Wellington Scoop

Harcourts Building saved again – a second ruling refuses to allow demolition

The Environment Court ruled yesterday that the Category 1 Harcourts building on Lambton Quay cannot be demolished.

The court upheld a decision by Wellington City Council commissioners who in February declined an application by the building’s owner to knock down the 85-year old eight-storey office block to make way for a new 25-storey tower block.

The court agreed that the building has high heritage values, that adaptive reuse was not explored to its satisfaction other than with a handicap imposed by a rigidly set bottom-line figure being demanded for the land and building as they are, and that proper sensitive facade retention was not adequately explored.

It will sit there and rot, says owner, unhelpfully

Here’s how Historic Places Wellington responded after the commissioners declined the application for demolition earlier this year.

News from Historic Places Wellington – February 27
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”.


  1. Iona Pannett, 7. October 2013, 19:22

    Fantastic news and great contribution from the Historic Places Trust and Council officers.

    We do need a solution for this building, looking forward to working towards one.

  2. Katie Francis, 8. October 2013, 7:57

    Tragic. Yet another example of ‘let’s stop Wellington move forward.’ If Ms Pannett is looking forward to finding a solution for this building, she should have worked on it way before it came to this.

  3. Rex Nicholls, 8. October 2013, 8:46

    The Harcourts building is, indeed, an important heritage building in wellington. But who will pay to strengthen it? Mark offered it free to WCC and HPT but they won’t take up the offer. Iona Pannett rambles on about a Council grant. What a joke! Maybe up to $100k grant to go towards a $6m cost to strengthen. Mark has taken a major hit on his property. In fact it might now have quite a large negative value. Decisions like these must come with a means of the public representing the value they have put on heritage. it is completely unfair to expect an owner to take this hit. If I’m successful in getting on Council (Lambton Ward #1 folks, not too late!) I will use this building as the launching pad for my rates/loan scheme to give Mark or some other owner a chance to pay less for the loan required to strengthen the building. (Via Facebook).

  4. Elaine Hampton, 8. October 2013, 10:47

    Frankly I wouldn’t support a loan scheme for the likes of Mark out of my rates. He bought the building at a representative price knowing it was not earthquake strengthened and then wanted to knock it down giving him a valuable site.
    Now he says ‘he will leave it to fall down.’
    Very public spirited.

  5. Nora, 8. October 2013, 13:41

    I heard Cr Morrison ranting on Newstalkzb this morning about the danger of this building which he said should be pulled down so the “wonderful” generous developer can put up an 18 storey office block which the city needs! He omitted to say that despite the recent earthquake nothing dropped off this building and it had only some small internal cracks but nothing like the new BNZ on Port land which is still vacated due to collapsed inner walls and burst water pipes.

    A very good example of loyalty to Wellington has been the owners of the Huddart Parker and the Hope Gibbons buildings who have, under their own steam, strengthened and restored these two very attractive buildings not expecting the ratepayers to fund them.

  6. Harry, 8. October 2013, 20:14

    To clarify Iona, city council officers did not support retaining this heritage building at the first hearing but recommended it be demolished. However because the Commissioners appointed by the council officers for the first hearing failed to agree with the Council officers’ recommendations and declined the consent to demolish, the council was then put in the position that it had to defend the Commissioners’ decision at the Environment Court. At the first hearing, the council failed to even provide a heritage assessment of the effects of demolition and only did so when requested by the Commissioners. It was the community groups and NZHPT that did the work to save this building. The developer never had any intention of saving this building and has been intent on demolishing it from the outset. This can be clearly seen in the development he was allowed to undertake by the council next to and abutting the Harcourts building.

  7. Pauline, 16. October 2013, 15:21

    Despite the stormy weather in the last few days, nothing has fallen off the Harcourts building and it was interesting yesterday to see cruise ship visitors taking photos of the Harcourts and old DIC buildings and the old facade of Kirkcaldie and Stains.