Heritage supporters came out in force this week to give their views on Whanganui District Council's plan to continue maintaining the city's oldest buildings.
The council's policy and bylaw committee voted unanimously in favour of adopting its Heritage Draft Strategy on Wednesday after considering 28 public submissions.
The aim of the strategy, as set out by council, was to "ensure and encourage the sustainable management" of heritage assets like buildings while keeping up its ongoing work with historical buildings.
For that work the council was praised by crown entity Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga for its commitment to protecting local heritage.
Hertiage NZ planner Dean Raymond attended the committee meeting via video link and praised the draft strategy, which was compiled by council's heritage adviser Scott Flutey.
Raymond made some suggestions for improvements to the strategy, including that it would be good if the fund, or an equivalent, were made available for wider heritage projects beyond the town centre buildings and for archaeology and Māori heritage.
"Overall Heritage New Zealand considers that the draft Heritage Strategy is an excellent blueprint which provides a good foundation for further protection and enhancement of Whanganui as one of the premier heritage districts of New Zealand," he said.
Whanganui heritage architect Bruce Dickson spoke to the committee in person on his own behalf and as a representative of the Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust.
He congratulated the council on its draft strategy but thought it needed to go further.
"I would like some more," he said.
"I'm like the Oliver Twist saying 'Please sir, can I have some more."
He cited the former Tesla building where the Cotton On shop is now and said although the facade had been preserved, the former two-storey building could have been saved and housed the retail space as well apartments upstairs.
Dickson suggested that a group of city building owners could join together as part of an earthquake-prone buildings association.
He asked that the council provide leadership to building owners in working together for heritage preservation.
Dickson said he had a 40-year history of encouraging Whanganui councils to take heritage conservation seriously and his state of mind had gone from pessimistic to optimistic.
He congratulated Flutey and councillor Helen Craig for their support in making heritage preservation a core council business.
"There are too many examples of individual building owners not acting in the best interests of the community," Dickson said.
Hadleigh Reid, who now owns four heritage buildings in Whanganui, said he was naive when he purchased the first one and had seen the wisdom of engaging architects as there were many challenges he had not expected.
Reid said the cost of restoration equalled the valuation of one building and it was fortunate that he had been able to subsidise the costs with the assistance of the government Heritage Equip funding scheme which has now been withdrawn.
Whanganui Repertory Society president Beverley Pearce asked councillors to better support the building on Ridgway St which was the town's first library.
"How many of you have been to see plays at the theatre?"
When several councillors raised their hands, she reminded them that it was a council-owned building in need of care and attention.
Whanganui Tramways chairman Bruce Kelly said Mable the tram was underutilised and outlined his proposal for a track extension which would enable heritage tram tours rather than just short rides.
Flutey responded that there was a provision in the plan to fund a feasibility study for Kelly's proposal.
There was discussion about Whanganui's "moveable heritage" assets which include the tram, the Waimarie riverboat, and the Durie Hill elevator.
Whanganui Regional Museum Trust chairman Marshall Tangaroa said although the draft mentioned the importance of Māori heritage there was nothing to indicate bicultural partnership.
"The heritage strategy needs to be more collaborative and inclusive," he said.
"Another point is the Museum is a very important organisation within the heritage and Whanganui community. I believe the museum should play a major role within the strategy."
Flutey said he had been encouraged by the feedback on the draft which was based on information gathered from the heritage survey conducted last year.