Wellington Scoop

Saving (or demolishing) a 19th century landmark

Tramway hotel
Tramway Hotel in 1977. Photo by Charles Fearnley from Wellington Library collection.

by Gregor Thompson
Built in 1899, on the corner of Adelaide Road and Drummond Street sits a two-storey heritage-listed remnant of late Victorian commercial Italianate architecture. The hotel is the second oldest left in Wellington. Initially dubbed the Tramway Hotel because of its proximity to the Tramway Stables and Workshops, the hotel’s recent history is of inaction.

114 Adelaide Road ceased operation as a pub in 2008-2009, In 2011, the building was served a Section 128 notice by the WCC ordering that it was earthquake prone and needed to be strengthened by 2013.

Auckland-based company Lakhi Maa Ltd, owned by joint shareholders Dennis and Chhaya Parbhu, bought the Newtown property in 2015 – two years after the deadline to complete strengthening work expired.

After six further years of the building becoming increasingly derelict, the Council sought legal action in September last year to enforce the strengthening order. An email sent to the owners on behalf of the Council from its lawyers Meredith Connell states:

“Lakhi Maa has failed to complete the seismic works on the building within the specified timeframe and is not proceeding with reasonable speed in light of that deadline. The Council has no confidence in Lakhi Maa’s ability to comply with the notice and carry out seismic work on the building”

On the subject, the Chair of Historic Places Wellington Felicity Wong has said:

“Parliament recognised the public interest in local government having the power to undertake work if an owner has had an opportunity but refused to comply. Courts have a valuable discretion in enabling seismic work to be independently assessed and carried out by the Council itself. The Council is well placed to use independent assessors to identify the work required to make a heritage building safe. Councils generally are able to recoup their costs through sale of the building and for the proceeds to be applied to the costs. There is an important public interest in heritage buildings being made safe.”

The Council’s case seeking a court order under the Building Act to undertake seismic work itself, came to court last month. District Court Judge Tuohy has yet to issue his decision.

As a result of the council seeking powers to do the work, the Parbhus commissioned advice from Colliers International in April on a market valuation. If the property was strengthened to 70% NBS and its carcass converted into open plan character commercial offices with contemporary bathrooms and staff amenities, Colliers says it would be worth $2,550,000.

The Parbhus also have a piece of advice from Maltbys – a “Concept Strengthen Estimate” to the effect that the cost of doing that work would be $6,138,000. Dennis Parbhu now seeks demolition on the basis that “the financial option of strengthening the building is … grossly uneconomic.”

In May he followed up by filing an application for demolition consent, supported by a report he commissioned from conservation architect Ian Bowman.

Lakhi Maa paid the fee to the Council for the demolition consent application just prior to the 14 October court hearing.

On 1 September, the Council decided that the impact of demolition of the Tramway Hotel on the environment would be “more than minor” and accordingly that the application for its demolition must be processed on a publicly notified basis. That process was initiated on 23 October and runs until 23 November.

The potential demolition of the heritage building is of concern to Councillor Iona Pannett. Keen to find a solution for the building, she has previously said

“It is apart from anything else an important anchor for development in Adelaide Road.”

Lastly Wong says:

“If the owners can’t afford to do the work, they should have sold the building, or in the case of The Tramway, not have purchased it knowing full well it needed to be strengthened. Owners of heritage buildings should not be able to flout the rules by letting buildings get unsafe and then simply demolishing them. “

Public submissions on the application for consent for demolition of the Tramway Hotel at 114 Adelaide Rd can be made until 5pm on 23 November. Details about making a submission and how this is progressing can be found here.

In the meantime, Wellingtonians will have to wait and see what the implications are for other buildings in a similar predicament. (The heritage listed Toomath’s Building on Vivian Street is subject to a similar application by the council to undertake seismic work.)


  1. Kemal Tau, 20. November 2020, 10:03

    Demolition by neglect. Happens over and over in Wellington. It’s one of the reasons Shelly Bay has been left to rot, to get the public on side with the development as it has now become an “eyesore”. If this old hotel was in somewhere like Melbourne or Sydney it would be the hub of the community, packed with after work patrons and a live music venue. There needs to be stronger enforcement of heritage and strengthening rules to prevent people sitting on properties like this knowing they’ll eventually be able to demolish them.

  2. Claire, 20. November 2020, 10:56

    This is a heritage listed building. It should never have been sold in the hope that new owners would fix it. Council or Govt should buy these buildings. Then do the work. It could be a pub again with apartments on top. And add a bit of character to the Adelaide precinct full of higher apartment buildings. We hope the WCC with some help from Govt will get on with it. Instead of planning to demolish other heritage buildings ie houses.

  3. Elaine Hampton, 20. November 2020, 12:44

    Uneconomic to strengthen, what did Lakhi Maa pay for it? Smacks of land banking. We lost the swimming pool and the beautiful Villas on the Basin. The Council should compulsorily purchase this building and restore it.

  4. John H, 20. November 2020, 18:45

    The Plimmer Bequest to the City of Wellington came from Charles Plimmer (son of John). Charles was a liquor baron and one of his most successful ventures was … the Tramway Hotel. Seeing as there is probably still a few mill’ sloshing around in the bequest’s bank account, I can’t help but feel that it would be rather appropriate if the WCC were to seize control of the hotel and employ funding from the bequest to fix the building. After all, it was the Tramway Hotel that generated a fair swag of the cash that originally made up the bequest. The spanner in the works of this idea is that Charles Plimmer requested that the bequest be use only for ‘beautification’ (meaning tree planting, parks etc), but beauty can take many forms…

  5. Trish, 24. November 2020, 9:03

    More 10 years ago a builder told me that they were all set to carry out major work on the Tramway. The plan was to save the street frontages and rebuild behind. However they were stymied by an inability to get insurance on the street walls during the work. Does that story fit Gregor’s timeline? Is it true?

  6. Corey, 24. November 2020, 14:01

    It is a derelict building in an insignificant place, it is not a tourist destination and doesn’t match with the surrounding area. They should get on with it and demolish it. $6 million to strengthen is just stupid.