The Auckland Council has been struggling to work out how to preserve the city's heritage in housing. The first proposal in its draft Unitary Plan was to impose blanket protection on all houses built before 1944. That blanket would have covered so much of the isthmus that it would have severely limited the city's ability to accommodate its expected population growth, as well as the rights of property owners. Now heritage protection is being revised behind closed doors.
The revised draft plans the Herald has seen exclude entire suburbs from protection. Houses in Mission Bay, Kohimarama, St Heliers, Takapuna, Belmont and Milford can be knocked down regardless of their age or style. Meanwhile, the blanket in the western isthmus has been extended somewhat, covering more of Grey Lynn and Westmere, though excluding, to the surprise of some, the Art Deco apartment buildings on Jervois Rd.
Beauty in buildings, as in all things, is in the eye of the beholder. Old villas are not to everyone's taste. But many Aucklanders who do not want to live in them probably are grateful to those who have done them up over the past 40 years. The preservation of much of pre-war Auckland was not mandated by urban planning. It was the free choice of a generation of home buyers who liked the crumbling old houses that had been turned into flats they had rented as students. They started buying them in the 1970s and within 10 years the renovation of the inner western suburbs was remarkable.
It continued to spread westwards through Kingsland and Western Springs and it continues still. It is doubtful that residential areas need heritage protection and, if they do, it should be possible to do so with most of the residents' consent.
Everyone who has put capital into restoring a house in a street of similarly renovated homes has an interest in preserving the character of the neighbourhood. It should be possible to devise a building code that meets their shared interest, unless the housing booms of the past 10 years have left too many renovated villas in the hands of speculators who would oppose any restriction on them. But even they should realise the value they gain from the character of the houses around them.
The plan revisions now proposed to the council appear to be based on local preferences. The inclusion of only parts of some streets suggest homeowners' wishes have been canvassed and followed. How else to explain the exclusion of streets in Westmere and Cox's Bay with views of the harbour, while harbourside areas on the North Shore, Devonport, Northcote and Birkenhead are protected?
The excluded areas leave room for the higher density developments Auckland will need for its population growth over the next few decades. Along the south shore, from St Heliers to Pt Chevalier, intensive development will be possible, as it will be further from the harbour on the North Shore. It is not clear why the heritage revision is being discussed in such secrecy. So far, it looks fine.