Editorial: Time's up for Basin Reserve's Museum Stand

The Museum Stand at the Basin Reserve has been judged by Wellington City Council "a significant health and safety risk ...
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ.

The Museum Stand at the Basin Reserve has been judged by Wellington City Council "a significant health and safety risk to users from a catastrophic collapse in a seismic event".

OPINION: Wellington's "built heritage" is rich and important, from whole precincts like Cuba St to individual icons like the Town Hall. But not every old building should stay standing simply because it is old.

This is especially true during a vastly expensive city-wide earthquake strengthening programme.  

The case for felling the Basin Reserve's Museum Stand, as backed by several city councillors this week, seems convincing.

In 2012, when the stand was closed, it was thought to be at only 14 per cent of the building standard. It has been judged at risk of a "catastrophic collapse" in a major earthquake. The bill to strengthen it might run to $8 million – or perhaps more, given the ballooning estimates for other major projects recently. 

It's true that the stand has a Category 2 national heritage listing and Wellington City Council describes it as having high historic and social value.

Yet that seems overstated. The social value, for instance, is supposed to come from its provision of "ongoing amenity value for spectators at the ground".

But the stand was not well-used during cricket games even before it was closed in 2012. It isn't central to the ground's identity, let alone Wellington's, and won't be sorely missed. Councillor Paul Eagle is right to say it's not a "must-save". (Unlike, for instance, the ground itself, which is a city treasure).

Context is important here too. A major revival project is underway to bring the Basin Reserve's facilities back up to international standard after it missed out on a drawcard test against England.

There isn't public money for everything, and a strengthened stand won't be much use if there isn't any sport happening in front of it.

Nor is the replacement plan tacky or objectionable. The proposal is for more green space, a children's playground and better pedestrian links to the city. Perhaps part of the facade could be preserved too.

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If done skilfully, this plan could enhance the Basin's attractiveness as a calm, green space for all-comers, counter attacks that it only serves its purpose a handful of times each year, and make Wellington more walkable. (How about an overbridge connection to the Pukeahu Memorial Park?)

Some will ask: if the council is allowed to do this, why not allow private owners to knock over their heritage buildings too?

The answer turns on that "must-save" idea. Plenty, but not all, of Wellington's heritage buildings meet the test. The council is responsible for many of them, and has already set about saving some. Private owners in charge of such buildings need to save them too – some with public help (to reflect the public benefit involved) or flexibility around exactly what gets preserved.

The Museum Stand doesn't obviously warrant saving. Of course, this is a subjective judgment call and some will disagree. The Save the Basin group, best known for its campaign against the Basin flyover, wants the stand preserved and asks for proof that "all options have been properly explored".

That last part is certainly reasonable. Mayor Justin Lester says a plan will be out for public consultation in August. Let it make the detailed case for bowling the stand.

It looks like the right option.

 - The Dominion Post

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