'I'm shocked': Historic Dunedin home faces demolition

Heritage advocates are shocked the Dunedin City Council has approved the demolition of a historic Dunedin home and fear other buildings could face the same fate.

The 104-year-old Edmund Anscombe-designed house in Stuart St has been at the forefront of a discussion about the city’s heritage since developers Elim Group lodged a consent application to remove the house and a significant tree and build a multi-storey residential complex comprising about 30 apartments.

The proposal attracted nearly 100 submissions to the council, and the vast majority were against it.

Elim Group’s application said the project would address housing issues in Dunedin, but many people expressed concern about the design of the project and the potential loss of heritage and the tree.

Southern Heritage Trust chairwoman Jo Galer discovered yesterday Elim Group had withdrawn its original consent application and lodged a new application for a multi-unit development, which would retain the significant tree.

This application was granted without public consultation.

"I’m quite shocked," Ms Galer said.

"The decision was neglectful, irresponsible and reckless."

A council staff member told Ms Galer because the tree would be retained, and because the removal of the existing building and construction of a new residential building were permitted by the district plan, there was "no basis on which to publicly notify this second application".

Ms Galer said the council’s decision could set a "really bad precedent".

"If they knew [this decision] would upset people, why didn’t they let them know? This feels wrong on so many levels."

The greater concern was the fact Dunedin had many "important" historic buildings that were not on the Heritage New Zealand or district plan register, she said.

Dunedin’s heritage advocates are concerned about the number of historic buildings not on the...
Dunedin’s heritage advocates are concerned about the number of historic buildings not on the Heritage New Zealand or city council register and therefore at risk of demolition. Standing in front of the 104-year-old Edmund Anscombe building in Stuart St, which is to be demolished, are (from left) Lois Galer, Austin Gee, Ann Barsby, Neil Macandrew, Ted Daniels, Steve Macknight and Mac Gardner. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
"Listing these buildings on the register takes resources and time to research. There are many important heritage buildings not on the list that could be at risk of being bulldozed.

"The council has set themselves and the city up for failure."

Correspondence provided to the Otago Daily Times showed council staff told Ms Galer the council acknowledged "the public interest in both this application and heritage preservation more generally across Ōtepoti Dunedin".

"In this case, the demolition of the existing building at 284 Stuart Street was not a factor that could be considered — in response to either application — due to it not being a protected heritage building," the council staff member said.

"However, council in 2023 voted to begin development of a heritage action plan, which will consider a range of issues affecting historic buildings across our city. Work on this is continuing and timing aligns with the upcoming long-term plan."

Heritage advocate Ted Daniels, who owns many heritage buildings in Dunedin, said it was disheartening the council prioritised "protecting trees over our heritage and streetscapes".

"The recent developments in Dunedin serve as a clear example of our readiness to sacrifice historic buildings for inappropriate modern projects.

"We have already lost so much, and soon our entire streetscapes could be marred by unsuitable constructions. There are numerous vacant lots across the city where such developments can be taking place instead."

Dunedin city councillors yesterday discussed protection of heritage at a strategy, planning and engagement committee.

Committee chairwoman Sophie Barker said the news about the Stuart St demolition was sad.

"This is a wake-up call for us all and shows that we need to put our heritage action plan on steroids to protect the remaining treasures in our city."

Elim Group has been approached for comment.