07 Mar 2013

Devonport character buildings under threat

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Written: Anne Gibson
Photo: Sarah Ivey
Published: The New Zealand Herald – 07 March 2013

Victoria Picture Theatre in Devonport.

Victoria Picture Theatre in Devonport.

Devonport’s stately heritage-lined main street is under threat from Government proposals to overhaul building standards, according to a campaigner.

Margot McRae of Devonport Heritage has decried changes to ensure old buildings are strengthened and she is preparing an opposing submission for tomorrow.

“New regulations could utterly strip the character from this country’s towns and suburbs all because of a tiny chance of an earthquake tragedy,” she says.

Up to three cruise ships are docking daily at Princes Wharf and Queens Wharf and tourists are flocking to the seaside village and Mrs McRae says her organisation is aghast at the fate of buildings which give the town its character.

Gazing up at the line of Edwardian and Victorian structures stretching from the waterfront towards the base of Mt Victoria, Mrs McRae says she is horrified by the proposals.

“I believe there can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to seismic strengthening as Auckland along with many other areas, is not a high earthquake risk zone,” she says.

Devonport Heritage identifies and seeks to save features of the old village which give it a heritage character, such as buildings, parks, beaches, streetscapes and significant groups of buildings.

“Devonport’s Victoria Rd with its old parapet buildings is a low-risk earthquake area. We need property owners to want to keep these buildings and not hand them reasons to demolish them,” she says – a fact disputed by Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend, who criticises Aucklanders’ denial about earthquake risks.

Mrs McRae says most of Devonport’s old brick commercial and retail structures are Category A listed buildings and cannot be demolished, she notes with some relief. But she is concerned that owners will use the new blanket regime to demolish.

“My worry is that more stringent seismic regulations will be used by many developers or owners to get rid of old character buildings, especially in Devonport where the land values are high,” says the campaigner who was instrumental in the fight for the old Masonic Tavern and the reopening of the Victoria Picture Theatre.

By Anne Gibson @Anne Gibson Email Anne



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