Transport agency accused of exploitation over Basin flyover

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 15/05/2014

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The New Zealand Transport Agency has been accused of exploiting its special powers in an attempt to get resource consent for the Basin Reserve flyover.

In doing so, it may have harmed the heritage value of a 100-year-old Wellington creche, used by the first Kiwi to be considered for a sainthood.

The accusation was made yesterday at a board of inquiry hearing for the proposed two-lane highway flyover the agency wants to build 20 metres north of the Basin Reserve.

The agency does not yet have consent for the $90 million structure but is already preparing to move the century-old Home of Compassion Creche in Buckle St, which lies in its path.

The creche is a physical reminder of Mother Suzanne Aubert, whose pioneering social work saw her become a candidate for canonisation in 2010.

Heritage New Zealand, formerly the Historic Places Trust, has given the building has a category 1 heritage listing.

The transport agency plans to move the creche slightly back from its current site as part of the National War Memorial Park project, which was consented by a special act of Parliament in 2012.

But flyover opposition groups the Architecture Centre and Newtown Residents Association claimed yesterday that the creche actually sits outside the area covered by the National War Memorial Park (Pukeahu) Empowering Act.

In a letter to the board, the groups' lawyer Philip Milne said it appeared the agency had the creche included in the legislation so the negative effects of its relocation could not be considered by the flyover board of inquiry. There was no evidence to suggest the creche needed to be moved in order to create the park or the Buckle St underpass, Milne said.

The transport agency did not respond to Milne's letter yesterday. But the board had previously heard from Heritage New Zealand adviser Alison Dangerfield, who said repairs that would be done on the creche as part of its relocation outweighed the negative aspects of moving it. "I have no concerns about the heritage creche's long-term use . . . a strengthened and conserved heritage building is immensely attractive to potential users," she said.

But historian and heritage expert Michael Kelly, appearing for flyover opposition group Save the Basin, told the board yesterday that moving the creche would harm its authenticity, and in turn, reduce its heritage value. ‘ He acknowledged there was nothing left of the creche's original surroundings, and if the flyover was to go ahead, moving it would be better than demolition.

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HERITAGE LISTING MOTHER SUZANNE AUBERT

Catholic nun who emigrated from France in 1860. Founded a religious order in Jerusalem, near Whanganui, in 1892, which she used to help poor, ill, deformed and disabled people across the country. In 1899, she and three of her sisters moved to Wellington and devoted the rest of their lives to caring for the urban poor. She was also a founding member of the Plunket Society. "Mother Orbit", as some called her, settled in a cottage in Buckle St and began begging to feed the poor, pushing prams laden with donated food through working-class Te Aro.

HOME OF COMPASSION CRECHE

Opened in 1914, it was the first purpose-built creche in New Zealand and the oldest remaining one today. Mother Aubert, her sisters and volunteers cared for the children and patched their clothes while their low-income mothers were at work. Later became a classroom and library for the now demolished St Patrick's College, and in more recent times it has been an arts studio and a car parts shop. 

- The Dominion Post

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