Heritage toolkit full of success stories

Published on September 16, 2020

88 Guyton Street

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Media Release

Whanganui features in a new resource developed by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga as an example of how to do things right with built heritage.

Saving the Town – a toolkit written to provide councils and community stakeholders with information and strategies encouraging the retention, preservation and reuse of heritage buildings – is being launched today (Sept 15), and includes successful case studies from around New Zealand – including Whanganui. 

Saving the Town was written by the Director of Organisational Development at Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, Glen Hazelton. Dr Hazelton was a key figure in the successful redevelopment and revitalisation of the Warehouse Precinct in Dunedin when working for the Dunedin City Council. 

“Whanganui is home to one of the largest collections of heritage buildings in New Zealand, and in particular its Edwardian town centre,” says Dr Hazelton. 

“Whanganui District Council has a strategy to regenerate the town centre, and its Heritage Grant Fund has been an important proactive step in encouraging owners of historic downtown properties to rehabilitate or enhance their buildings’ visual appeal.” 

One of the objectives of the fund is to use financial incentives to encourage building owners to remove some of the more jarring facades that were erected in the mid-to-late 20th century to cover over the original Edwardian facades that were considered dated at the time. 

“In some cases entire frontages were concealed behind concrete tiles and other contemporary add-ons, and original features such as pediments were removed,” says Dr Hazelton. 

“The incentives have helped fund repainting, replacement of windows to match originals and the reinstatement of external heritage features. A further bonus has been that additional buildings, not included in the council’s heritage inventory, have also come to light, enabling owners to apply for conservation funding they would otherwise not have been entitled to.” 

The council is also arranging loan funding to the Whanganui Heritage Restoration Trust which has been established to purchase, earthquake-strengthen, renovate and repurpose commercial heritage buildings in the CBD. 

“The trust is able to access funding for this work through grants due to its charitable status – which is a great approach to rejuvenating historic buildings,” says Dr Hazelton. 

In addition, the council has taken a proactive approach to another pressing heritage challenge – seismic strengthening – by providing good information to building owners, and becoming closely involved with research on earthquake-prone heritage buildings. 

“The council has assisted in convening a number of workshops and seminars to help owners understand the legislative changes and debunk some of the myths around earthquake-strengthening; and is working on additional public information for owners to support them in making informed decisions,” says Dr Hazelton. 

“It now has an Earthquake-Prone Buildings Community Taskforce which disseminates technical and other information throughout the community through the involvement of professionals on the taskforce. This builds trust and confidence among owners, and recognises that there is a shared community interest in finding solutions to these challenges.” 

Besides the important ‘bricks and mortar’ work, the independent Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust has taken the lead in celebrating the city’s heritage through Whanganui Heritage Month, which saw 40 heritage-related events held. 

Other plans include a biannual award to publicly recognise outstanding heritage building owners, and a Blue Plaques project that will record brief histories of individual heritage buildings in the CBD. 

One of the main ideas behind Saving the Town is the premise that positive outcomes are possible with heritage buildings – particularly when clusters of buildings in heritage areas are preserved, rejuvenated and celebrated as they have been in Whanganui. 

“Often historic buildings help provide towns and cities with their unique identities. They are familiar and often well loved by their local communities both for their architectural beauty and for the stories they tell about local places,” says Dr Hazelton. 

“When retained and reused they provide communities with a point of difference, and can result in substantial benefits for many of these places. These buildings can become drivers of broader positive change including economic growth.” 

Saving the Town is available online.

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