The Masonic Friendly Society Responds to The Masonic Decision

Posted by on Aug 23, 2010 | 2 Comments

Devonport's Masonic Tavern

The Masonic Friendly Society, a community group which emerged from a May 2008 meeting at Devonport’s historic clock tower, has not given up hope of saving the iconic Masonic Hotel.

The group have been left dumbfounded after the recent Environment Court decision to endorse the North Shore City Council approval of significant demolition of the 1866 Masonic Hotel and substantial excavation of the site to make way for 10 apartments.  This decision comes regardless of the fact that the court accepts the hotel has an extremely high heritage value.

The decision has the effect of changing the zoning from business use to high intensity residential.

The 400-member local residents group has exhausted its ability to take legal action and, after consultation with industry experts and our legal team, we now believe our energies are best directed in a more positive way.

The society has reminded the Historic Places Trust, about a standing nomination for Devonport’s oldest commercial building – the Masonic Hotel – to be added to the Trust’s register of historic places.

The Masonic  Friendly Society is deeply disappointed that the Trust, with its national prominence and government funding, will not pick up the challenge, especially after Devonport supporters raised over $50,000 for the fight to save the hotel.

The North Shore City has indeed made it an onerous and stressful task for any group of concerned residents to try and convince the council to make good on its oft-boasted “heritage values” and policies.  The society’s committee believe the Council have neglected their duty of care as expressed within their own policies and objectives. Ever since the council themselves proposed the Masonic for full ‘Schedule A’ protection in 1994, there has been an on-going battle between the development driven owner and the local community.

In 1994 all heritage homes in Devonport, Northcote and Birkenhead were supposedly protected by new more restrictive development rules. Many of these, including the Masonic, were added to the scheduled (read protected) buildings list. According to Ms Page, co-convenor of the Masonic Friendly Society, “Most owners have recognised the positive benefits to our heritage stock. Mr Thwaites was one of the few to fight and repulse what he saw as an imposition on private property rights.”

The MFS hope the council will now consider purchasing the property as a community trust (allowing the owners their financial gain). This would protect it from inappropriate development and allow it to prosper as a community hub and meeting place, as it has done for nearly 150 years. The Royal New Zealand Navy has led the way in restoring the historic naval buildings (which they once condemned) for their new museum at Torpedo Bay.

Auckland is fortunate to have tangible reminders of our rich European and Maori history right at the entrance to our harbour. We were heartened by the late-stage discoveries of Maori remains on the hotel site, which underlines the society’s belief that this is a “first settlement” site, possibly up to 1000 years old. It was extremely galling that this evidence was not able to be considered at the Environment Court hearing.  “Iwi have recently taken a renewed interest in this ancestral site – with several visits in recent months,” Ms Page said. “Now, we hope the HPT will take this new evidence into account when they consider the Thwaites’ application to destroy or damage this archaeological site.”

She noted that Redback Develop’s architect, Mr Andy Anderson of JASMAX, acknowledged in the Environment Court that development of the apartments within the existing historic building was feasible without any demolition but this did not suit Mr Thwaites expectations.

“Sadly, she said, “the North Shore City Council has been tardy in considering the purchase of key iconic buildings in the manner that Auckland City Council has with its purchase and restoration of the Pah Homestead.”  She also said it was a tragedy that the council’s long-proposed Plan Change 33 – which would close a loophole allowing intensive development on a number of small business-zoned sites in the city’s heritage areas – is still “lost in space” three years  after an urgent resolution to action was passed.

“Whatever the Super City proposes in the months ahead it is hard to imagine that they could treat our heritage with as much disdain and disrespect as has been delivered to the Masonic. We can only hope that the farcical “façade” scheduling that has been upheld by the Environment Court is a thing of the past. We will be watching.”

The views contained herein do not necessarily reflect those of The Speculator.

2 comments

  1. GB says:

    I was sitting outside having a cold beer yeste arvo, wow all the locals driving and walking past and not one of them supporting the Masonic
    by coming in for a cold one or even lemnonade! No wonder the owner wanted to get rid of it, and that’s coming from someone who fought the owner in the Environment court to save this heritage piece, and it is a heritage piece, not only to Pakeha, but to the local iwi who have a longer history associated with it as far as the land is concerned..Hmm, least we not forget that one! 🙂

  2. Gladys says:

    I see a sign in the window at the pub says costs were awarded against the societies who went to the environment court. Costs were awarded by the High Court, not the Environment Court , and according to the savethemasonic website were paid in full in less than 3 weeks. Not a bad effort methinks.

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