Red-faced council admits failure over chapel

20:13, Jul 10 2014

Hamilton City Council management failed to alert elected members about the pending demolition of a century-old chapel because they didn't appreciate the urgency of the situation.

St John's Methodist Church, on the corner of Grey and Wellington streets, was torn down on Friday after an engineer's report indicated the 104-year-old building was at risk of collapse in an earthquake.

The move has caused a backlash among Hamilton East residents who say the chapel was a precious link to Hamilton East's past.

Criticism has also been levelled at city council staff after it was revealed elected members were not told of the demolition plans.

Council's group business manager of city environments, Graeme Savage, said staff intended to give councillors a "heads-up" about the demolition even though there were no historic orders relating to the 104-year-old building.

"It's open to interpretation as to whether this building met the criteria of our sensitive developments policy, which captures building activity considered of interest to elected members."


The church was not listed as a heritage building.

"Regardless, staff had intended to inform councillors ahead of the demolition. However, this heads-up for councillors didn't happen as intended and we're focussed on ensuring this oversight doesn't occur in future," he said.

In an internal council email, Savage said he failed to understand urgency in reporting the demolition plan.

The Methodist Church obtained a building consent for the demolition last week after testing indicated the building could collapse in an earthquake. The church had sat unused for two years.

Neville Jack, chairman of the Hamilton East Methodist Parish property committee, told the Waikato Times the church opted not to publicly notify the demolition because it could spark public opposition. Strengthening the building was estimated to cost $400,000.

Hamilton deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman, who chairs the council's heritage advisory panel, was appalled the Methodist Church did not recognise its historical significance.

"Four hundred thousand dollars to secure a 104-year-old building is peanuts for a church with the property base that the Methodist Church would have throughout New Zealand," Chesterman said. "It wasn't protected under the district plan and I suppose we've got to accept part of the blame for not protecting it."

Councillor Dave Macpherson said there was a growing view that council planning consent staff acted primarily on behalf of developers and not the community.

"They [staff] appear to have fallen into a default position of going along with whatever the planners employed by the applicants say. We're trying to get on top of it but the progress we're making isn't keeping pace with the demolitions," Macpherson said.

Hamilton East resident Yvonne Milroy said she was disappointed the church hadn't shared their demolition plans.

She visited the site at lunchtime on Friday and was told the chapel's four foundation stones had been saved, as well as the iron crosses on top the chapel roof. "But goodness knows what happened to the altar, pews and floorboards and whatever else was inside the building," Milroy said.

Jack said the three church finials, Gothic doors and other items were saved. The pews were not original and sold off 20 years ago.

Jack said the church consulted with about 150 people in the community last year about their plans for the chapel and a decision was taken to demolish it.

The congregation had also consulted with the Waikato Waiariki Synod and the Methodist Connexional property committee.

Jack said any "robust earthquake" would have caused the chapel's concrete walls to collapse.

Waikato Times