The Eye of the Fish

July 18, 2014

Heritage Idol – really?

I’m not sure whether to be horrified or to applaud the idea that buildings could be required to compete against each other in a sort of “Heritage Idol” as indicated in the paper today. Just how close to the idea of the Reailty TV show are the Council prepared to take it?

I’ve always enjoyed the first few weeks of American Idol more than the later stages – in fact I don’t watch anything other than the first weeks, where it is like watching a train crash in slow motion. Mainly full of over-weight and under-talented Americans with deeply delusional parents or over-enthusiastic images of their own abilities, American Idol gives us – the public – a chance to laugh at the bloated, talentless masses, while having no danger of having to sing ourselves.

Just how far will WCC take the analogy? Will each and every building on the Heritage List get a chance to strut it’s stuff, to warble out its talents (“I was born in 1922 and have a talent for stripped modern classicism with a hint of early modernist tendencies, and tonight I’m going to perform for you – an addition of external seismic bracing by Holmes Consulting”), and to get voted on by a trio of Andy Foster, Celia-Wade-Brown, and Simon Cowell? While we the public sit around in the background and boo, whistle or cheer the buildings on?

With the TV idol shows, at least it is the specialists who vote at the early stages, with the public only having a say in the final stages via a phone in. Actually, I’ve never watched that far into one of those dreadful shows, so I’m not really sure, but as far as I understand, a big bunch of the show’s budget comes about from the public’s use of their telephone hotlines, and the rest from advertisers dollars. Here in Wellington, at Heritage Idol, it seems to be being proposed that the public will pay for it through their rates, no matter what – and I’m perfectly happy for that. Others may grumble. But too bad.

One area that the Council could certainly trim their budget back on is Roading. They could start by sacking the entire team at Traffic, who are the biggest waste of space in terms of us workers trying hard to get projects through Council. No imagination, no flexibility, no concern for anything except cars and parking and loading docks, none of which ever seem to get used the way that the Traffic Department want. But it is the Roadïng department that really get up my nose. Ripping up of kerbs, and re-laying new kerbs in exactly the same place, must be on someone’s books as a worthwhile activity, but why? How many millions a year go into this pointless activity? How many people ring in to the Council each year and say “my concrete kerb outside my house is 20 years old and needs replacing, please spend my rates on that”? I suspect none.

There is lots of money in the Council’s budget, it just needs to be spent better. The Long-Term Plan process is going on at the moment. Don’t forget your to have your say. But the Council needs urgently to think of some other means of distributing funds for strengthening for heritage buildings. WCC has so far been brilliantly pro-active, leading New Zealand at the speed of assessing our existing building stock. Other Councils are woefully far behind, and some have not yet even really started. But we need to not let the lead we have built up get diminished. The next stage is the crucial one – how should the Council allocate heritage strengthening money, and to whom?

this has been picked up by Scoop here.

18 - 07 - 14

You mean the Draft Annual Plan ? This one?
The one that closed in March ?
Or the Long Term Plan that closed in 2012?

21 - 07 - 14

Aaaah, you got me there! I dunno. I thought that I had read something about the Council recently calling for submissions – it seems that I am wrong. Sorry.

21 - 07 - 14

I recall that Councilor Foster made a start at Heritage Idol some time ago, where he listed what he reckoned were the best heritage buildings in Wellington, on a strictly personal basis. For the life of me, I can’t remember where that was posted – was it here on the Fish? or over on Scoop? or even in the DomPost?

Andy – if you’re reading this – can you point us in the right direction?

andy foster
25 - 07 - 14

Hi Max – Just checked back and my article was on Scoop on 23 Sept 2013. I might say I was a little irritated by the DomPost reporter/sub editor making up the ‘heritage idol’ concept because that thought didn’t come up in conversation at all, and it does seem flippant for what is a serious issue.

I mean look at in context of this week’s decision on the flyover in which heritage was obviously a major factor under consideration.
Council, HPT and Property Council have been working closely and very collaboratively to try to get the best possible outcomes. Just this week, we (WCC – Iona, myself and Neville Brown) developed a remit to LGNZ conference which was almost unanimously supported to have the whole Local Government family lobbying Government over additional tools notably tax deductability of EQ strengthening work. We also recently made a submission to Select Committee on the proposed new legislation.

Thank you for acknowledging that Wellington City is very much the national leader in EQ strengthening – daylight comes second ! We all know we need to be a safe city. We had the Seddon shakes last year to remind us where we live, and we certainly want to be as best prepared as we can be should we face major events like Canterbury.

So we still have a big job to do. Ideally we will get through without losing a single heritage listed building but I think we all know that is highly unlikely.

Many building owners continue to do great work strengthening buildings, Council has added to the assistance on offer – including rates reductions for 5 years for heritage buildings. This week it was good to see the Railway Station work announcement for example.

However we will almost certainly end up with a fairly substantial number of buildings that are simply beyond the financial capacity of the owners to strengthen – and those which will cost more to strengthen than they are worth economically. That is where we will need to make choices. Iona and I are proposing a fund for more significant support (than currently on offer) for priority buildings – the most iconic. I would certainly welcome firing up that debate on which buildings are our community priorities – and what better and more informed site to do so than Eye of the Fish :) ?

I might say that unlike Idol competitions, we do have a lot of information about buildings – and groups of buildings – and how they are rated in heritage terms. I think there is a very strong alignment between WCC and HNZ assessments which is an excellent base to start from.

There is also the decision needed to be made about the thresholds that will need to be crossed/ evidence provided to allow a heritage building to be demolished.

Councillors will be considering these concepts at a workshop in mid August. What I hope is that would provide some direction to develop the proposal to engage with the Wellington and wider interested public. I say wider public because as we know with Christchurch the fate of their iconic buildings is of great interest to many people around the country and around the World.

I will also send you the original article Max – and my personal top 40 list (I couldn’t bring myself to get it down to 30).

Warmest Regards

Cr Andy Foster
Chair – Transport and Urban Development
Wellington City

25 - 07 - 14

Thanks Andy – interesting to read that DomPost had a hand in the mix, and yes, we here at the Fish are always happy to help inform / debate with the public.

I’ve got to say that I do feel hugely proud of the efforts WCC are going to, and that is made easier by the concentration of some of the country’s greatest engineers here. The people wI know of at Holmes, Beca, Aurecon, Dunning Thornton, Silvester Clark etc – all world class in both their attitude and response to site and situation. People here will work towards a common heritage goal, recognising the worth of heritage and new buildings. Seemed to me to be quite a great difference from the Canterbury earthquakes, where there were some engineers more than willing just to condemn buildings that arguably, could of and should have been saved.

26 - 07 - 14

Here is the link to the original article on Scoop, which you can read, while I organize myself…

Personally, I think this is one of the more important conversations that a city can have. How do you think Christchurch would be looking now, if they had had that conversation 20 years ago, instead of now when it is all too late? Yes, there is an argument that cities like Napier rebuilt themselves after a disaster and are far better off now with their shiny 30s architecture, than say, Wanganui or Whangarei that did not have the devastation in the first place, but there is no guarantee that Canterbury’s new style of earthquake resistance will prove to be a money-spinning winner 50 years down the track. At this stage, I’m not picking that tourists will be flocking to Cantab to see the all-2014 city, shiny in its new tilt-slab panels and paint.