Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Heritage groups attack mayor's 'empty promises'

The council was accused of having an 'anti-heritage culture' after it approved demolition of this 130-year-old cottage at 18 Paget St.  Photo / Dean Purcell
The council was accused of having an 'anti-heritage culture' after it approved demolition of this 130-year-old cottage at 18 Paget St. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is all talk and no action on heritage, according to comments in a Herald survey on heritage issues.

"Len mouths platitudes about heritage and makes empty promises," said Devonport Heritage, one of four groups to rate his performance as poor or appalling.

Mr Brown and council planners were singled out for the fiercest criticism in the survey of heritage groups and advocates, conducted after a series of issues highlighted in the Herald this year.

Read the whole Herald survey here.

These include the highly publicised Paget St case, the design of new houses in character streets and figures showing a higher percentage of old houses have been lost under Mr Brown than under his predecessor John Banks.

The Civic Trust said it would like to have confidence in Mr Brown, but also said the mayor had to bring about a culture change in the planning department to value heritage.

Most of the seven respondents did not have confidence in council staff to protect the city's heritage buildings.

But their view is not shared by city chief executive Doug McKay, who says he respects and commends their tough calls on sensitive issues.

Save Our St Heliers said the current regime in the planning department had been presiding over the destruction of Auckland's heritage for the past 20 years.

The Paget St case - in which a planning officer who opposed demolition was replaced by a consultant planner who supported it - demonstrated the "anti-heritage culture".

All seven respondents believed Paget St had raised public awareness about heritage issues.

On new houses in character suburbs, the overwhelming view was that council planners were not getting it right and the rules needed tightening.

"There needs to be more sensitivity in approving new buildings in character/heritage areas," said the Civic Trust, adding that there were good examples which respected their local heritage.

Asked what changes they would like to see the council make, the respondents singled out stronger leadership, a culture change in the planning department and greater community input.

Mr Brown yesterday defended his record, saying he had tried to address the short, medium and long-term needs of heritage.

The council had established a built heritage fund with $10 million to buy and upgrade historic buildings, a heritage advisory panel and a heritage forum of councillors, he said.

He acknowledged the planning culture was primarily focused on the development market, which needed to be balanced against preserving heritage.

It would take patience to get the right culture and a new planning process in place, he said. Until a new unitary plan was in place, likely to take several years, the council would take a more formidable line on heritage, Mr Brown said.

"It's not a perfect formula yet, but we are trying to balance a city that is respectful and wants to protect significant parts of its built heritage but working to meet the needs of the future community that are coming here."

HERITAGE SURVEY FINDINGS

On Paget St

* "The machinations inside council have been exposed as never before."
- Western Bays Community Group
* "The removal of the planner who was opposed to the application smacks of cronyism."
- Devonport Heritage

On council planners

* "The current regime is presiding over the destruction of Auckland's heritage and has done for the past 20 years."
- Save Our St Heliers

On new buildings

* "Too many new builds are completely out of character."
- Western Bays Community Group

On Len Brown

* "Mouths platitudes about heritage and makes empty promises."
- Devonport Heritage

See the full results of the heritage survey here.

- NZ Herald

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