Push for tighter controls

CAMPAIGNER: Howick builder Nick Neben, outside the Guy Homestead in Ti Rakau Drive a year ago, wants greater protection of heritage buildings owned by foreign property investors. Times file photo Wayne Martin.

A HOWICK resident who publicly campaigned to have Guy Homestead restored is calling for changes to legislation involving foreign ownership of heritage homes.

Nick Neben, one of several people instrumental in saving the 116-year-old heritage home in Huntington Park, believes foreign investors should not be allowed to purchase registered New Zealand historic buildings without conditions.

“Overseas investors aren’t likely to share the same values or recognise the cultural significance of these buildings,” he says.

“I mean, why would anyone overseas want to buy an historic home?”

The Smith and Sons builder says a great number of such homes just sit there, remain empty and get neglected.

He believes most foreign owners want to demolish and rebuild or redevelop.

“We’re a young country in the grand scheme of things and I don’t think we have enough experience and expertise to protect our heritage effectively.”

Up until its recent sale, Guy Homestead was largely neglected by its former Hong Kong-based owners and vulnerable to a spate of vandalism.

After a suspicious fire in December 2012, the home was in real danger of being demolished.

“It was kind of sinister, really,” says Mr Neben.

He believes the Guy Homestead case warrants the Auckland Council to set up a forum or committee to explore options that ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“There needs to be some sort of legislation changes to minimise the loss of our heritage.”

While the council’s heritage manager Noel Reardon agrees there is room for tweaking the law, he thinks the foreign ownership comments are “a sweeping generalisation”.

“We get just as many issues with New Zealand owners, so to say it’s an investor issue, I don’t agree with.

“Sure there were challenges with Guy Homestead and the overseas owners made it a lot more difficult, but what was really difficult was that we had no teeth to do anything.”

Mr Reardon says it’s more a criticism of the law.

“If you had proper legislation that enabled councils to require maintenance of historical heritage buildings then it doesn’t really matter who owns them.”

He says the real issue is that it’s difficult to require owners of heritage buildings to maintain them.

“We have no means to force them to carry out maintenance if they don’t want to.

“And equally, you can’t make someone do something they cannot afford to do.”

NZ Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand) advisor John O’Hare says scheduling a historical house is often used as a tool to incorporate it into a council district plan.

The district plan is the primary mechanism by which places are protected.

However, Mr Reardon says: “The previous legacy council [Manukau] thought it had protected Guy Homestead by the legal encumbrances on the title, and in reality those encumbrances were not very effective.”

At least now for the iconic Guy Homestead there is a happy ending.

“We’ve had Guy Homestead on our radar for a while now, and by the sounds of things, the new owner JP Singh is looking forward to turning the Guy Homestead into a day care centre, which will have an appropriate functional use, which for us is a really good outcome.”

Mr O’Hare says the best way to maintain a heritage building is to keep it “alive and ticking”.

“It keeps the building well maintained, but it also keeps it relevant, loved and used by the community.”

Mr Reardon agrees, saying: “The whole issue of heritage buildings is real emotive and what some people’s heritage is, for another, a development opportunity.

“That is the challenge.”