Experts debate fate of heritage sites

By Mathew Dearnaley

Block of inner-city buildings may be sacrificed for railway station.

The rail project had the potential to enhance the city's historic environment, says Bruce Petry. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The rail project had the potential to enhance the city's historic environment, says Bruce Petry. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Auckland Transport consultants are divided over whether a block of inner-city heritage buildings more than 140 years old will survive excavations for the city's underground railway.

Heritage consultant Bruce Petry told planning commissioners yesterday at a route designation hearing for the 3.4km project from Britomart to Mt Eden that he supported the "adaptive reuse" of the Martha's Corner buildings at the intersection of Albert and Victoria Sts, which include nine small shops and restaurants.

"It's a challenge, but I am pretty sure we can get a realistic solution for that site," he said.

The transport organisation supports a proposed condition of a designation that an appropriate level of reuse of the buildings, which will be at an entrance to the $2.86 billion project's largest underground station, could include retaining their facades on all street frontages.

Fellow consultant John Fellows, who is advising Auckland Transport on the design of the future Aotea Station below the full block of Albert St between Victoria and Wellesley Sts, has cast doubt at the hearing on chances of saving even the facades.

"If the current concept design is implemented it is unlikely that the retention of facades, interior fabric and interior floor of these buildings with a view to adaptive reuse will be possible," he said in earlier written evidence.

Mr Petry said reuse of the Martha's Corner block would be easier to achieve than that of another early structure the Historic Places Trust is also keen on retaining, the Griffiths Building on the intersection of Albert and Wellesley Sts.

He acknowledged that historic toilets under both Albert St and Beresford Square, off Pitt St, would not survive the project, apart from having some of their fittings salvaged.

The bluestone wall on which a section of Albert St is built over its associated toilets will be protected under a stand-alone management plan within the project.

Mr Petry acknowledged that Auckland Transport was proposing the potential demolition of Martha's Corner "as a worst-case scenario".

"From my investigations, and taking into account its values, I consider demolition of these buildings is not an unacceptable outcome from a heritage perspective, if there is no other realistic option."

The chairman of the five-member panel of commissioners, Alan Watson, said the combined evidence of the two consultants seemed to indicate "an inevitability" about the fate of Martha's Corner.

Mr Petry said it would be disappointing to lose the buildings, but they were the only "relatively significant" heritage features under threat from a project which would make a large contribution to the life of the city.

"We can't save everything," he said.

The rail project had the potential to enhance the city's historic environment by encouraging commuter street life in its remaining historical precincts "and to create multifaceted urban environments, which is part of the on-going change within Auckland".

Buildings in danger

*Consultants are divided over whether a block of inner-city heritage buildings will survive excavations for the city's underground railway.
*The Martha's Corner buildings at the intersection of Albert and Victoria Sts are more than 140 years old. They include nine small shops and restaurants.
*The historic toilets under both Albert St and Beresford Square off Pitt St would not survive the project.

- NZ Herald

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