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Public Rebuke for Historic Places Trust Chief

Public Rebuke for Historic Places Trust Chief

A public meeting in Alexandra last night (21.05.08) called on the NZ Historic Places Trust Board to censure the Trust’s senior management for ignoring local concerns regarding significant heritage issues in Central Otago, most contentiously Meridian Energy’s proposal to build Project Hayes on the Old Dunstan Road.

NZHPT Trust Chief Executive, Bruce Chapman, was invited to explain to Central Otago branch members and supporters the changing nature of the Trust’s organisation and role. Mr Chapman explained that despite having 26,000 members, the Trust is a Crown Agency and derives 80% of its funding from the Government. Limited resources means however that the Trust is forced to establish priorities and make hard choices as to where those resources will be focused.

Challenged by former Branch Chairman, Graye Shattky, regarding the Trust’s behind-the-scenes negotiation with Meridian Energy and subsequent withdrawal from the Environment Court Appeal against Project Hayes wind farm, Mr Chapman took responsibility for the decision. While he still believed that no mitigation measures could completely preserve the heritage values of the Old Dunstan Road, threatened with extensive modification by Project Hayes, his assessment was, “that better heritage outcomes would be achieved through negotiation than by conducting an expensive appeal which, in his view, was likely to fail”.

Responding to Mr Chapman, speakers made clear the “sense of betrayal” most present shared with regard to the Trust’s failure to consult the local Branch and take account of the District’s concern to protect the Old Dunstan Road, presently threatened by Project Hayes on the Lammermoor Range and by development proposals at Poolburn.

Dr Mike Floate, Immediate Past President, Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust, told Mr Chapman that the direct result of his decision was that Meridian was now claiming in the Environment Court, ”that the NZHPT was not opposed to Project Hayes and that the Trust’s heritage concerns had been satisfied.”

“The truth is Mr Chapman, as you have acknowledged, only Meridian’s abandoning the Lammermoor site can remove the risk of destroying forever the road’s significant heritage values,” said Dr Floate.

Grahame Sydney, presently completing a television documentary which will include never-before-told stories of the Old Dunstan Road, informed the meeting that the Trust’s Wellington bureaucracy had seriously underestimated the effect on the public of their decision, pointing to, “the power and respect with which the NZHPT was regarded by the public and therefore their acceptance that the Trust’s withdrawal indicated that there was nothing to be concerned about”.

The Old Dunstan Road

The lively debate was finally brought to a close by the passage of a resolution calling on the NZHPT Trust Board to censure senior management for failing to take account of the strong feeling and concern in Central Otago with regard to heritage matters. The resolution was described by Mr Shattky as a “symbolic gesture, which might stir the Trust Board to reconsider the interaction between management and membership.”

Asked what the outcome for the meeting might mean for the future of the Central Otago Branch, Mr Shattky thought that some members were likely to re-consider where best to direct their energy and time on behalf of heritage.

“Central Otago’s valuable heritage, requires strong advocacy from groups capable of providing leadership on specific matters when necessary and not afraid to speak out publicly regarding the heritage aspects of statutory matters such as resource consent applications and plan changes. Because the Branch is not permitted to act independently in this regard, its reduced role might be likened rather to a ‘committee selling cakes to buy battleships’.

“Given that other local groups such as the Maniototo and Central Otago Environmental Societies have risen to this challenge, it may be that the time has arrived for the Trust to recognize that the interests of New Zealand heritage might best be served by arranging an amicable divorce between the regulatory functions and the membership and advocacy functions.” said Mr Shattky.

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