Hotelier slams Historic Places Trust

Bluestone foundations of the demolished building in High St. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Bluestone foundations of the demolished building in High St. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Scenic Hotel Group executive chairman Earl Hagaman has condemned the Historic Places Trust over the way it dealt with his company's demolition of old buildings in High St earlier this year to make way for a car park.

In a letter to Members of Parliament and the media yesterday, Mr Hagaman accused the trust of using its legal powers indiscriminately, improperly and unfairly.

". . . the property owner suffers significant losses but has no recourse unless he chooses to begin an expensive, time-consuming lawsuit."

Mr Hagaman outlined the difficulties his company had encountered over the demolition of the "wrecks" of buildings, next to the company's Southern Cross Hotel.

The buildings, bought by the company 25 years ago, housed various businesses over 127 years including Smiths City, Paterson and Barr and the Bank of Australasia.

The buildings were demolished in September.

Mr Hagaman said one rear building was demolished "almost immediately" after the purchase, in 1984, and the site converted into a hotel car park, but further demolition was delayed because two tenants wanted to stay despite the "wretched, slum-like conditions".

More delay occurred, "unfortunately", when the tenants left and the buildings became a "dangerous shambles" and "eyesore" used by homeless people.

Mr Hagaman said when, in 2008, the company applied to demolish the former Bank of Australasia, the trust "ruled" it should be retained.

"Temporary sanity prevailed, however, when it was determined that the building, with its crumbling floors and stairs, was a significant safety hazard to any people daring to enter it."

Mr Hagaman said the trust then wanted to put a full-time person on the site, at a cost of more than $15,000 to the company, to be sure nothing of historic value was lost or destroyed.

The company refused "and the trust finally gave up on that one".

Mr Hagaman said the trust determined "under the edict of their kangaroo court methods", the building foundation of bluestone should be preserved, at the company's expense.

This "would increase our costs and cause us to lose a large number of parking spaces".

Although the company instructed the demolition company not to remove the foundation, it was damaged and the trust "shut the job down" for several days at further cost to the company.

The trust had then ordered the contractor to build a fence around the remaining blue stone while other work proceeded.

Mr Hagaman said the trust would be convening a meeting to decide "who to punish and what to do about the bluestone".

"In the meantime, the parking area cannot be paved and costs run on and the project will be delayed indefinitely."

Mr Hagaman said he believed "really worthwhile" historic buildings and artefacts should be preserved, "but not at the expense of the owner".

"That is pure and simple confiscation of private property without compensation."

Mr Hagaman considered his building was put in a protected category only "to increase the beanie point score of saved items the trust can brag about in its annual report".

Mr Hagaman described the trust as being part of the Labour government's "bloating" of the public service and he called for the trust's taxpayer funding to be cut.

"I think you will find that it is time to shrink some of the stifling bureaucracy which is dragging New Zealand to near the bottom of the OECD rankings.

"I can think of no better place to start than the Historic Places Trust. . ."

He considered the trust had become "an extremely expensive bureaucracy loaded with high-paid bureaucrats with little more to do than travel around the country and hassle . . . taxpaying citizens and business people trying to build infrastructure and create real jobs for people."

Mr Hagaman did not return a call from the Otago Daily Times.

Asked to respond to Mr Hagaman's letter yesterday, Historic Places Trust Otago Southland area manager Owen Graham indicated he would comment today, once he had had the chance to study the letter's contents.


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