“No compelling case” for demolition – historic Harcourts Building is saved

News from Historic Places Wellington
The application for consent to demolish Harcourts Building in Lambton Quay has been declined. This is a very important decision, not just for this building, but for future cases where owners wish to get rid of heritage buildings which may require work to bring them up to an acceptable seismic standard.

This Category I landmark building on the Lambton Quay/Grey Street corner was the subject of a resource consent application by the owner to demolish the building and replace it with a tower block. Although built to the highest standards of its day, Harcourts has been declared an earthquake-prone building, and remedial works will be required if it is to be preserved.

The resource consent application was heard by Commissioners in a four day hearing in late December. Evidence for Historic Places Wellington opposing the application was presented by committee members John Daniels, Deborah Cranko and Peter Dowell (by phone link from Sydney). The evidence dealt with the building’s significance, seismic resistance and other technical issues relating to Harcourts, and the market for strengthened heritage properties in Wellington. Our evidence complemented that of New Zealand Historic Places Trust, and was supported by a range of other organisations and individuals opposed to demolition.

The Commissioners found that a compelling case had not been made for demolition, and therefore declined the application. Their decision is long and complex, including analysis of the case against the provisions of the Resource Management Act and the Wellington City district plan. The Commissioners pointed to doubts about a number of crucial points in the case made for demolition, including
• the structural strength of the building. The applicant’s own engineering witness stated that the building could be 42% of current code, which would put it well above the recommended 33%.
• the need to strengthen the building to 100% of current code, as advocated by the applicant.
• estimated costs of structural strengthening. Costs put forward by the applicant differed from other strengthening projects of similar buildings in the city.
• the state of the market for space in older buildings in the city.

The Commissioners stated:
“Based on the evidence before us, we have concluded that not every ‘reasonable alternative solution’ for retaining the building has been considered. This includes strengthening to a standard of less than 100%NBS”

They concluded that “the demolition of the Harcourt’s Building would not constitute sustainable management of an important physical resource, namely a heritage building of considerable significance”.

While this decision is very encouraging, there is every possibility of an appeal by the owner to the Environment Court, so the case may not be over yet.


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