Kāinga Ora has admitted demolishing a potential heritage house next to a controversial State housing development in Northland before Heritage New Zealand completed an assessment of its historical value.
The admission was made by Kainga Ora chief executive Andrew McKenzie when he appeared before the Parliamentary Social Services and Community Committee last week to hear a petition submitted by the Puriri Park and Maunu Residents' Society Inc: Save Puriri Park.
Society chairman Trevor Reader filed the petition that requested Parliament to inquire into the actions and policies of all parties associated with the use, purchase, consenting, and development by Kāinga Ora and its predecessor Housing New Zealand on land at Puriri Park Rd.
He appeared before the select committee via audio visual link and spoke about his petition.
Kainga Ora is building 15 one-bedroom duplexes, four two-bedroom duplexes, one three-bedroom standalone house, six three-bedroom duplexes, eight four-bedroom duplexes and three five-bedroom standalone homes on 3.2ha of land on Puriri Park Rd zoned for residential housing after completing a heritage assessment.
In May last year, the society lodged an application with Heritage New Zealand (HNZ) for a house on the land, next to where the state houses are to be built, to be designated a heritage site as Victoria Cross recipient Lloyd Trigg lived there.
Whangārei list MP Dr Shane Reti appeared before the Parliamentary committee and said Kāinga Ora demolished the house before HNZ completed its assessment and that nowhere in the Crown agency's assessment was Trigg's name mentioned.
Kāinga Ora general manager construction & innovation Patrick Dougherty, who appeared alongside his chief executive, explained the building was demolished following an assessment and a peer review by well-recognised heritage architect Dave Pearson.
The review, he said, determined there was no heritage value within the building.
Reti then asked the Kāinga Ora duo whether the building was demolished before HNZ could finish their assessment.
McKenzie replied they did.
"That's wrong I am afraid," Reti commented.
HNZ later confirmed a series of reports concluded the house did not have a high enough heritage value to require protection.
Dougherty said the "supposed" heritage concerns were not taken directly to HNZ which was evident in the hundreds of submissions received through the resource consent hearing process.
He said community members and the mana whenua were invited to safely salvage material and items from the house before it was demolished.
Committee member and Green Party MP Ricardo March asked the duo what impact the construction of new State houses would have on the social housing register, houses prices in the area, and rents, and how did Kāinga Ora find a balance between them.
"It's a rather unfortunate dynamic that people have around the presence of State houses in their neighbourhood and what they might do to them, and we certainly saw in a number of submissions we received around people's distrust of people who need to get support," McKenzie replied.
"Some of the worst I've seen, in terms of the characterisation of those people who are in need.
"I am really struggling to see what is it that means the presence of State houses will drive the value of the homes [down] which was one of the rationale given for why it shouldn't happen."
Whangārei MP Emily Henderson questioned that since the building of State houses on Puriri Park Rd has created significant distress in her constituency, what measures has Kāinga Ora put in place to try to integrate new members into an old, established community.
McKenzie said Kāinga Ora spent time integrating people into new communities right across New Zealand by initiatives such as introducing them to neighbours.
"These are people who are part of our community and they need to be embraced by the people they are going to live beside, not rejected on the basis of their being in a State house," he said.
His comments raised the ire of Reader, who accused McKenzie of potentially driving a wedge in the community at Puriri Park Rd.
"Our group has always fought to save green space. We've never been anti Housing NZ so it's really unfair for him to intimate that we're racists, elitist, or practice nimbysm.
"We're not opposed to people living in State houses as such," he said.
Reader said by demolishing the house before HNZ could complete its due process showed Kāinga Ora's determination and ideology-driven agenda to push through its plans.
The State houses are expected to be completed by mid-2022.