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Historic Places Trust Complicit With University

Media Release
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Historic Places Trust Complicit with University

Mark Baxter today expressed disappointment at the Historic Places Trust who made a deal with the University meaning the HPT could not take part in the resource consent hearing for the proposed St David Street bridge. Mr Baxter criticised HPT’s complicity in allowing this historic area to be ruined beyond repair.

“Efforts to establish the impacts of damage caused by the new bridge at the hearing were seriously undermined by the HPT’s complicity with the University” said Mr Baxter. In their decision, the ORC panel said the changes would have little, if any, impact on the historic registry precinct's amenity values; "There will be no adverse effect on any historic buildings in the historic precinct," they said. However, the ORC received more submissions against this bridge than it has for almost all but a few of its other resource consents; public feeling against this is around the same levels as MacRaes expansions, or Project Aqua.

All most all of these submissions had concerns about the impact of the proposed bridge. Submitters included heritage consultant and former HPT employee, Lois Galer, who strongly critised the impact of the proposed bridge on the historic nature of the area, its visual impact, and the detriment of bringing cars into the pedestrian area. Ms Galer also pointed out that once constructed it could not be turned back.

Mr Baxter critised the wrongness of a curved bridge in a neo-gothic area, its lack of correct perpendicular gothic proportions, the overpowering of the historic bridge by a new traffic bridge, and the loss of its historical context (excerpt from submission is attached).

“Clearly there will be impacts on the heritage nature of the area, and if public feeling is a gauge of these impacts I fail to see how the Trust can allow the ORC to believe these impacts will not be adverse.” said Mr Baxter, continuing “especially when the HPT’s view is that ideally the historic bridge should be left where it is.”

“I have met several HPT members who have expressed severe disappointment with the Trust’s acquiescence, I can only encourage others to write to Trust officials” said Mr Baxter, continuing “perhaps this might at least encourage the HPT assist those carrying the fight to the Environment Court.”

Excerpt from Mark Baxter’s submission to the ORC:

Heritage Effects

The relocation of the historic foot-bridge and its replacement with a vehicle bridge will have significant detrimental effects on both the heritage and amenity values of the area and should be rejected as such.

“Heritage: something handed down or transmitted from the past”

I am proud to be an Otago graduate because of Otago’s University’s excellent history. I am also very proud of my Scottish ancestry, and equally proud my Scottish forbears dedication to founding the first university in the country. The foreboding neo gothic Registry building is an impressive and unique living monument to this heritage.

The asymmetric curve of the bridge, designed for vehicle turning, is a serious departure from the geometric and perpendicular features of the neo gothic style of the area’s main feature – the Registry building. This is in some ways worse than the previously rejected angled bridge across the Leith. I simply can not see how a flowing curved bridge can possibly fit into the rigid grid-based gothic layout. This curve will be visible from all but side views of the bridge.

I was interested when Mr. Gray was asked by Cr Peat about the heritage effects of the curved design. Mr. Gray avoided the question and could only answer in terms of the bridge’s angle to the stream banks. He failed to m ake a single reference to the curve and its effect on heritage values.

Mr. Gray commented several times on the excellently proportioned lines of the historic bridge. I strongly agree they have a perpendicular-ness that fits well with the Registry. However, such proportions are something that any significantly wider bridge in the area simply can never have.

I have been lucky enough to have had some time a couple of years ago to make particular note of neo gothic architecture whilst holidaying in Oxford, Cambridge and Scotland. I made special notice of the Glasgow University historic building which Otago’s Registry is said to be based upon. During the entire journey I saw absolutely no examples of curved bridges in neo gothic areas like this proposed bridge.

Glasgow University’s clock-tower stands, like ours, majestically above its grassy areas and trees; it still lives in the same historical context as it did when it was first built, despite having a modern campus around it. This over-all effect gives the context to a historical setting – with out context such settings become merely a historical picture at best.

We are very lucky that at Otago we also have our historical buildings living in a setting that can still be viewed in their historical context. Because of this, the vista of the University of Otago has become world famous and a pleasing part of a prestigious university. I’d like to point out to Mr. Gray that every respectable college in Oxford and Cambridge has their main-entry via a “side door” like Otago’s Archway entrance. Glasgow University itself has a similar ‘problem’ of no grand entrance-way and suffices with several arched “side” and “back” gates of wrought iron bearing the names of their most famous graduates of the last several hundred years who have contributed to the world.

I see Mr. Gray is sighting the HPT’s agreement on the relocation as “’to be an appropriate one with respect to heritage’”. This is perhaps a little mischievous as if the HPT’s quote was complete it would be preceded by the conditional statement ‘Should a new bridge be required…’ (as indeed it does in 6.77).

The Historic Places Trust has officially taken the position of ‘no view’ on the proposed vehicle bridge when previously they vociferously opposed a former proposed vehicle bridge. Certainly, these are two different bridges and I don’t won’t to second guess their expertise, but I personally believe they have been forced into the position of not commenting on the less important vehicle bridge by the threat of moving the more important historic bridge entirely off-campus. However, the HPT is of the view that the historic bridge should ideally remain untouched in its current location.

Mr. Gray uses the ICOMOS New Zealand Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Heritage Significance to claim relocation is legitimate. However this considers relocation a legitimate part of conservation where relocation is the only means to save the existing structure. This is clearly not the case here, as there is no threat to the structure if the applications are denied.

I agree with the Ian Bowman’s report to the ORC in finding that the University has under emphasised the negative heritage effects of replacing the historic bridge. Certainly, I suspect the perhaps further views of a non-partisan heritage expert would be helpful to the panel in making a final decision.

To me, shunting the little bridge off to the side will clearly devalue its prestige and historical role greatly. There can not be any doubt that a new wider bridge sitting beside the historic bridge will visually draw attention and visual appreciation away from the historic bridge.

The effect on the historic bridge’s context will be almost totally lost as not only will its entire function virtually be usurped by the bigger bridge, but it can never again be viewed in isolation. In fact Mr. Moore gave evidence that the two bridges would be seen as a single entity.

Further - I may not be an architect or expert, but even I can plainly see having two bridges of similar function so close together will simply look stupid and diminish the heritage values of the entire area. I might also add that I never saw a single example of such twin bridges in historic areas while in Scotland, England or Wales (except some rail beside vehicular bridges, but they clearly have different functions and styles).

Somehow I can’t see the French constructing a vehicle turning bridge outside the gargoyle infested Notre Dame; or even the English building twin bridges to Westminster, and I don’t see why we should have less respect for the values of our own heritage.


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