City saviours

Max Salmon
Insights Newsletter
10 May, 2024

The New Zealand Initiative has taken advantage of the tumultuous media landscape and branched out this week into news coverage. Your faithful reporter’s first task was covering the approval of the Wellington City District plan by the Minister for RMA Reform.

While largely content with their decisions, the Minister diverged from the council in walking back the removal of Heritage protections for ten specific buildings.

Among them were the derelict Gordon Wilson Flats. The Wellington landmark has developed a special spot in the heart of locals. It was described to this reporter as a “godawful eyesore” and a “disgraceful waste of land.”

The decrepit monument to the hubris of heritage advocates nationally will escape redevelopment. The Minister, himself a closet supporter of development, was forced to defend the rotting edifice as worth preserving.

The buildings were spared on a technicality – the council didn’t put forward evidence to scrap their protections. Your reporter asked the Minister whether evidence was really required to judge the wreck as needing redevelopment, when anyone with two eyes and a lick of common sense could see that it is.

The Minister, with a heavy heart, responded, "Look, it's simple really, while to the untrained eye that abandoned heap looks like a dump, I’m told to the expert eye, it has a delightful vintage patina."

As he gestured toward the building, a windowpane slipped from its decaying fastenings to a wince-inducing shatter.

The Minister was also compelled to rescue the "Miramar Installation Bulk Storage Tank 3" from the clutches of developers. They had audaciously proposed transforming the site into 150 housing units.

His discomfort was palpable as he regurgitated the lines of heritage experts, citing the tank's value as a "representative example of bulk storage tanks" and "a significant landmark in the local townscape." Several Miramar residents were heard to say that something being a landmark was a matter of fact, but whether something should be a landmark was a matter of taste.

In the wake of an otherwise massive victory for urbanists, and faced with obsolescence, heritage advocates are now seeking heritage protection for the heritage rules themselves.

The advocates believe they have a strong case. “The Heritage Laws are just as much a part of Wellington’s landscape as the buildings they protect. Like those buildings, they too deserve to be shielded by layers of impenetrable, and regressive bureaucracy.”

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