Police and fire investigators suspect a blaze that ripped
through a historic but heavily vandalised homestead in East
Auckland at the weekend was deliberately lit.
They are trying to trace a car-load of people seen at the
114-year-old Guy Homestead, overlooking Ti Rakau Drive in
Huntington Park, before the fire was reported about 7.45pm on
Six fire engines turned out to fight the blaze, and Ti Rakau
Drive was closed to traffic after thick smoke billowed down
from the building, said to have been a magnet for street kids
and vandals in the 15 years since it was sold into private
ownership by the former Manukau City Council.
Its current owners, Hong Kong-based Twin Oaks Ltd, have been
trying to sell it and 7950 sq m of land around it for eight
years for $3.5 million, but have been hamstrung by council
and Historic Places Trust covenants.
Howick builder Nick Neben, who had been campaigning for
Auckland Council to enforce the covenants to protect the
property from further damage while considering whether to buy
it back, said the destruction of what was one of the area's
original farming homes would be a great loss.
"I felt like crying this morning when I saw it burnt down,"
Counties-Manukau fire safety officer Phil Faidley said the
kauri and pine building was about 80 per cent destroyed and
the police were following a number of leads after his
investigation found the fire was likely to have been arson.
Witnesses reported a group of people, and provided a detailed
description to police of at least one man.
He did not believe the case was connected to a string of
rubbish fires at schools, parks and other public places
through East Auckland in recent months.
Mr Neben said he and Howick councillor Sharon Stewart had
urged the council two or three times this year to safeguard
the homestead, set on otherwise vacant land in a
fast-developing neighbourhood, but nothing happened.
"I just felt the council have let this slip away. We said
'why can't we just get it fenced to stop people getting
injured?' but the council had a look and decided it wouldn't
have warranted it."
Ms Stewart said she was concerned that "kids sleeping in
there, rough" could get hurt. The campaign included an appeal
several months ago to Mayor Len Brown, who said last night:
"It's always disappointing when we lose part of our built
heritage, particularly a property the local community is fond
"It's obviously an area of Auckland I know well and the news
of its fate is clearly upsetting for people concerned about
protecting heritage in Howick."
Howick Local Board chairman Michael Williams said the fire
was "a real shame", particularly as the board had voted just
last month to approach the council to buy the homestead.
"The board had asked Auckland Council to purchase it, and it
was going through a process," he said.
Property agent Lawrence Wong, who has been trying to sell the
homestead for Twin Oaks, said the company intended "sitting
hard" on its high asking price as it was on "a beautiful site
- the last bit of land that's available in that whole area
with potential for development."
- Mathew Dearnaley of the NZ Herald