Editorial: Homing in on our city's heritage

Last updated 13:20 13/06/2012

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OPINION: Among Nelson's many attractions are its heritage homes and buildings.

Historic 19th-century cottages and villas, many painstakingly restored, give the city a charm and sense of identity lacking in the sprawling modern suburbs of bigger cities.

Heritage, though, is a fragile asset, easily lost through demolition, alteration or neglect.

The Nelson City Council's ongoing review of its heritage protection is therefore a welcome move.

A team of council staff and consultants has conducted detailed studies to identify the gaps in the city's heritage protection over the past three years, and is now beginning to grapple with specifics.

Among initial recommendations are to add about 230 buildings, mainly residential homes, to the more than 500 buildings currently receiving some form of heritage protection under the city's resource management plan. They include proposed heritage precincts covering 117 houses in Brougham, Bronte, Trafalgar and Collingwood streets, others in Mount St and Fifeshire Cres and for 13 postwar state houses in Wolfe St.

Individual properties dotted around the city have also been identified as worth protecting, with affected owners getting draft heritage assessments sent to them from April.

However, an owner who attended the first of a series of public meetings to discuss the issue said family members were upset to find their homes listed for possible protection without prior notice.

That is a regrettable hiccup to a process that needs buy-in from owners. However, the council is at pains to point out there is a long period before any decisions are made.

With the lessons of its consultation woes no doubt firmly in mind, there will be three opportunities for public feedback, with the first following the current series of public and one-on-one meetings and open to July 20.

Homeowners have already raised concerns about the constraints and costs of a heritage listing, and how it can accommodate issues such as solar heating installation or earthquake-strengthening.

The council says it will consider these issues as part of a review of the rules governing the different levels of heritage protection. These include category A, B and C classifications that have varying consent requirements for demolition or alteration of buildings.

The heritage precinct classification has as its central aim to retain the look of an area as viewed from the street.

The council will also look at increasing its package of financial assistance to heritage building owners that includes grants of $1000 or more for conservation work.

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As one owner from the Elliott St heritage precinct has pointed out, the benefits of owning a heritage property include its increased value. That can be seen both in its price, but also in the intangible benefits such character homes lend to the owners and the city.

Adding to that stock hopefully will make good sense for homeowners as well as the council.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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