Heritage advocates have slammed a decision by a Hutt City Council subcommittee they believe could lead to the destruction of the city’s built heritage without any public input.
The council’s District Plan committee decided on Monday December 12 to remove controls on heritage buildings except those already registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
The meeting was considering a heritage inventory of 400 properties – many of them private homes – and considering whether they should be given heritage protection under the council’s District Plan. A number of owners turned up to complain that a heritage listing would reduce their property values, make it difficult to get insurance and would make repairs and maintenance expensive and bureaucratic.
After a sometimes boisterous public comment section lasting more than two hours the subcommittee decided not to list any of the properties, infuriating heritage advocates.
Petone Historical Society president Roy Hewson is upset at the outcome. “It’s shocking, absolutely shocking. They should talk to people before deciding things like this.”
Mr Hewson chaired the council’s heritage advisory group which was set up in 1997. “We’ve been pushing them to make a list of all the heritage buildings in the city. It took them 10 years to do it. Then they wouldn’t let anyone see it.”
Mr Hewson says the process the council used ended up scaring owners and ensuring many opposed being listed without being fully aware of the facts. “It’s quite an annoying thing. They just don’t treat people as human beings.”
He believes the outcome was ideologically driven. “Those on the subcommittee are not in favour of heritage. They’ve fought against all the heritage things for years.”
Historic Places Trust central regional manager Ann Neill is disappointed the decision was made without consulting the wider community.
“This is a backward step for heritage. It takes it back to pre-2004 days when the Resource Management Act was strengthened to require councils to have a stronger regard for heritage protection. This is an issue for the whole Hutt City community to have a say in.”
Mrs Neill says owners are concerned at the impact a District Plan listing might have on their property rights and values. But those concerns can be addressed through early communication and accurate information.
She says, in many cases, a listing can enhance a property’s value.
“You only need to look at the desirability of Patrick Street, for example, which has 10 properties on the District Plan, as an example where a listing has increased their value.”
Mrs Neill says the decision could result in the council failing to fulfil its legal obligations.
However, subcommittee chairman Roger Styles says the subcommittee had little choice because officers had not undertaken a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal as required by section 32 of the Resource Management Act. “We have a duty to follow the law.”
Mr Styles says legal advice that opposed the officers’ proposal to allow owners to decide whether their buildings should be listed was “poor quality”.
Given the lack of information, Mr Styles says the subcommittee decided to leave the heritage inventory properties out of the District Plan.
Instead, officers have been asked to draft a District Plan change and to do a cost-benefit analysis. The matter will come back to the subcommittee in April. The draft change will then require the approval of the subcommittee and the council before being put out for public consultation.
Mr Styles says there will be submissions and public hearings before final decisions are made.