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Take a good look at the inner-city buildings pictured on these pages — some could be gone in a few years. Geoff Cumming explains why so much of our heritage is on the block.
They are buildings and houses which help tell the story of Auckland - but how many will survive a planning rulebook designed to squeeze more people in?
Hundreds of historic commercial buildings, in the central city and suburban town centres, lack meaningful protection in the form of the Auckland Council's heritage schedules.
Heritage advocates fear a double whammy: the incoming Unitary Plan promotes higher-density housing in much of suburbia, four-to-eight storey redevelopment in suburban town centres, and up to 18 storeys in "metropolitan centres" such as New Lynn and Takapuna. At the same time, tougher earthquake-strengthening rules will add to owners' incentives to bowl unlisted buildings (most are two-storey, many unreinforced) and redevelop sites more intensively.
Just as vulnerable are swathes of suburban housing - wooden villas dating from the 1850s; bungalows from the 1920s - as council moves to include blanket and more targeted heritage controls in the Unitary Plan come unstuck (see accompanying story).
At stake is more than aesthetics; many heritage buildings wouldn't win a beauty contest. But they link us to early entrepreneurs, educators, doctors, scientists and rogues. They recall people and events that shaped the city for better or worse; corner taverns where plans were hatched and the community role of churches. Architectural styles - from Victorian to Modernist, often innovative - are as eclectic as Auckland has become.
But the council is struggling to ensure the new rulebook strikes the right balance: accommodating up to a million more Aucklanders under the "compact city" blueprint while preserving character and a sense of identity. In the frenzy of amalgamation and the rushed Unitary Plan process that followed, heritage has gathered dust.
The Unitary Plan is expected to clear a path for 260,000 homes (about 10,000 a year) to be added to already built-up areas by 2041. Just 2000 items (including buildings) are listed on the council's protected heritage schedules. It aims to double the number of protected places, to about 4000, by 2030 but its long-term budget allows no increase in assessments in the next three years. And plans to survey the historic heritage of the entire region by 2040 have disappeared from the long-term plan.
Buildings scheduled Category A have "exceptional significance" and are generally safe from demolition; those classed Category B enjoy a lesser level of protection. The threshold for scheduling is set high because of the potential effect on property rights - limiting modernisation or site redevelopment. Even so, the heritage schedules have curious gaps: while some areas and building types are well-represented, with others it's open slather.
In hearings this past fortnight, heritage agencies have asked the Unitary Plan hearings panel to add about 150 sites and buildings to the schedules. Most are inner-city commercial buildings (some highlighted on this page) whose backstory is well-known but which failed to gain scheduling under the council's old points-based system. Campaigners say they fit new Unitary Plan criteria.