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Govt swings wrecking ball on Devonport heritage

Flagstaff Team

Moves to scrap heritage protection for sites across Devonport – and allow three-storey housing in the suburb – have been rammed through by the government.

Devonport’s world-renowned collection of Victorian and Edwardian houses has been protected under a special-character overlay and a single-house zone, effectively limiting development south of the Waitemata Golf course.

But the government, which has directed city councils around the country to increase housing density, is understood to be unhappy with Auckland Council plans to protect homes in the special-character area.

The single-house zone in Devonport is to be dumped by government directive and a medium density zone introduced across the city. Housing will be allowed to be 11m high (currently 8 m in Devonport), with a building site coverage of up to 50%.

“New building intensification rules will mean up to three homes of up to three storeys can built on most sites without the need for a resource consent”, the government said in an announcement on Tuesday.

A heritage overlay will remain for many Devonport homes, but protection is now substantially weakened. The low-rise ambience of Devonport is opened up to development.

Auckland Council has already spent around $500,000 on a survey of all heritage homes in special-character areas in a bid to provide evidence they need protecting.

But it seems this strategy has done nothing to mollify the government’s push for intensification.

The Flagstaff learned of the government plans late last week. After attempts to obtain government comment a memo was sent out on Tuesday morning that a joint press conference announcement by Megan Woods, Minister of Housing, and David Parker, Minister for the Environment, would be made at midday.

The National Party is backing the measures. Heritage is a mitigating factor where development can be limited. But the government said it does “not necessarily prohibit development.” Councils can “reduce the amount of development allowed so the feature is managed appropriately.”

North Shore Councillor Chris Darby, who is also head of Auckland Council’s planning committee, said the government announcement threatened all of Auckland’s special character areas, including Devonport.

“It’s a desktop exercise in a vacuum in Wellington…they have made significant amendments to the unitary plan and planning rules in Auckland without the expertise to do so,” he said. Auckland Council had become aware that the government “was working something up”, Darby said, but had been rebuffed when asked to be included.

“Its disappointing when you have been sitting around the table with Ministers and officers taking part in working through the issues and then one party does it in isolation.” Darby said on a national scale the development fast tracking would not add that many more homes. Auckland was processing record consents at the moment. The wider problem was funding the infrastructure and public transport to support the growth, he said. Initially it was believed the changes were to be made by “edict” Darby said. But now Council at least had a few weeks to provide feedback.

Devonport Heritage chair Margot McRae described the announcement as travesty for heritage – not only in Devonport, but Auckland as a whole. Heritage protections in Devonport had been fought for over decades and now the government was moving against them.

“Auckland Council has to stand up to the government and say no, no, no.”

“This is our city and the councillors have been elected to protect our city,” McRae said. “We live in a democracy and people should be able to have a say.”

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