The Thain's Building at 1 Victoria Ave could be a test case for other heritage buildings in Whanganui's central business district.
Owner Tony Karantze has applied to the Whanganui District Council for resource consent to demolish the severely earthquake-prone building because he cannot afford to bring it up to standard. His agent Noel Mouldey said demolition consent would make it more viable to sell the property to a developer and demolition would not take place until resource consent for a replacement building, "if any", was granted.
The second day of a two-day hearing on the application by independent commissioner Rob van Voorthuysen was held on Friday, August 10.
Submitter Peter Robinson supported the demolition application with provisos and said the problem was the Whanganui District Plan which was flawed and did not meet the sustainability provisions of the Resource Management Act.
"This application can be viewed as a test case," Robinson said.
"There are other buildings in the CBD with similar problems."
The Whanganui District Council had been avoiding the issue of how to deal with the city's large stock of heritage buildings for the last 30 years and had a lot of catching up to do, Robinson said. Declining the application would not enhance the CBD.
Robinson submitted that approval to demolish the building be given but not signed off for six months so the council and other parties can develop an economically viable plan for retaining and upgrading the building. If no viable alternative can be produced, building consent for demolition should not be approved until the council has approved a redevelopment plan for the site.
Edita Babos, representing Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, said the protection of heritage was important under the Resource Management Act and alternatives to demolition should be further explored.
In the applicant's right of reply, Mouldey challenged the submitters who believed there were other viable options for the building.
"We have exhausted many options, including the possibility of higher density living accommodation," Mouldey said.
"All have proved, for one reason or several, to be far from viable in this building.
"The property owner is genuinely not able to meet the enormous building seismic strengthening costs. That situation leaves the owner no option under the current central government legislation but to seek a new owner for the building."
The application for demolition consent was "the last resort", Mouldey said.
The commissioner adjourned the hearing and will provide his written decision to the Whanganui District Council.