Herald survey on Auckland Heritage buildings

Number 18 Paget St in Freemans Bay, Auckland. The owners of this old cottage have had council permission to demolish it even though it's in a Auckland Council heritage zone. Photo / Dean Purcell
Number 18 Paget St in Freemans Bay, Auckland. The owners of this old cottage have had council permission to demolish it even though it's in a Auckland Council heritage zone. Photo / Dean Purcell

Here are the full responses to the Herald survey on heritage. Seven heritage groups and heritage advocates responded:

Devonport Heritage (DH)
Western Bays Community Group (WBCG)
Save Our St Heliers (SOS)
Civic Trust (CT)
Parnell Community Group (PCG)
Allan Matson (AM)
Jennifer Hayman, of Remuera Heritage (JH)

*Some groups did not answer all the questions or gave qualified answers. Ms Hayman's responses are her own and not those of Remera Heritage.

1. Has the Paget St case raised public awareness about heritage issues in Auckland?

DH: Yes. People voiced their concerns on line and in print in numbers that indicate wide concern. The mishandling by Council and its officers has obliterated any confidence in the Council heritage processes.

CT: Yes. This is another example of the ongoing issue of council officers letting down the public. Coolangatta, Turua St, to name a few.

SOS: The excellent media coverage helped people to realise that even residential 1 houses could be demolished with ease.

WBCG: Yes. Really only applies to those interested in the issue. Paget St will have raised public awareness about heritage issues although the outcome of the review to allow demolition will no doubt open the door for others with a similar reckless attitude concerning our national heritage to do more of the same. The machinations inside Council have been exposed as never before.

PCG: Yes. It has highlighted the deficiency of being able to make two separate resource consent applications, the first for demolition, and thereafter one for the new building. It is fundamental to the retention of beauty in heritage suburbs to be able to evaluate the new design to see if it will enhance the streetscape before taking away the old building. It enables robust discussion on whether it is better to adapt the old, or build new with a design that will positively contribute. Also, when assessing the structural integrity of a old dwelling the 'expert' has a tendency to exhibit applicant bias. It is important that an independent expert be a able to peer review such a report via a site visit as it is easy to bow to the argument that the house was cracking badly, it hadn't been touched since the beginning of the century and the state of the foundations compelled the builders to advise better to bowl and build new. The community is absolutely right in pleading that Paget St heritage house stays and the owner/architect crafts a beautiful(contemporary not ruled out if done well) addition at the rear.

JH: Yes. Perhaps has merely widened the gap between the heritage supporters and the modern development community.

AM: The Paget Street case has raised public awareness about heritage issues in Auckland, but this kind of controversy will continue to emerge until council begins to deal with heritage issues in a way that balances the interests of the community at large with those of individual property owners.

2. How do you think the Paget St case was handled by council officers?

DH: Poorly. This case demonstrates the anti- heritage culture within Council and its Planning Management. At least from the point where council's staff planner was removed from this role at the eleventh hour. The removal of the planner who was opposed to application smacks of cronyism and reflects badly on everyone from the chief executive down. The chief executive and the planner's manager should have been supporting the Blackmore decision, and the opinion of their conservation architect and not removed him and replaced him with someone else. This application should have been publicly notified. A demolition would almost always warrant wider discussion and input.

CT: Poorly. Council officers showed a lack of concern for heritage at best, and at worst, displayed behaviour circumventing existing processes to aid the demolition of a heritage dwelling.

SOS: Poorly. The council clearly has a preferred outcome in mind and changes the goal posts until they get that result. Taking off an officer who had worked diligently on the case and replacing him with a planner known to be sympathetic to developers was a cynical move designed to assure demolition.

WBCG: Poorly. There was a feeling that a mistake in the planning process had been made yet council officers were unable and unwilling to rectify this due to legal advice. This gives us little confidence in the existing process and the implementation of the rules within or the ability to make right planning errors that occur from time to time.

PCG: Poorly. The use of consultants who have a track record of saying 'yes' to demolition is not a good look. It needs the likes of Jeremy Salmond with a heritage/design colleague to input. So too key person (no more than three) from the community to ensure all heritage matters/design opportunities are factored in.

JH: Poorly. Handled with usual lack of empathy for community and cultural values(although it must be emphasised that not all council staff behave in this manner). Council staff are the regulators of local government, most often seen as upholding the letter of the (RMA) law, showing varying degrees of critical thinking, and applying their skills, in some cases minimally, in seeking appropriate outcomes.

AM: Council has a legal obligation to ensure that applications for resource consent are complete. In the case of Paget Street, the incompleteness of the application should have been obvious to anyone competent in heritage matters. As has been the case too often, when it comes to the completeness of heritage assessments, council faltered at this first step. If applications are not complete, they should not be accepted as such, and council would save itself a lot of trouble if it simply followed due process.

3. Do you think the Paget St review will lead to a better understanding and protection of the city's built heritage?

DH: Probably not, unless information is distributed to a much wider group than the person with the heritage overview on each local board. When these applications finally reach the light of day it's invariably because it's a bad outcome for heritage. It all comes down to one person on the local board who may have little time, experience, or interest in investigating each contentious application. There must be a change of culture within the planning department.

CT: No. We would like to think there would be some results enhancing heritage protection, but we remain sceptical. The council officers did not go looking for heritage information on this property and the resource consent application was incomplete.

SOS: No. There were some good things in the report but subsequent events have shown that nothing has changed. Doug McKay's telling off has not altered the ways the planning department behaves in the slightest.

WBCG: Yes, 5. No, 1. A long way to go to make council accountable for their shonky practices. It has raised the point that small buildings matter too. The vast majority of people who are indifferent will continue to skew public opinion, but it's the people who ARE interested that matter, and this has been somewhat of a watershed for them. The Paget St review showed us all how little is in place to protect our oldest heritage buildings .The reasons provided to allow demolition during the review highlight the need for new understanding of the issue. 18 Paget St is set back from the street as it is one of the earliest buildings and was the corner of Anglesea and Paget St's .This does not make it incongruous. Old buildings like this from the 1870's will have had many modifications and repairs over the years. This is no reason to allow demolition of the whole structure. Demolition of the original Paget St homestead should not be allowed until a proper appraisal of any replacement structure. This is important as the new owners intended plans for a replacement structure may prove to be unreasonable. Example-the intention may have been from the first instance of purchasing the property to build a block of flats on the site. Now this may not be allowed but to lose the old homestead before finding this out is simply bad planning. Consequently demolition requests must be made at the time of presenting any new design proposal and in the case of heritage zoned properties should be publicly notified. It is still to be seen whether plans for new development of the property will be publicly notified before demolition of the old homestead proceeds. The no respondent: A change in consents, planning and the rulebook is the only thing that will close the loopholes.

PCG: Yes. Given that applications to demolish in Res 1 and 2 are very few in number every year it is prudent to seek community comment as part of the application review process. We also understand such applications are now being processed solely by the most senior planners at Council. Collectively, both Council/Community can work together quickly to achieve a great outcome for both the owner and the community.

JH: No. Regrettably, the culture is entrenched. It takes leadership and direction to bring about cultural change in a bureaucracy.

AM: The Paget Street review is unlikely to lead to a better understanding of the city's built heritage because no meaningful measures have been instituted as a result of that situation.

4. Do you believe council planners and heritage staff are applying the criteria for demolitions in the Residential 1 & 2 zones properly?

DH: No. The number of consented demolitions shows planners are on the side of the developers and owners who want to destroy heritage. It must be understood: There is no recognition of the effort of the majority of home owners in heritage areas who do the renovation and maintenance carefully and create the heritage value of the area. The owner demolishing the property is reliant on the value of their property on the efforts of the others preserving heritage buildings.

CT: No. We believe council staff are not motivated to apply heritage considerations to older dwellings, as new dwellings (usually larger and often multiple) often generate more rates income for the council. Well-publicised incidents of staff recommending heritage retention being removed from applications suggested a lack of will in the planning department to consider heritage retention. There is not adequate investigation of possibilities for retention and reuse of heritage. The council heritage department is having difficulties in establishing meaningful processes with the planners. The heritage department needs to be accorded more status in the resource consent process.

SOS: No. One of the huge problems is the way they interpret the rule about things need to fit with the environment. The buildings they have approved in traditional areas bear absolutely no resemblance to the existing buildings.

WBCG: No. Obvious by apparent selective treatment of application by council planning and replacing planners not inclined to agree with council decision, re St Heliers Saga - Hakanoa St. According to the council website the Residential 1 zone provides for the survival of the historic form, buildings and streetscapes in Auckland's earliest established residential neighbourhoods. Just look at what has changed in the last 20 years. Heritage zones are all about preserving our heritage homes and streetscapes so granting demolition applications freely in these zones makes a nonsense of the plan itself.

PCG: In the main, yes. Where they are definitely erring is in 'qualitative' design feedback when it is necessary to build new. Like villas, it is the design detail that drives a beautiful and enduring legacy.

JH: No. This is a very complex question. Firstly, the district plan is written by planners, and often drafted very poorly, so that the desired objective(of the politicians who might direct a plan) is not met. Thereafter it is at the mercy of the various parties, including those with self-serving agendas. Secondly, council staff are themselves often very political - i.e. not essentially any different to elected politicians - in having various points of view (wedded to planner-logic) and political persuasions.

AM: Council staff should require property owners in Residential 1 & 2 zones to demonstrate that adaptation of existing character homes is both architecturally unfeasible and economically unreasonable before consent to demolish is granted.

5. The council's Heritage Advisory Panel has recommended urgent action to tighten up the rules, including public notification for demolition consents, in the Residential 1 & 2 zones. Do you support this?

DH: Yes. What this implies is that the expert panel don't think the rules are tight enough. YES urgent action must be taken. It remains to be seen if the governing body, mayor and chief executive have the will to make this a reality or not. After all heritage is a matter of national importance under the RMA, they need to be reminded that it is not just "nice to have". The astonishing about face in replacing and over riding the planner in the Paget Street case , suggests there is little if any real concern for heritage among council at management level. Delays will be fatal. Devonport Heritage does not believe the Panel will be listened to / it will be manipulated.

CT: Yes. Public notification is the key. There needs to be more consideration and weight accorded to character neighbourhoods and streetscapes, rather than looking at buildings in isolation.

SOS: Yes. At least public notification give the community a chance to object rather than finding out after it is too late to have any input. However, this will still not save any character areas if the current culture of demolition at all costs continues in the planning department.

WBCG: Yes. Clear rules, consistently enforced will result in consistent heritage characteristics in old residential areas. May be difficult to swallow for some Aucklanders, but at least then everyone knows where they stand. And they'll get used to it. Perhaps even like some cities overseas where a protected building is a status symbol and thus increases in value. This is very important and should be implemented immediately.

PCG: No. Both from a cost and time delay viewpoint. Just raise the 'outcome focused' game as stated previously.

JH: No. The problem is that there are pathways to be followed - it is not as simple as deciding that all applications will be notified. Moreover, this is contrary to the government's direction - they have sought to "simplify and streamline" and ensure that timeframes are adhered to - although they have forgotten that many of the delays that occur in processing applications are due to the applicants delaying - not council staff. Often council staff have a simplistic view on economic development - failing to recognise that heritage has a role to play not just in the economy but in enabling people and communities to identify with areas and landscapes. The answer is not in public notification - which is unrealistic, unwieldy and costly, but in having the objectives and policies, methods and rules correct in the first place. Also, the answer lies in central government backing off in its interference in local government.

AM: Yes.

6. Do you think council planners and heritage staff are getting it right when it comes to replacement buildings in the Residential 1 & 2 zones?

DH: No. The opinion of Devonport Heritage is based on the examples that have been publicised. The photos on the Herald website say it all. The designs are sore thumbs in every way. All council staff and consultants should have specific heritage training, which should include a secondment to NZHPT. All involved should have recognised training and work experience in heritage and undertake regular professional development in heritage matters. At present anyone can set themselves up as a heritage expert, it is unregulated (like financial and immigration advisers). Devonport Heritage works to preserve and maintain older buildings, we do not advocate replica's, we have examples of new buildings to scale and using appropriate materials. We also have examples of poor replacement buildings.

CT: No. There needs to be more sensitivity in approving new buildings in character/heritage areas. There are examples of good new developments which respect and reference their heritage surroundings.

SOS: No. Absolutely not. The new buildings may be attractive in other areas but they are totally at odds to the Res 1 and 2 areas.

WBCG: No. Goes against their own masterplan and the spirit it was drafted in. Too many new builds that are completely out of character. Replacement buildings in the Residential 1(& 2)zones should only be allowed when measures to renovate the existing dwelling have been ruled impractical, perhaps due to fire or earthquake. The "sympathetic" approach has failed, time for a new broom.

PCG: Yes. In the main.

PH: No. Again it comes down to interpretation. Again it is often politically engineered.

AM: New buildings in the Residential 1 & 2 zones have the potential to affect, either positively or negatively, the values of existing properties in the area. Broader consideration should therefore be given to the appropriateness of new building in those areas.

7. The Herald has highlighted the design of four new houses in the Residential 1 zone at 28 Arnold St, Grey Lynn; 58 Hakanoa St, Grey Lynn; 38 Hackett St, St Marys Bay; 74 Prospect Tce, Mt Eden. Do you think the council architect made good calls using the criteria for replacement buildings in the zone?

DH: NO! It appears that some but not all criteria are being applied. It is no good to look at only one or two of the criteria, they must ALL be applied in every case. Unfortunately architects want their buildings to stand out and make a statement, this is often the brief they receive and it isn't their responsibility to discuss heritage with the owner. Most new buildings over power their neighbours. A council advisory service is need for new owners in heritage areas which can assist new owners to understand the heritage guidelines in their specific area. This goes for Res 3 zones on the North Shore which are very similar to the isthmus areas under discussion. Of course this is subjective. I suggest all the plans should be submitted to various experts with the designers, owners and consultants names blacked out and see if the same decisions are made.

CT: No response to this question.

SOS: No. The finite stock of character houses are being picked off one by one and once they are all gone it will be too late. In addition once you have a modern houses in a character street then the next person who wants to demolish can use that as a precedent and in that way we lose the integrity of those character suburbs.

WBCG: No. Goes against their own masterplan and the spirit it was drafted in. New buildings designed to look old or designed to harmonise with the existing older styles have their place. An emphasis on restorations or preservation of the old should be the aim allowing for new development in back yard or lean to extensions. Embarrassingly bad for council.

PCG: Hakanoa St. No. It had a stucco cladding added in the 60'/70's, when removed (easy process) the original bungalow form would have been beautiful once again. The opportunity to modernise at the rear was clearly there while maintaining the heritage character of the street. This viewpoint is made without sighting the new home plans.

Arnold St. Yes. It's a double site, from memory the old house was not in character with its villa/bungalow neighbours. The new home was totally right from a scale and form viewpoint, the artistic facade is innovative yet beautiful. The recent sale price of $2.6m adds to the values of all properties in the street. A very good outcome.

Hackett St. Yes. Again scale and form sits well within the topography of the location and relative to its heritage neighbours. Use of white paint assists.

Prospect Tce. No. Use of bold/extreme/odd angles is alien. We have a worse example in Garfield St in Parnell.

JH: No. As above, it's all in how an individual interprets the guidelines.

AM: Council architects may have made reasonable calls using some of the criteria for replacement buildings in the zone, but the requirement is for such buildings to meet all and not just some of the relevant criteria.

8. Do you think the criteria for new buildings in the Residential 1 & 2 zones need to be tightened up?

DH: Yes/ absolutely. North Shore had a guide for alterations and additions in the character zone, we need some exemplars that all agree are good outcomes as some sort of a design resource. Architects self awarded honours should be carefully considered. Materials are a big part of this mix.

CT: Yes. There needs to be more sensitivity in approving new buildings in character/heritage areas. There are examples of good new developments which respect and reference their heritage surroundings.

SOS: Yes. The room for interpretation needs to be tightened.

WBCG: Yes. Demolition of restorable old dwellings should be discouraged so this needs to addressed. New building work should be encouraged if the existing structure is retained or renovated.

PCG: Use of quality architects and evaluation by passionate people at council and the community will always beat a rule driven regime (rules are for the interpretation of wise men and the blind obedience of fools). Bland, boring and/or mass produced group builder architecture should ruled out in heritage suburbs.

JH: Yes. But it's all a bit late. The zones are shot to pieces in many areas, giving ammunition to those who would remove controls altogether. Moreover, the unitary plan will deliver something very different. Forget about Res 1 and 2. Think (says the LG amendment bill) about delivering cost effective, good quality infrastructure - whatever that is supposed to mean - but it sounds good - to the ratepayer.

AM: Rather than tightening up the criteria for new buildings in the Residential 1 & 2 zones, perhaps the existing criteria simply require better understanding and application. It is plainly evident that decisions in these zones by council planning staff require earlier input and maybe oversight by council's heritage staff.

9. Do you have confidence in council staff to protect the city's built heritage?

DH: No. They are not elected every three years. They are paid regardless of how the public believe they are performing.

CT: No. We would like to have more confidence in Auckland Council officers re heritage protection. Planning staff need a culture change to consider the possibilities of retention of heritage. The heritage department needs to be accorded more status in the resource consent process.

SOS: No. SOS believe that the current regime in the planning and consents departments are presiding over the destruction of Auckland's heritage and have done for the past 20 years. The culture of development at all costs and the total lack of valuing of character and heritage will result in a city that has forgotten where it came from with no reference point for moving to the future.

WBCG: No. None. No again. no. no. none. Are a few who are behaving ethically but being over ridden by council? And throw in all the consultant planners, architects and other interested parties; you're left with a muddled system that clearly is not protecting historic form, buildings and streetscapes. Not seeing a council interested in protecting city heritage at the moment.

PCG: Yes, but only if the key people are held in high regard by the architectural and heritage fraternity.

JH: No. Absolutely not. While there may be the odd dedicated staff member, they are all obliged to sing from the same songsheet.

AM: Council's heritage staff appreciate the growing threat to city's built heritage, but there is little grounds for confidence that Auckland Council as a whole has much intention to protect it in a meaningful way.

10. In the wake of the Turua St controversy at the start of his mayoralty, Len Brown said he would do more to protect the city's heritage. How has he performed?

DH: Poor/Appalling. Apart from setting up the heritage fund, which is yet to be used and the panel who are not being listened to his performance is dismal. Needs to stop hiding behind council staff and outside consultants working on impossibly short time lines and get his hands dirty. Maybe spend a week processing contentious applications. Len mouths platitudes about heritage and makes empty promises. It is simply not on his agenda.

CT: Average. Len Brown has professed a vision for Auckland that includes strong statements about respect and retention of heritage. This has not yet been translated into visible action. Heritage continues to be at risk. We do acknowledge that the mayor asked to meet with Civic Trust Auckland in March and listened closely to our concerns and suggestions.

SOS: Appalling. The mayor could have acted to save Turua St and chose not to so his statement about not allowing it to happen again ring very hollow. Apart from some very token gestures such as a paltry heritage fund absolutely nothing has changed. The oldest building in the main street of St Heliers has just been sold and will almost certainly be demolished and there is nothing to prevent this happening of a 12.5m concrete box with no sympathy to the surroundings being built in its place.

WBCG: Appalling, 6. Average, 1. One of our group's own experiences and multiple communications with Len Brown have been hopeless. He just passes on to his assistant who pumps out a templated response. No doubt he feels he's got bigger items on his agenda for now. Len Brown has made no attempt to protect 18 Paget St from demolition. All talk, zero action. Heritage doesn't really feature on his radar.

PCG: It is not Len's problem from a legacy viewpoint. Only the unitary plan will tell us if council is now taking the matter seriously, and if it not, does Len have the passion to push back.

JH: Poor. The mayor has much more to think about than just heritage. It is always unwise to make promises unless you can be sure that you can deliver. Rule number one in politics - do not make promises. It is not at all easy to turn around statutory plans and statutory processes.

AM: If the Mayor's performance is measured against his acknowledgment in the draft Auckland Plan that "we need a radical improvement in how we value and incorporate our heritage in this (city)", then he has enormous scope for improvement.

11. Do you have confidence in Len Brown to protect the city's built heritage?

DH: No. He will not work to change the mindset of the planning Department and until that happens nothing will change. Len promised an annual review of the planning process at the first North Shore meeting of Auckland Council, but the blunders and lack of local input continues.

CT: We would like to have confidence in the mayor. We hope the mayor is able to affect the culture change necessary in the planning department to value our heritage.

SOS: No. The mayor seems intent on intensification predicated on a disputed and dubious high prediction of population figures.

WBCG: No. I believe he is disingenuous about his commitment to this issue. Will the bigger items ever be off his agenda?

PCG: Wait and see.

JH: No. Same answer as above really.

AM: With the amount in council's long-term budget for heritage, it is unlikely the mayor will be able to deliver much beyond words of hope.

12. What, if any, changes would you like to see the Auckland Council take to better protect the city's built heritage?

DH: Make Sandra Coney Mayor. Put all applications for demolition and major renovations on the council website so they are available to the public more widely. This would allow feedback to local boards, before the horse has bolted. This would help to show if the plans are contentious and feed into the notification/ non notification process. There needs to be strong leadership from planners and heritage experts within council, who are held to account for their performance. The key is for planners to embrace heritage rules and not be 'close' with developers(we've experienced this scenario). Appoint more and better qualified staff and support professional development. Allow for dissenting views to be aired at notified hearings, not diverted to soft-touch planners. There must be a transparent process and all demolitions of pre 1940 buildings should be notified. The most important Plan change for Devonport has been Plan Change 33, including business areas as protected heritage areas. The Devonport-North Shore rules should be adopted as they usually work if the Planning Dept if adhered to.

CT: Suggestions we put to Len Brown at our meeting in March include:

•Identification and recording of heritage.

•Strengthen the rules around Res 1 and 2 buildings to encourage retention as a starting point.

•Protect character/heritage areas, not just individual buildings.

•Have regard for the advice of the appointed heritage advisory panel and advise the panel of resource consent applications for heritage buildings.

•Change the culture in the planning department. Time after time, failure of council processes has lead to unnecessary heritage loss.

•Provide a meaningful and robust range of incentives for heritage retention, rates relief, meaningful budgets for heritage grants, encouragement for reuse and adaptation.

•Look to other similar cities in Australia or North America for best practice models.

SOS: In addition to measures used in Brisbane(including all demolitions being publicly notified, new buildings in old suburbs meeting a design code and these rules applying to shops and commercial buildings) - a restructuring of the planning functions of council to change the culture and give greater emphasis to the retention of character areas and to give communities more say in their built environment.

WBCG: Facilitate the forming of multiple ward committees and a referendum type questionnaire used to rebuild their policy. Then the appointment of an oversight body or committee to keep them honest. Blanket demolition ban, no exceptions. Strict alteration rules, no exceptions. Only replica villas/bungalows built in heritage zones, no exceptions. Encourage property owners to renovate heritage buildings by providing subsidies. Prevent demolition of our oldest buildings. "Bottom-up" planning by the local community with council assistance, not "top-down" planning with the locals being ignored. Something like the Brisbane Plan, or what Vancouver B.C. does.

PCG: Demolition by neglect should be outlawed. The Council aversion to the building of a replica undermines heritage. In the right hands it can be done very well. Full heritage assessment required from applicant when demolition of a Res 1 and 2 home built prior to 1940 is sought. New dwelling plans must be provided prior to a decision on demolition. Always, knowledgeable assessment by senior council officers and the community. A master pictorial library of old/built new/new after landscaping (5 years) should be created as a reference for all parties to assess if the beauty of heritage suburbs is being protected and enhanced.

JH: Start appreciating heritage for its potential - go with the flow - if it is economic development you want - let heritage be the drawcard. Start promoting adaptive re-use and debunk this "museum" theory about heritage. Buildings need constantly to be refreshed - fabric does not last forever. There is an ongoing need for replacement and rejuvenation. Put the tired mindset of "private property rights" out of its misery. If you want to think about private property rights, look at lawyer David Kirkpatrick's paper: www.rmla.org.nz/upload/files/property

AM: The Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 states that "the spatial plan must identify nationally and regionally significant areas of historic heritage value within Auckland". That plan, the Auckland Plan, has just been released without identifying any such areas. Council needs to demonstrate its comprehension of its legal obligations in relation to heritage. Auckland is facing the convergence of planned intensification, looming requirements for earthquake strengthening and inadequately assessed heritage. Unless council face up to past shortcomings and provide appropriate resources for identification and protection within the unitary plan, Auckland's heritage faces destruction of a magnitude similar to that wrought by Mother Nature upon Christchurch. Council need to implement meaningful incentives to the owners of qualifying heritage and character buildings.

- NZ Herald

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