Don't change town too much

Peter Beaven, architect
Peter Beaven, architect

Blenheim risks losing its charms by changing the town centre, award-winning architect Peter Beaven says.

Mr Beaven, an influential New Zealand architect who won the NZ Institute of Architects gold medal in 2003 for lifetime achievement in architecture, has moved to Blenheim from Christchurch since the earthquakes.

He queried the Marlborough District Council's plans for the town centre, changes being considered as part of the CBD Streetscape Design.

Blenheim had a unique town layout and street architecture specifically designed for it by Boffa Miskell in an integrated way, which he liked, Mr Beaven said yesterday.

He questioned the need to change the lights, rubbish bins and seats in the streets purely because some urban designers didn't like the aesthetic, at a cost of several million dollars.

"In a small town like Blenheim, it is always possible to feel you're behind. But I think you've got the best town plan in New Zealand ... You've got the state highway passing just alongside the town centre. You've got the perfect balance between cars and shops. Around the town, you've got all these huge vineyards – the contrast is just wonderful. There is no way for people in Blenheim to feel behind – you're ahead really."

Mr Beaven said he felt strongly that the town was in balance. It was peaceful, and there was much to enjoy.

"We never expected to be here. I'm not well, Christchurch is pretty much hell for me now, as someone who's spent 60 years in architecture and history. That's all gone now.

"I've lost all my background really. Blenheim is healing ... this is a really special place."

He questioned the town centre proposals, saying they were unnecessary and risked losing the features that made Blenheim special.

"Surely there are other things, more important things, that money can be spent on at this time?"

YOUR SAY: What do you think of Peter Beaven's views? Email or comment below

Included in the changes Mr Beaven objects to are:

* Removing a unique, integrated style of seats, lights, and arches for a selection of modern, fashionable style

* Developing a pocket park on Queen St. He feels Market Place is better sited and already set up for events

* Developing a raised grassed area in Market Place. He asks: Why change a site already set up for stalls and events?

He is pleased the Speights Alehouse proposal for Riverside will not go ahead, saying the site was at a different level to the river, making it hard to develop a relationship with the river.

A park proposed for the area would have the same problem, he said, and it was very exposed to the wind.

He praised the boardwalk along the river, saying it was well done.

Mr Beaven is most noted for his work on the Longbeach School in Ashburton, the Lyttelton Tunnel Building, the Manchester Unity building in Christchurch, and the public grandstand and pool at QEII Park for the Commonwealth Games of 1974.

He had to flee his studio in the Canterbury Provincial Chambers in the February 22 earthquake. He and his wife, Lesley Beaven, lived in an apartment in the centre of the earthquake-stricken city before moving to Blenheim.

The Marlborough Express