Erskine College #4

Further developments on Erskine are afoot.  As discussed in the last update we wrote in January 2017, the owner of the site in Island Bay, The Wellington Company, has applied for consent from the Save Erskine College Trust (SECT) to develop the site and demolish the buildings.

In April 2017, SECT turned this down.  SECT has employed Victoria University architecture lecturer Christine McCarthy to write an independent report about the application from the Wellington Company to “develop” Erskine College in line with what they have outlined in their resource consent (including the demolition of the main block and other buildings and gardens, and the building of 96 new houses, a child care facility and other things on the site).

In it she summarises where we’ve been to get to where we are now, and all the professional opinions that have been given on the site – two seperate Conservation Plans, heritage assessments by both Heritage New Zealand and a Senior Heritage Advisor at Wellington City Council, a heritage landscape assessment, and an Assessment of Effects (which is in conflict with the others).  I will perhaps leave you to read that summary if you are interested; I have copied it onto my site so it is available here: Erskine IC Recommendation.

Christine has found that while SECT could provide permission for some of the actions proposed under the Resource Consent, such as strengthening the chapel, refurbishment of one of the buildings, and even the demolition of two of the other buildings, it should not provide permission for the other actions proposed under the consent – crucially of course the demolition of the Main Block.  Indeed she doesn’t just say that they shouldn’t, but also that they couldn’t  – because they are tied by the wording of the Order in Council from 1992 which states that they are approved as a Heritage Protection Authority ‘for the purpose of protecting the buildings and grounds’, and that they can’t grant consent to do something that will fail to protect the building and grounds:

“My conclusion then is that SECT can grant consent to a proposal which would ‘wholly or partly nullify the effect of the heritage order’ only if it can do so and preserve the place from harm, danger, damage. A case in point might be the proposed invasive investigation of the chapel which will likely breach the effect of the heritage order by damaging original and protected heritage fabric, likewise in the case of seismic strengthening, but in each of these cases the activity will contribute positively to the preservation of the building, depending on techniques used”.

The owners of the site have already said that a partial permission is not feasible (in other words they believe their scheme is financially viable only if they can do everything in their consent).  Therefore, they have appealed the decision to the Environment Court, and the Environment Court is hear this appeal next week (23 May at 10am on the 5th Floor of the District Court building).  See you there?

But wait, there’s more:

  • In the meantime, I understand that the Wellington Company are also going to (a different) court to wind the clock back, and skip all this above argument altogether – arguing that the fact that the college and its grounds were made into a Special Housing Area under the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013 which trumps all of this argument anyway, and allows them to action their resource consent.
  • The government has just passed (less than a month ago) the new Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 which would allow it to take a Heritage Order off one organisation and give it to another.  Would it take this (surely very controversial) step?  And who would the government transfer the Heritage Order to?  Heritage New Zealand?  Or the Wellington City Council?  Or someone else?
  • I’ve not heard anything about the promised engineering reports which were meant to be coming out in Jan/Feb about the state of the chapel after the last earthquakes.

Confused?  Check out the previous Update #3 (from January 2017), Update #2 (from December 2016), and Update #1 (from November 2016).

Main image: Erskine College, 1937-38, while the chapel roof is being roofed. Photo by Sydney Charles Smith. Ref: 1/2-046458-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

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