Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010

One of Paeroa oldest buildings, the Criterion Hotel, fell to the demolition hammers in May last. The two storeyed wooden building was opened for business in February, 1897, and was erected on the same site as the first Criterion Hotel in 1875.

While there was no real signs of a public outcry against "the Cri's" demise there were many local residents, and travellers, who expressed disappointment the 103-year building was demolished. Those more aggrieved than most made their disappointment know to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, the Hauraki District Council and the local historical society.

The first indications the building was to be demolished were signalled last November when the Hauraki District Council granted permission to the quartet of local owners to demolish the building to make way for a new purpose-built building and a new business for Paeroa.

The existing building had become "tired" and in need of considerable funds to restore it to its original condition.

However, most importantly, the building had no New Zealand Historic Places Trust designation, even though it was pre-1900 structure, nor did it have a Hauraki District Council heritage designation, under the district plan. The council is in the throes of implementing such designations.

It did not take long before the building was demolished, with any salvageable timbers, etc., being sold. Once the site was cleared the Historic Places Trust staff from Auckland excavated the site to undertake an archaeology assessment of the foundations and rubbish pits of both the first and second hotels. Any significant "finds" will be deposited to the Paeroa and District Museum.

There are two more buildings dating pre-1900, the Courthouse (now used by the Probation Services) and Paeroa Hotel. There are also a few private dwellings of this era. They could all follow the same fate as the Criterion Hotel.

It is all very well claiming that these historic buildings and sites must be retained, but the big question is: Who is going the meet the cost of restoration and maintaining them?

An ideal example of this situation is the existing Kopu Bridge. The Historic Places Trust, through staff at its Tauranga office, fast-tracked a category II designation for this bridge when it became known that it was being replaced by a new structure, which would meet with the requirements of the navigable waterway of the Waihou River. There was no prior consultation with the local branch of the Trust and very little, if any, with the two affected local authorities, Hauraki District and Thames-Coromandel District Councils.

Sure the bridge is the only remaining structure in New Zealand with a swing section in the middle to allow shipping to pass up and down the river. At the time the designation was placed on the old structure, the Trust staff indicated that the ratepayers of Hauraki and Thames-Coromandel District Councils would have to meet the cost of bringing the bridge up to walking and cycling safety standards and then the on-going maintenance. Transit New Zealand, at the time, indicated it had no funds available, nor did the Historic Places Trust. There is a few millions of dollars involved in this project.

Where do we go from here? There is only one place to go for funds and that is the taxpayer. Perhaps suspensory loans, with stringent conditions, could be made available to the owners of these historic buildings and sites so they can restore and maintain them with a proviso that they should be made available for public inspection on restricted hours.

Once a Historic Places Trust designation is placed on a building, this must affect the valuation of the property. Take the Paeroa RSA Memorial Club and its old Royal Mail Hotel building, which has a Trust category II designation. The owners cannot do anything structurally to the building unless the Trust is consulted and gives its approval.

It has reached the stage where there are an increasing number of instances of the public protesting when an historic building is demolished or site desecrated, but those who protest the loudest calling for protection do not come forward with the funds to assist the owners to restore and maintain the building or site for the benefit of the district and nation.

Funding responsibility must not be thrust upon the ratepayers, who are under considerable pressure to meet costs already generated Government bureaucracy. Funding for this purpose must come from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage through the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

Graham Watton,