This story is complex but illuminating as to the state of heritage protection in Auckland. Currently standing at 16-18 Crummer Road are a pair of two-storey Victorian wooden villas built, according to Council Heritage, in the 1880s-1890s. In July 2014, the Waitematā Local Board was informed that Council had received a Certificate of Compliance (CoC) application for the demolition of the buildings. A CoC is unlike a resource consent application, it is an administrative exercise to confirm compliance with the District Plan.
It had been our understanding that planning rules had a blanket application to any buildings built before 1944, requiring special consideration from Council before demolition can be allowed but in this case we’ve learnt that the heritage blanket has holes in it! We were very surprised to be informed by Council officers that although the pre-1944 heritage/character rules of the Unitary Plan are now in effect (although not fully), they do not apply to 16-18 Crummer Road and, by inference, a number of other sites. Given that there are no rules, overlays or protection for the properties in question, no heritage/character assessment is required so the District Plan and the draft Unitary Plan permit demolition of the buildings. The fact that these particular buildings were constructed prior to 1900 will mean that some form of Heritage NZ (until recently, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust) approval is required prior to demolition but only relating to the recording of any items of historic interest found on site.
This is far from a satisfactory state of affairs so I have requested clarification from Council Heritage about what areas have had sites removed from the overlay. The search has been narrowed to areas on the boundary of industrial or commercial areas but it is still a large undertaking. The challenge is to identify at-risk sites before the hearings at which Heritage will be submitting to the Unitary Plan Commissioners. This work will be fed to a Pre-1944 Survey Team that has been established by the Heritage department. The Survey Team have identified 12 priority areas including Grey Lynn, Ponsonby and the Res 1 fringe. They have identified ‘hot spots’ where there is high development pressure and mapped proposals for Special Housing Areas in the pre-1944 overlay areas. Their fieldwork and preliminary mapping will be complete by September with Unitary Plan hearings in December 2015 – January 2016. Assessments have been completed for Westmere, Grey Lynn, Ponsonby and Freemans Bay. The Local Board is pursuing this as a matter of urgency to ensure that important heritage sites are properly identified and protected.
In the same month as applying for the CoC, the owner of the site lodged an application for the construction of a mixed-use development of 24 residential apartments and 112m2 of commercial floor space. The 15-metre height limit was proposed to be infringed by 6.2 metres (total 21.2m) and floor area ratio of 2:1 was to be breached by the proposed ratio of 3.9:1. The Local Board does not have binding authority on resource consent applications but we do have non-binding input into notification. After speaking with neighbours of the site, I recommended to the consenting officer that the application be publicly notified.
When informed by the duty commissioner that the proposal would be notified, the applicant significantly scaled back their proposal and the amended proposal lodged in January 2015 removed the top penthouse floor to reduce the height and bulk of the building. This resulted in a mixed-use development of 20 residential units and 1 commercial unit. The height infringement is now 1.05 metres (mainly lift shaft) and the proposed floor area ratio has been reduced to 3.5:1. The duty commissioner accepted this scaled-back proposal and the application was approved on a non-notified basis.
It has been troubling to observe this death-of-a-thousand-cuts to the built heritage of Auckland’s inner suburbs. I can assure readers, though, that we will be watching closely as the heritage assessments progress and will report back to you on the decisions made by the Independent Commissioners on the Unitary Plan Hearing Panel. We are determined to protect our heritage gems for future generations.
This is an expanded version of a piece published in the June edition of Ponsonby News.