Wartime bunker could be shored up

ON THE PRECIPICE: The historic fortification that sits above Rocks Rd on The Cliffs  might not have to  be removed, after being deemed in danger of collapse.
ON THE PRECIPICE: The historic fortification that sits above Rocks Rd on The Cliffs might not have to be removed, after being deemed in danger of collapse.

Nelson's only surviving World War II structure, in danger of collapsing down The Cliffs, may not need to be removed, council staff say.

A meeting of the Nelson City Council's infrastructure committee yesterday voted to initiate resource consent proceedings to remove the battery observation post from council road reserve, with funding from the 2011 December Rainfall Event Recovery budget.

The 60-tonne structure, used to house gunnery observers, was built in 1943 as part of the World War II Cliffs Coastal Battery used to defend Nelson.

It sits on council reserve land beside a house that was red-stickered following last December's rainstorm and slips.

The solid concrete structure is about four square metres, and is partially buried. It is the only significant structure remaining in Nelson from the war period, and is therefore listed in the Nelson resource management plan as a heritage A item.

Yesterday, network services executive manager Alec Louverdis said that after speaking with the NZ Transport Agency on Wednesday, he believed it might be possible to stabilise the structure on site.

Stabilising the structure would cost less than the $100,000 that a removal would cost, he said.

Either way, the council needed resource consent permission, he said.

The structure has been continually monitored since December, and had moved about 20 millimetres in both directions over time.

If it moved more than 1mm in a day in a consistent fashion "we will have a problem", he said.

"If we do need to remove it we do need to act very quickly. It's a massive structure that could cause damage if it fell down."

Councillor Paul Matheson said he hoped that the council was planning to replace it in some form with a plaque or an indicator.

"The site is as important if not more important as the structure itself.

"If it's a sad fact of life that we have people's lives at risk here, if we recognise the site in some form then I think we retain the historical element."

"It's a monster and if it goes down the hill I would hate to think what would happen."

Mr Louverdis said the main priority for now was minimising the danger caused by the unstable structure and that the New Zealand Historic Places Trust would be consulted as part of the resource consent process.

These discussions would include possible locations for the structure to be moved to, if removal was decided as the preferred option.

The structure would not be able to demolished with dynamite, and would need to be cut into sections before it could be moved.

Councillor Gail Collingwood said she was pleased that there was the possibility of saving the building, while also saving money.

"That doesn't mean to say that it's always going to be there, who knows what's going to happen to the stability of that cliff in the future?"

Councillor Eric Davy said he was concerned that the "weather bomb" that was on the way this weekend could exacerbate the situation.

He was also worried that the delay in processing a resource consent could make stabilisation impossible.

"We're letting red-tape destroy the ability to restore a piece of architecture. I would rather do the restoring and apply for the resource consent retroactively."

Acting chief executive Richard Johnson said since the structure was a heritage A historic item, "you can't even begin to scrape the lichen off it without getting a resource consent".

Councillor Mike Ward asked whether council staff were confident that the bunker was unlikely to go any time soon. "If it's likely to fall catastrophically any time soon, maybe the emergency powers need to be invoked."

Mr Louverdis said while it was impossible to give 100 per cent assurances, in recent weeks the site had been stable.

The Nelson Mail