Council ponders house demolition ban

Auckland Council is considering a region-wide ban on demolishing tens of thousands of heritage and character homes unless owners can prove they are beyond repair.

The proposed new rules are based on the Brisbane model and would apply to all pre-World War II houses. Unlike now, every application to demolish or remove a house would be publicly notified.

The radical change follows highly publicised cases such as 18 Paget St, Freemans Bay, where a planning officer who opposed demolition was replaced by a consultant who supported it.

The rules would apply to 23,344 houses in the existing character zones of the inner city suburbs, Devonport, Birkenhead and Northcote, plus thousands more pre-World War II houses being identified in other parts of the city.

Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse yesterday said the demolition rules were being considered as part of the new unitary plan, or rulebook for the city. She said there was support for the changes in council, but they had to be put in context with plans for intensification.

The proposal also follows a visit to Auckland this week by Peter Marquis-Kyle, a conservation architect who helped develop the heritage protection regime in Brisbane. He met councillors, officers and the Character Coalition of nearly 50 heritage and community groups. Mr Marquis-Kyle said the default position in Brisbane was that old houses would remain and not be demolished willy-nilly.

"Instead of having to argue for the protection of an individual house it becomes a position of arguing why a particular house should be allowed to be demolished," he said.

In Brisbane houses had to be badly mutilated or unsound to face demolition and the public had a say.

The Character Coalition has been lobbying the council to adopt Brisbane's heritage provisions as a starting point for Auckland.

Spokeswoman Sally Hughes said Auckland politicians should accept the need for blanket protection of heritage and character areas and place the onus on owners to prove why a house could not be saved.

"The sky didn't fall in when Brisbane did this. It looked like a huge big deal back in 1993 but now it looks like it was the sensible thing to do."

Councillor Sandra Coney, who chairs the council's political and independent heritage forums, said the council had been tying itself in knots over an irresolvable clash between heritage and intensification.

The proposed blanket ban on demolition was a positive step to provide a way forward between the two.

The council hasn't set any cut-off date for a ban. Options include 1940 and 1944.

- Bernard Orsman, New Zealand Herald

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