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Battle over lake building

THE former visitor centre at Lake Waikaremoana has sparked further dispute. Advocates claim the Crown is demolishing it by neglect, and local Maori are threatening to occupy it.

The construction of the new visitor centre, Te Wharehou o Waikaremoana, is well under way on a lakeside site near Waikaremoana Holiday Park.

But the original 1976 building, located further inland and designed by Maori architect the late John Scott, is visibly deteriorating, to the dismay of a group of architects and heritage lovers who are claiming political interference.

Loosely organised under the name Historic Places Aotearoa (HPA), the group says the Department of Conservation (DoC) “for many years has shown an inability to manage built heritage properly. This is no more clearly demonstrated than with the managaement of the visitor centre”.

The building is listed as a category 1 building, with government organisation Heritage New Zealand (formerly the Historic Places Trust) but HPA says DoC is planning to demolish it “in the near future”.

“Demolition would mean the loss of one of this country’s significant pieces of modern architecture,” says the advocacy group. Gisborne architect James Blackburne is a member.

HPA says it understands that Heritage NZ staff have been instructed to not advocate for the retention of the building, which “would appear to be political meddling at its worst and needs to be highlighted to the New Zealand public before it is too late”.

“Heritage NZ is meant to be an autonomous Crown entity. Obviously some higher powers have forgotten this.

“This is the exact type of political meddling that many in the heritage fraternity were concerned about years ago when Heritage NZ became an autonomous Crown entity.”

Rapid deteriorationThe group, along with members of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and Mr Scott’s family, is keen to “help save this taonga for all New Zealanders” but recent photographs show it is rapidly deteriorating.

Hot on the heels of their attempt earlier this month to place a ban on activities at Lake Waikaremoana and the surrounding area, the small Ngati Ruapani iwi has filed an application in the Environment Court seeking an interim order to prevent demolition of the former visitor centre.

In response, DoC says it has not confirmed plans for demolition, telling the Wairoa Star “we are still exploring our options regarding the building”.

Iwi spokesman Vern Winitana says Ruapani sees the building as being “particularly important as a cornerstone of the relationship our people established, first with John Scott and then with the Crown”.

Mr Winitana says the court action taken will ensure proper scrutiny of any action that takes place that could threaten the building, which has been vacant for eight years.

Another iwi member, Tahurioterangi Trainor Tait, says iwi members intend to occupy the visitor centre until its future is secured.


DON'T DEMOLISH: The Institute of Architects has urged Department of Conservation to save the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre. The 1970s former visitor centre building at Lake Waikaremoana has been steadily deteriorating since it closed and was vacated in 2008. Picture by Historic Places Aotearoa and architects Tennent Brown
THE foundations of the new $6 million Lake Waikaremoana visitors centre, Te Wharehou o Waikaremoana were laid in March and the “green” building is expected to be finished in December, when it will become home to visitor information and Waikaremoana Tribal Authority services. It will house taonga that have not been displayed since the former lake visitor centre was vacated.
Artist's representation of the new visitor centre.