Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Timely warning on landmark waterfront buildings

File photo / APN
File photo / APN

Welcome to another episode in the crazy, mixed-up world of Auckland local planning.

For at least four years, planners from first Auckland City and then the new Super City refused to include two of the landmark industrial buildings in the Wynyard Quarter, the Southern Spars and North Sails buildings, on the list of protected, "character" buildings for this new harbourside precinct.

This, despite Auckland Council owning the buildings and the site.

The council's opposition has been so adamant that late last year it did battle in the Environment Court with the Art Deco Society. The volunteer heritage group was fighting to have the two buildings, with three others, added to the slim list of protected buildings the planners had drawn up for the new development area.

The judgment, released recently, was a victory for the planners. The buildings lost. None was deemed of sufficient "character" to be protected.

Then yesterday, a sudden flip-flop. Instead of a date with the wrecker's ball, a white knight from another part of council has decided they should be flossied up and become the centrepiece of the quarter's "Innovation Precinct".

On site yesterday, Waterfront Auckland chairman Bob Harvey was busy shepherding Auckland Council chief executive Doug McKay and the Minister of Science and Innovation, Steven Joyce, around the buildings.

"They will be preserved and protected and be dazzling," Mr Harvey told me. "They'll be at the very heart of the Innovation Precinct."

Let me hasten to add that Mr Harvey is one of the good guys in this. He, with former regional council leaders Mike Lee and Sandra Coney, has been working to rescue these two buildings from the reject list ever since the Super City inherited it.

What the episode highlights is that when it comes to saving heritage, it pays not to give up until the bricks and timber start tumbling down. It is also a timely reminder that there tends to be a planner for all seasons.

Now, to me it has always seemed blindingly obvious that to create the unique waterfront precinct everyone desired, a good first step would be to preserve and retrofit as much as possible of its industrial past.

Think Sydney and The Rocks, or Cockatoo Island.

Unfortunately, by the time it hit the Environment Court, the debate had become more a textual analysis of what the drafters of the proposed district plan change had in mind when they talked about "character" buildings.

There was judicial dancing on a pin trying to decide the difference between "identified character buildings" versus plain "character buildings," and whether someone was approaching an issue "holistically" or not.

When the planners are trying to persuade Aucklanders to abandon our appeal rights so they can fast-track the new Super City plan into law, the saga of the old buildings on the waterfront is a timely warning. The planners did not get it right here. Nor did the politicians who approved the plan.

It was political pressure from the public and from veteran politicians that have helped save the day.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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