Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Blanket ban is senseless

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A ban on demolishing pre-1939 houses may preserve worthless stinkers as well as palaces. Photo / Michael Craig
A ban on demolishing pre-1939 houses may preserve worthless stinkers as well as palaces. Photo / Michael Craig

I love living in our street, even though over 14 years the character of the neighbourhood's changed a bit.

Aladdin's Bathhouse has become a store that sells organic babywear. The vegan health food store on the corner has become a pub and, sadly, the butcher's shop across the road - a butchery that's been on that very corner since 1905 - has fallen victim to the supermarkets surrounding the area and has shut. It's now a wine bar.

Some things have stayed the same, though.

Our next door neighbour and the lovely people in the houses across the road are Grey Lynners from the 1950s who have thus far resisted the enticements of real estate agents to sell and move on.

There have been a couple of disputes between those who understand Grey Lynn's charm and those who don't.

I was horrified when a silly young woman with a toddler appeared on my doorstep asking me to sign a petition. She wanted the council to cut down the beautiful old plane trees in our street because the roots made the footpaths uneven and her toddler kept tripping while learning to walk!

The trees in our street are just beautiful - in spring and summer they form a cool, shadowy canopy over the road and I had heard that they were planted in memory of the men who died in World War 1.

I've never investigated the story because I don't want to find out it's not true. I love thinking of the trees as a natural memorial - so there were many, many things I wanted to say to the dummy mummy who'd moved in down the road. But in a supreme show of self-control, I limited my response to pointing out that all toddlers fall over when learning to walk, be it on bumpy surfaces or smooth ones, and that I would chain myself to the trees if she tried to get them cut down.

She and her family shifted out of the neighbourhood a few years later. Probably to a nice suburban housing development with smooth asphalt surfaces everywhere.

Then there was the great Western Springs speedway battle in which earnest, grey-haired, do-gooders tried to get the speedway shut down because they wanted Grey Lynn to go back to its roots.

I pointed out to one softly spoken woman that Grey Lynn used to be a swamp, an abattoir and a slum. Besides, the speedway had been there far longer than she'd been living in the house she'd bought down the road from the track.

Mercifully, the council saw reason but not before it put the speedway and its supporters through hoops.

As I say, I love living here and I would hate some Flash Harry to come into the street, bowl one of the houses (most were built around 1860) and erect a monument to his own glory in stainless steel and one-way glass.

There's a place for architectural splendour but it's not in our street. I suppose that's why the council has to have rules about what you can and cannot do when you buy property.

You used to be able to rely on people's common sense and desire to do what was right for the community, but now a lot of people are concerned only about their own personal needs and wants.

However, I'm with the Herald editorial in saying a blanket ban on demolishing houses built before World War II goes too far.

In streets where there is a real mixture of architectural styles and disparity between homes' ages, why can't you tear down one with no particular merit other than its age?

A city-wide ban on demolishing pre-1939 houses may mean fewer curly decisions for the council, but it really is lowest common denominator policy-making.

- Herald on Sunday

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