Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Character net beyond historic suburbs

Unitary Plan's heritage rules require demolition consent for pre-1944 houses in the region, but public still won't have a say in outcome

The character of areas outside Auckland's historic suburbs will get some protection in the Unitary Plan, which stops short of public notification of demolitions. Photo / APN
The character of areas outside Auckland's historic suburbs will get some protection in the Unitary Plan, which stops short of public notification of demolitions. Photo / APN

Thousands of pre-1944 houses in suburban Auckland and early rural towns like Helensville and Waiuku have been added to the net in a proposed rewrite of the city's tarnished heritage rules.

But while the Character Coalition - a group of heritage and community organisations - has welcomed a widening of the heritage net, it says the provisions don't go far enough.

The coalition has lobbied the council to follow the Brisbane model, which prevents demolition of pre-1945 houses unless the owner can make a case. The public have a say in the process.

Coalition spokeswoman Sally Hughes was hugely disappointed at the council for leaving the decision-making powers in the hands of unelected officials with no place for public input.

Queensland Government architect Malcolm Middleton - in Auckland this week for a council-sponsored speaking event - said the Brisbane model had been considered radical when introduced about 15 years ago. But these days, he said, the blanket provision was largely accepted and worked for the amenity and value of the character suburbs.

Applications to demolish pre-1945 houses were publicly notified, although there was talk of letting the council assess applications on a non-notified basis, Mr Middleton said.

The "precautionary control" in Auckland applies to pre-1944 areas outside existing historic character areas in the old Auckland City and North Shore areas.

In these areas, the council is proposing to ditch the assessment tests used in Auckland City, which led to many old houses being demolished without public input, for the North Shore assessment tests that led to fewer demolitions and more publicly notified applications.

Council officers are confident they have the tools to stop demolitions outside the historic character suburbs to protect character streetscapes, like Westmere's 1920s bungalow groups, from inappropriate development.

The council plans to assess Auckland's pre-1944 areas for inclusion as historic character areas - with the added protection that comes with that. Work has already started in several suburbs, including Onehunga and Otahuhu.

There are no plans to survey residents on whether they want to be in a historic character area or not. When the old Auckland City Council surveyed residents in 2005 before introducing the Residential 1 and 2 character zones, 80 per cent wanted to keep their special character.

Heritage changes

1. Existing historic character suburbs in old Auckland City and North Shore suburbs will adopt North Shore model.
Pros: Officers say it will be easier to publicly notify demolitions/removals.
Cons: Character Coalition wants all applications publicly notified.

2. Pre-1944 houses outside historic character suburbs will require resource consent for demolition/removal.
Pros: At present, blanket provision assessed by council officers on non-notified basis.
Cons: Public have no say.

3. Pre-1944 areas outside historic character suburbs assessed for character status.
Pros: New areas added to existing historic character suburbs.
Cons: A slow process and no plans to survey residents.

4. Resource consent for new buildings in pre-1944 areas will not have to accompany demolition/removal applications.
Pros: Owners do not have to submit resource consent before they know if they can demolish/remove buildings.
Cons: Council/public cannot see what is being planned.

- NZ Herald

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