High Court judge Rebecca Ellis has set aside a year-old resource consent for a 10-storey 39.5m building Equinox Capital Ltd proposes to build in central Wellington because the owners of a 2-storey heritage-listed former substation next door weren’t notified.
In her decision issued last Wednesday, Justice Ellis wrote: “In summary, I consider: (a) Sydney St Substation Ltd should have been given limited notification of Equinox’s resource consent application; (b) there was a material error in the 14 October 2016 decision not to publicly notify Equinox’s resource consent application; and (c) there were material errors in the 14 October 2016 decision granting Equinox’s resource consent application.
“There have been no matters raised which persuade me I should not exercise my discretion to grant relief here. I therefore make orders setting aside the notification decisions & the substantive resource consent decision, all of which are dated 14 October 2016.”
The dispute concerns buildings (heritage & proposed) a few doors from the courthouse, on what was Sydney St until 1993 and is now Kate Sheppard Place in Thorndon, a street noted for its “Elizabethan & Jacobean” architecture.
The category II heritage building is the old Sydney St substation at 19 Kate Sheppard Place, which has historical significance as one of the first substations constructed to distribute electricity in Wellington after the Mangahao hydro power station began operation in 1924.
Justice Ellis said it also had “some architectural significance due to what has been described as its ‘quirky mixture of architectural styles’”.
The lower of its 2 storeys originally housed the transformers & other substation equipment. The upper level has always been a home. “That unusual & experimental combination of utilitarian & residential design is regarded as adding to its architectural interest. A heritage covenant was placed on the building in 2011.”
In 2013 the Government sold the substation building to Sydney St Substation Ltd, owned by Trevor & Jillian Lord. They renovated & strengthened the building to some acclaim, with the assistance of a Wellington City Council grant. The entirety of the building is now used for residential purposes.
Justice Ellis concluded: “There can be no real doubt that the substation’s heritage value was highly influential in the decision to purchase it, and to renovate it at some expense. To suggest that an adverse effect on the substation’s heritage value does not, equally, adversely affect its owner seems unattractive. So if there is a minor adverse effect on the heritage value of the building there is a minor adverse effect on Sydney St Substation Ltd.
“Even if there is some flaw in that logic, there remains the further & more substantive (“anticipated development model”) issue. The views I have expressed about that strongly support the conclusion that the adverse effects on the owner of the substation (in terms of the matters of which discretion is restricted under rule 13.3.4, namely design, external appearance, siting & placement of building mass) have been understated and are at least minor.
“On any of the above analyses, therefore, Sydney St Substation Ltd was an affected person and should have received limited notification of Equinox’s resource consent application.”
In contrast with the judge’s view, the council notification said: “There are no affected persons in respect of this application (sections 95B/95E). It is noted that neighbours have registered an interest in works occurring on the subject site. Neighbour interest does not deem them to be affected parties under the tests of the act or qualify as special circumstances under the act in this case.”
The judge said most other buildings in the vicinity were multi-level office blocks “of limited street appeal”. The Lords sought judicial review of Wellington City Council’s approval of resource consent “authorising the construction of another such building immediately adjacent to the substation, on a site which is presently a carpark. In short, Sydney St Substation Ltd says that the council was wrong to grant the consent and also wrong to even consider it on a non-notified basis. They say that the substation will be significantly adversely affected by the proposed construction.”
Equinox (Chong Du Cheng & Kerry Knight) has plans for 63 apartments, a 39-room hotel with ground-floor lobby and ground-floor commercial space with a total floor area of 32,422m².
An important factor in the judge’s consideration was that the proposed building would exceed the height limit of 35.4m in the “low city” area, set out in the district plan.
According to the district plan guidelines, “Where a new development adjoins a heritage building that is 4 storeys or less, its height should be not more than one storey above the heritage building, over an area extending approximately 5-8m along & back from the street frontage at the common boundary with the heritage building”.
Link: Substation judgment