A PIECE of Gisborne’s history has been illegally removed, leaving a mixture of confusion, surprise and anger.
All that is left of the old Matawhero Bridge, alongside Riverpoint Road, are aged timber piles and a short gully through broken vegetation.
It is understood the remaining two steel spans of the bridge were removed over the final 10 days of December.
“This will go down in Gisborne’s history as an act of cultural vandalism and philistinism, along with the Post Office and the Opera House,” said Bridge Estate vineyard owner Klaus Sorensen.
“It’s a crying bloody shame. I find it despicable that this sort of cultural undermining still goes on these days.”
New Zealand Historic Places Trust lower northern area manager Fiona Low was surprised and disturbed to find the bridge has been taken away.
The 1906 bridge structure was given a category two Historic Place registration in recognition of its historical, architectural and technological heritage significance.
“It has technological significance as one of the few steel-arch bridges ever built in this country. Even though the structure is a ruin, it remains a vital part of a community’s history. Collectively, a community’s built heritage sets it apart from every other place.”
Ms Low points to Napier’s success in marketing as an art deco destination.
“Besides economic benefits, heritage buildings and structures help provide identity and represent the stories associated with the development of the area. Our heritage buildings and structures are a finite resource. Once they’re gone or have been substantially changed, they’re gone for good.”
Category two registration does not protect a structure from removal or demolition. It highlights its historical significance. The bridge was on council reserve land and is in the Gisborne district plan’s schedule of heritage sites. Resource and building consents are required to relocate or demolish the structure.
No such consents were sought from the council, said resource consent team leader Kurt Ridling.
An East Coast Vehicle Disposal spokesman said the company was contracted to remove the bridge steel-work but he did not know who the contractors were.
Some of the steelwork had already been sent to an Auckland firm for recycling.
“It just gets gas-axed into manageable pieces and either melted down or recycled.
“It’s all reusable,” he said.
Mr Ridling said the GDC resource consent team would work towards identifying the contractor.
“At this stage we’re trying to prioritise the location of the remains. Then we’ll look at the who and the why.”
There were provisions for relocating heritage structures, said Mr Ridling.
“Cutting it up as scrap metal doesn’t come under that.”
The three span, steel, bow-string truss Matawhero Bridge alongside Riverpoint Road was built in 1906 and was a turn-of-the-century design that originated with the American Bridge Company of New York.
It was built to span the Waipaoa River on the road between Gisborne and Morere.
When the river was straightened, the river loop was cut off — which turned that portion of the highway south into a dead- end.
The new reinforced ferro-concrete bridge at the Waipaoa roundabout officially opened in 1957.
In the early 1990s, the centre span of the now disused bridge was removed and used as the steelwork in a footbridge behind Cedenco’s plant in Innes Street.
The arches were later moved to the Rhythm and Vines site at Waiohika Estate Vineyard.
The council’s district plan allowed relocation of the bridge, says GDC resource consent team leader Kurt Ridling.
“We are disappointed it has been cut up for scrap metal when it could have been relocated to make an interesting historical feature somewhere else.”
Industrial historian and architect Geoffrey Thornton notes that few structures with steel arch structures have been built in the history of New Zealand bridges — especially bridges with bowstring, Parker and camelback trusses.
“The multi-span bridge built on SH2 over the Waipaoa River at Matawhero is a rare example in the history of bridge technology in this country.”