Erskine College #1

I was surprised to see in my Saturday newspaper that the advertisements have begun for the 96 new houses, apartments and townhouses (as pictured) that are planned for the Erskine College site in Island Bay.   Of course I know that they are spec built, and so the developer needs to start selling them even before the first sod is turned, but it appears to me that there is a very long way to go before he can start building.

What the developer, Ian Cassels of the Wellington Company, has planned is to retain and strengthen the French Gothic-style chapel, designed by Catholic architect John Sydney Swan, but demolish to the Main Block and Reverand Mother’s Garden, both also designed by Swan, that formed the rest of the school.  The Main Block is one of the defining buildings of Island Bay, and can be seen from everywhere in the suburb.  The entire site are of exceptional heritage value, and are listed as a Category 1 heritage place by Heritage New Zealand, and are listed on the district plan as heritage sites.

Erskine College was a Catholic girls’ boarding school founded by the French Society of the Sacred Heart (Sacré Coeur) which educated 3,000 students.  The main block opened to its students in 1907, and the chapel was built in 1929-30 has been described as ‘masterpiece of French Gothic architecture’.  The recent Conservation Plan of the entire site talks about the ‘trinity of essential elements’ – that is the Main Block, the Chapel and the Reverend Mother’s Garden, and that these three elements all have exceptional architectural, historical and social significance.

The Wellington Company successfully applied for Special Housing Status for the Erskine College zone in 2015, which means that the Wellington City Council will provide it with ‘a streamlined resource consenting path’ to the development.  It will be interesting to see how that works in reality, and particularly how it meshes with the resource consent process the Company would require to demolish heritage buildings listed on its District Plan.

On top of this, Cassells faces another challenge, as Erskine College has had a Heritage Order placed on it, which is held by the Save Erskine College Trust (SECT).  The Heritage Order process is completely seperate from the Council’s Resource Consent process, and likewise does not connect to any Heritage New Zealand process.  I can confidently predict that SECT isn’t going to sign any permission to demolish the main block or the garden, so there are still many legal hoops the Wellington Company will need to get through before that first sod can be turned.

(Why is this update called Erskine College #1?  Because I suspect there will be lots of posts to come…)

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