Last week Environment Court Judge Jeff Smith upheld the appeal by developers View West to demolish the Category B listed St James Church Hall in Mt Eden.
Auckland Council and Civic Trust argued strongly that the decision to decline the original consent should stand. Heritage NZ staff advocated for retention as well, with Robin Byron appearing as an expert witness for Civic Trust, along with heritage architect Graeme Burgess.
Brian Putt, a highly respected planner and Peter Lui, structural engineer, also appeared in support of Civic Trust’s case.
The argument for retention was that once the building was made temporarily safe, concept plans to redevelop the Hall for apartments could be further developed.
Unfortunately, the Environment Court took the view that the Dangerous Building notices issued by the Council required the Court to put health and safety matters above heritage issues. This is despite several engineers explaining to the Judge and Commissioners that the Hall could be made safe with temporary propping measures.
This is the first application for demolition of a Category B listed building under the new Unitary Plan rules, and as such, the decision to allow demolition sets a dangerous precedent for listed heritage throughout the country.
In future, owners of listed buildings will be incentivised to leave them to rot, leading to “demolition by neglect”. They can get a Dangerous Building notice served; then turn around and immediately apply for a demolition consent, on the basis of precedent.
The only likely stay from execution for the St James Church Hall is for the Council to immediately do the temporary propping works themselves, then appeal the decision to the High Court.
Mayor Phil Goff, council Chief Executive Stephen Town, and James Hassall, Acting Head of Regulatory Services have all assured Councillor and Mt Eden local, Christine Fletcher, that they will undertake all measures possible to keep the Church Hall standing.
Civic Trust hopes that this undertaking will be honoured.