In February 2015, resource consent was granted for additions and alterations to the villa at 23 Albany Road, Herne Bay, a heritage building in a Res 1 zone in Conservation Area C and Category B Historic Heritage area (PAUP). The works included lifting and excavating the house to create a basement garage and living accommodation, partial demolition of the roof, demolition of the existing sleep out and garage, and the construction of ground floor extensions.
A Conservation Area is defined in the District Plan (at 5C.7.2) as ‘one where the built form or landscape character predominates and is finely articulated or united historically and aesthetically by form or physical character. Its primary purpose is to preserve the unique character and fabric of an area.’ Albany Road is in ‘Conservation Area C’ which also includes Ardmore Road, Wanganui Avenue and part of Trinity Street. There are only seven Conservation Areas in the former Auckland City Council area. The others are A: Renall Street, Ponsonby; B: Part of Herne Bay Road; D: part of Elgin Street, Grey Lynn; E: Cooper Street, Arch Hill; F: Burnley Terrace and part of King Edward Street, Mount Eden; G: Monte Cecilia Park.
The proposed additions were sympathetic to streetscape and heritage character of the neighbourhood. In August, the Local Board were contacted by local residents asking why the house was being completely demolished. No resource consent was granted to remove the villa from the site. Auckland Council’s monitoring inspectors visited the site and assessed the consented plans against the works that had taken place. There was a major discrepancy in that more of the house has been demolished than was consented. The builder claimed that sub-standard construction work by previous builders had been discovered so he decided to remove most of the building without informing Council. Inspectors had not been made aware that works had commenced and therefore had not inspected the site until we were informed by members of the media. The owner lodged a retrospective consent application (R/VCC/2015/24/1) on 18 September for a change of conditions to allow the demolition of the majority of the dwelling.
The Local Board requested public notification of this application. This is retrospective consent for an almost total demolition of a heritage building in a Res 1 zone in Conservation Area C and Category B historic heritage area (PAUP). There is little higher protection outside of scheduling of the site, yet no attempt was made by the owners to advise or consult with Council when it became clear that they would demolish the building over and above what was consented. This demolition in such a sensitive area has drawn considerable public interest – including media attention. I also submitted that Special Circumstances exist as per s94A(4) RMA. In Murray v Whakatane District Council  NZRMA 433, Elias J stated that, in determining what may amount to special circumstances, it is necessary to consider the matters relevant to the application as a whole, not merely those considerations stipulated in the test for notification.
The application was granted on a non-notified basis on 17 November. Duty commissioner, Robert Scott, noted that, ‘in terms of streetscape character and amenity, the proposal will result in a dwelling that will correspond with other front facades of dwellings within the street, and will be constructed in a form, style and materials which accords with the special character of the area … the proposed form of the roof will not detract from the character of the existing building as it will be consistent with the original form … in order to mitigate the adverse effects of the demolition, the applicant proposes that parts of the dwelling that were able to be salvaged during the demolition have been proposed to be reused where possible … In terms of positive effects, the proposal will allow for the development of the dwelling with an architectural style that is compatible with the character of the original dwelling and positively contributes to the streetscape character and amenity of Albany Road.’
All this in an area with the strongest possible heritage protection short of scheduling. Proof that it is possible to demolish all but the bay window of a heritage house in a Conservation Area without consent and all that is required is a variation of consent conditions to legitimise it. When it comes to dealing with a heritage building in Auckland, it is indeed better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.