The proposal to demolish Whanganui's Thain's Building has been blocked, delighting heritage advocates and "devastating" the owners.

The decision by independent commissioner Rob van Voorthuysen to decline consent to demolish the Class B heritage building at 1 Victoria Ave follows a two-day hearing in Whanganui last week.

Karantze Holdings argues it has no option but to strengthen or demolish the building under earthquake-prone legislation but couldn't afford to do either.

Its hope was consent to demolish would make it easier to sell.

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However, 32 out of 33 submissions opposed the application and the Whanganui District Council also recommended the application be declined.

Many said losing the "priceless and irreplaceable" building would fundamentally change the entrance to the Avenue and set a precedent for demolishing the city's valuable heritage stock.

In his decision van Voorthuysen agreed and said Thain's Building had "undisputed heritage values of regional significance".

"Granting land use consent to demolish the Thain's Building would result in a significant and unavoidable adverse effect on heritage values, both at the subject site and cumulatively within the Whanganui Old Town precinct."

The building was highly visible from tourist destinations such as Durie Hill and the Whanganui City Bridge, he said, and its demolition would adversely affect the "fabric and symmetry" of the other Victorian-era masonry buildings.

Van Voorthuysen said no mitigation was proposed and that while consent could "yield a positive private good effect ... there is no certainty that such a positive effect will eventuate".

However, he had sympathy with the owners - "given that they have very clearly stated that they cannot afford to undertake earthquake strengthening ..." - and hoped council worked with them to find a solution.

Agent Noel Mouldey, who represented the owners at the hearing, said they were "devastated but not surprised".

"It leaves a huge dilemma," he said. "Not just for these owners but for the rest of them. It's a major issue."

Independent commissioner Rob van Voorthuysen sat on the two-day hearing.
Independent commissioner Rob van Voorthuysen sat on the two-day hearing.

Mouldey said the decision will not be appealed because it would be too costly and unlikely to succeed.

Instead he's written to council.

"We're not going to let it go, it has to be addressed," he said.

"There has to be a solution and it has to be found soon. It's a really disappointing situation.

"If the community want these buildings saved then the community's got to save them. It's as simple as that."

Mouldey said if it was proven strengthening could be economically viable, building owners would raise money, but it wasn't.

"We know the council can't come up with $1 million for every building in town that needs strengthening."

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said the decision to decline demolition reinforced the importance of retaining Whanganui's heritage.

"We are very pleased Mr van Voorthuysen has validated our heritage-led approach to city centre regeneration.

"Demolishing the Thain's Building would have caused irreversible damage to our status as a town known for its unique heritage."

McDouall said council was committed to working with building owners to find innovative ways to strengthen, adapt and reuse heritage buildings.

Thain's Building
*The 'Thain's Building' is a three-storey brick building, erected in 1907/1908 by Nicholas Meuli to sell household goods and agricultural supplies by James Thain and Co.
*It is listed as a 'Class B' heritage item in the Whanganui District Plan which means it has high heritage values at a regional or local level.
*Karantze Holdings has owned the heritage building since 1984 and has leased it for retail and office space.