rugby World Cup "party central".

At the time, the ARC had made its decision conditional on "consultation" with the trust, but the trust didn't even wait for consultation. Trust chief executive Bruce Chapman dashed out a statement saying the organisation "had been considering registration of the Queens Wharf, however will not be proceeding with this". They were "disappointed" with the decision "to demolish the two Queens Wharf sheds". These were "an important part of New Zealand maritime history that will be lost". He said ways "to adaptively reuse these buildings could have been explored ... however we accept the position that has been adopted".

In the furore that followed, the trust and ARC came up with a compromise - the smaller shed would go, the larger be tidied up and to satisfy the Government, the "slug" would stay.

The trust then congratulated itself on this "pragmatic result" even though an earlier press release had emphasised how vital the wharf's preservation was.

It said "recent research has highlighted the heritage significance of Queens Wharf's two historic cargo sheds ... the only survivors of a waterfront development dating back to the early 20th century which brought cutting edge technology to the ... port operation". They are "the last remaining structures associated with that huge machinery of export and ... as important as the iconic Ferry Building".

Whether we agree with this or not, it was the view of the trust's researchers, yet when the pressure went on, they crumbled.

Now they've crept back, wanting to protect it as "the best preserved of the early 20th century finger wharves along the Auckland waterfront ... including the only wharf shed [note the singular] of its type and age to survive on the Auckland waterfront".

I agree this belated registration should go ahead, if only because the few remnants of Auckland's built history that have somehow survived the wrecker's ball deserve every bit of help they can get.

Mayor Brown said, in expressing his concern about the proposed heritage listing, "we certainly don't want to give Historic Places Trust carte blanche". Given Auckland's sorry history in preserving its old buildings, my backing is for any device that removes the power of carte blanche from any potential developer, be they private speculator, mayor or PM.

The latter are hell bent on a new cruise ship terminal on the wharf. A heritage listing won't halt these plans. But it will act as a restraint on the scale and style of any proposal.

- NZ Herald

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