Following months of public outcry, Heritage New Zealand has stepped into the debate over the Napier Conference Centre.

The original hall on Marine Parade was built by public subscription in 1956, in memory of those who lost their lives in World War II and featured an Eternal Flame and a Roll of Honour listing the fallen soldiers' names.

It later became the Napier War Memorial Conference Centre, and has recently undergone a multimillion-dollar redevelopment - which combined earthquake strengthening, extensions and refurbishment work, initially scheduled for 2023.

While it now boasts the ability to host an array of functions, over the past several months residents have spoken out against the change, arguing the building has lost its gravitas with the removal of the Eternal Flame, and Roll of Honour.


Now a Heritage New Zealand representative will be paying a visit to Hawke's Bay to meet with Napier mayor Bill Dalton, and the building's original architect, Guy Natusch. Heritage New Zealand is a Crown entity which advocates for the protection of ancestral sites and heritage buildings around the country.

The agency's central region general manager, Claire Craig, yesterday confirmed she would be in Hawke's Bay next week "for a range of matters" but was not able to comment on the Conference Centre specifically. The purpose of her visit was a mystery to Mr Dalton, who said he had been invited, and had agreed to meet with Ms Craig.

At this stage he was not sure why she wanted to meet, but said: "I presume it's about the [Napier Conference Centre]".

Mr Dalton said that, as far as he was aware, Heritage New Zealand had not been involved in any discussions with the council about the transition of the memorial into a conference centre.

When asked if he thought they should have been involved given the recent outcry, Mr Dalton said "The short answer is, I don't know".

Mr Dalton said he would have a better understanding of whether this should have happened or not after their meeting on Wednesday.

The answer was more clear for Mr Natusch - who was one of the first to speak out against the changes to the memorial. In a letter to Hawke's Bay Today, he wrote that the recent outcry showed "the very high public esteem in which the War Memorial Hall has been held since it was opened in 1957".

Yesterday he said he had initially spoken against the change as "if the people rose up and said 'You shall not do this' it would send a message. And it's worked".


Mr Natusch wrote there was a strong community feeling that the conference centre needed to remain "first and foremost" a memorial hall. He stated if the council had no clear legal or moral mandate to alter, or relocate any of Napier's other memorials - citing the Boer War Memorial, and Clive Flood Memorial - "then there can clearly only be one decision on the future of the War Memorial Hall".

He was advocating for the reinstating of the name, roll of honour, and flame of remembrance on site - which he said could be done in a way that flagged the memorial and enhanced the new conference development.

The Napier City Council, which owns the venue, is developing plans to build a new memorial to house the Eternal Flame, and the Roll of Honour.

Council manager visitor experiences Sally Jackson has told Hawke's Bay Today that it had not been considered appropriate to house the items in the new centre, as it was a commercial venue.

"If the memorial is still within the conference centre, if the entire venue is booked, which does happen, it means there is no public access to it," she said. "We feel it should be accessible to the public 24/7."

The memorial items would be housed in a new war memorial space - at this stage the council had not begun looking at locations for this, - likely to include a site on Marine Parade. A working group for the development of this has been formed - with members including Mr Dalton, three councillors, the presidents of the Napier, and Taradale RSAs, and historian Michael Fowler. One meeting had already been held, with another in the next fortnight. The council also intended to consult the community.