Backing to save Euphrasie House

The battle to save Euphrasie House from being demolished just got a little more even, with the building's supporters receiving $38,000 from the Government's coffers to fund their legal battle.

The Hamilton East Community Trust has been awarded $38,000 from the Ministry for the Environment's Environmental Legal Assistance Fund to help with its Environment Court appeal against the planned demolition of the Clyde St landmark by the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.

The church says it cannot afford the $4.1 million earthquake upgrading the World War II-era Spanish mission-style convent needs, and wants to demolish it to build a two-storey diocesan centre on the site.

Hamilton City Council's independent commissioner Murray Kivell approved resource consent for the building's demolition over a year ago, and the trust appealed to the Environment Court.

The trust did not have the financial means to take on a case of this magnitude on its own, chairwoman Lois Livingston said.

"We produced a very comprehensive application and hoped for the best, as the costs of this appeal are in excess of $50,000 as you must engage experts of equal status to those of the other parties - in this case Hamilton City Council and the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.

"To receive $38,000 is amazing, given that the limit for funding is $40,000. This is the most given to any group for many years. We must have done something right.

"Up until now, all work by our experts has been pro bono and it will be great to now reward them for all the hard work that they have done for our community of Hamilton East."

The panel that approved the trust's funding noted the case "involves heritage items which are of at least regional significance".

"The site and the buildings represent a significant aspect of Hamilton's early post-European history," the decision stated. "While the group running this case is a relatively small group with a generally local community focus of interest, this particular case is of wider interest."

Diocese working party member Peter Egan said the ministry's decision was "disappointing" and thought it was not a good use of ratepayer or taxpayer money.

"They should have at least consulted with us before coming to this decision, and considered the Hamilton City Council's reasoning for approving the [church's] application."

While Euphrasie House was not on the Historic Places list, the nearby St Mary's Chapel was and the church was planning to give it a $400,000 earthquake proofing, he said.

"[The trust] have a very fixed position . . . I don't think they are giving us recognition for what we are doing to preserve the chapel."

Waikato Times