A landmark Hamilton East building earmarked for demolition by the Catholic Church has been awarded the city's highest heritage status.
Hamilton's new district plan, released this week, lists Euphrasie House as a Category A heritage item, giving a timely boost to those fighting to save the 75-year-old mission house.
The Hamilton East Community Trust will head to the Environment Court next month to fight plans by the Catholic Diocese to bulldoze the Clyde St landmark.
Trust chairperson Lois Livingston said Euphrasie House's beefed up heritage status made "a joke" of Hamilton City Council's decision to grant demolition consent to the Catholic Church.
"Hamilton City Council is faced with allowing the demolition of a Category A heritage item. What a joke. For a council that says it's concerned about heritage it has a very, very poor record," Livingston said.
Concern over Hamilton's built heritage increased last week after the century-old St John's Methodist Church was bulldozed in Hamilton East.
The Methodist congregation said they kept the demolition plans low-key to avoid arousing public opposition.
An engineer's report revealed the building could collapse in an earthquake.
Livingston said the loss of the 104-year-old chapel "by stealth" made the battle to save Euphrasie House even more important.
Hamilton has 123 heritage-listed buildings of which council staff estimate 37 could be earthquake-prone under potential changes to earthquake strengthening rules.
"If a building is found to be earthquake-prone the reaction seems to be tear it down," Livingston said.
"If Euphrasie goes it will set a precedent for the wholesale demolition of Hamilton's heritage."
Architectural historian and heritage consultant Dr Ann McEwan said pulling down a Category A heritage building was not a good look for the city but she believed building owners needed financial incentives to preserve their buildings.
The Government also had a key role to play in protecting the country's built heritage.
"Fundamentally it's about priorities. All of a sudden the Government has $212 million to throw at roads. That $212m could pay for a lot of earthquake strengthening and it would pay for a lot of conservation plans for buildings," McEwan said.
In a ray of hope for heritage advocates, the Justice Ministry has announced it will repaint and tidy up the exterior of Hamilton's old courthouse this year.
Hamilton's grand but unused courthouse has been closed since 1993 after testing found it was structurally unsound.
National's Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe said the old courthouse was
"one of the most precious heritage buildings" in the city but had suffered from 21 years of deferred maintenance.
The building belongs to the Justice Ministry while the land is owned by Waikato Tainui.
Macindoe estimated the cost of earthquake-strengthening the courthouse was "significant" but believed the repainting was an encouraging first step.
"Painting a building doesn't stop it from falling down but it does help to protect the fabric of the outside of the building. More importantly, it shows the Government's genuine will to maintain it."
If the Ministry decided against keeping the building, Waikato Tainui would be given the first right of refusal to buy the building.
Tainui Group Holdings chief executive Mike Pohio declined to prejudge such a scenario but said the tribe's property arm had successfully restored heritage buildings such as the old Te Awamutu Post Office building on Sloane St.
"We would take a case-by-case approach," Pohio said.
"In a lot of cases it's worth the effort but the reality is some buildings are just past their use-by date and we have to get on and live in a safe environment."
Hamilton deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman, who chairs the council's heritage advisory panel, said the council and community could play a key role in protecting the city's built heritage.
He was keen to explore possible incentives to building owners such as a remission of rates, no resource consents for required strengthening work or free professional advice regarding restoration.
"When New Zealanders tour through Europe we see beautiful old buildings and wonder how they are still standing. Sadly a lot of us don't stand up for heritage buildings in this country," Chesterman said.
City councillor Dave Macpherson said saving heritage buildings was a four-way partnership between the community, council, the Government and building owners.
The Methodist congregation's low-key approach to the demolition of the St John's Methodist Church was an example of what not to do, Macpherson said.
"Churches claim to be part of the community so where was the quid pro quo in a situation like this. In this day and age you'd think the church would realise it had a wider responsibility than just its own set of account books."
Uncertain future: Euphrasie House – fate to be decided at an Environment Court hearing next month.
Temple View – teacher housing, dorms and medical centre to be demolished.
Hamilton courthouse – long-term future unknown.
Municipal Pools – future to be debated during Hamilton City Council's long-term plan discussions.
Gone: St John's Methodist Church in Hamilton East.
Lomas house in Lake Cres.
- Waikato Times