(2017: Saving St Gerard’s *&* Joe’s Place updates this story.)
This is the house that Joe built. Joseph Richard Leadbeater, carpenter. If you’re familiar with images of Wellington, you’ll have seen Joe’s place. It’s tucked up against St Gerard’s monastery and church, with reserve land on three sides.
Joe bought the land in 1897, from Mrs Fanny Fitzgerald, widow of ‘Fitz’, James Edward Fitzgerald (1818–1896, politician, orator, watercolorist and journalist – founder of the Christchurch Press). Born in Odessa, a multilingual musician and beautiful singer and very active in community organisations, Fanny was mother to 13 children, six of whom died between 1866–1888, aged between 4 and 35 and some of whom contributed to Wellington’s history, for instance Geraldine, who founded Chilton St James School for girls.
When her husband died, Fanny inherited their family home, ‘Clyde Cliff’, or ‘Fitzgerald’s Folly’ built 1872–1874.
Here’s Clyde Cliff in 1877, looking over from central Wellington. It’s up the top of Hawker Street, in the lower right quadrant at its top, towards the left .
In this image, taken from the opposite direction, you can just see it among the trees, on the promontory in the top right quadrant.
Fanny subdivided some of Clyde Cliff’s seven acres and the section closest to the house became Joe’s place. Fanny also built a house next door to Joe’s, down at no 3 Oriental Terrace, around the same time Joe built his (1). But according to Fitz, a biography by their great-great-grand-daughter, Fanny lived at Clyde Cliff until her death (2). There’s now a house slotted between no 1 and no 3, no 1A, built around 1919.
Here are the plans for no 1.
Joe signed the specs for the house.
At first I thought he probably wrote them, too: the handwriting seems similar. But they refer to ‘Mr Leadbetter’, so maybe he didn’t. Maybe he didn’t even build the house. But I like to think he did (3).
Whoever built the house – let’s assume it was Joe – used lots of tōtara and red pine/rimu to build no 1; the floors are all 6 x 1" mataī/black pine.The specs are very detailed. For example, the chimney’s brickwork was ‘to be executed with sound hard-burnt bricks laid in well-made mortar, the foundation to be laid on a solid hard surface. To chimney openings insert a wrought-iron chimney bar 2 1/2 wide by 3/8 of an inch thick, the bars to have 4 1/2" bearing, and to be turned up and down at the ends’. Someone else, I think, added ‘Jambs & backs to be 9" thick carried up from solid to a height of three feet above roof’.
The last time I visited no 1, around 1983, there seemed to have been very few changes made over almost 100 years.
Joe sold no 1 in 1902. After Fanny’s death in 1900, one of her daughters bought Clyde Cliff, and in 1906 sold it to the Redemptorist Fathers, who lived in the house. They built St Gerard’s Church in 1908.
The year this photo was taken, there were lighting problems in Oriental Terrace. Joseph Charlton complained.
Mr Charlton wanted a light on the pole opposite the right-of-way leading to his house– …every year, as soon as the weather becomes a little warmer and when there is no moon, we have been very much annoyed by men and women sitting and lying about on this Right of Way and taking advantage of the shadows there…I may say too that the nuisance I have above mentioned unnerves the Ladies who have to pass up and down in the dark to and from the trams in Oriental Bay.
I know that right-of-way, leading off the bottom of the upper zigzag, leading to the houses further along the hillside. Thanks to some neighbours’ hard work, this is what it looks like 104 years later, now that the weather’s ‘a little warmer’.
In 1932 the Redemptorists demolished Clyde Cliff and built the monastery, funded by public donations. In 1951 they bought Joe’s place.
On Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga’s Register of Historic Places, St Gerard’s church and the monastery are classified as Category 1 — of ‘special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value’. The surrounding area — including Joe’s place — is within the Wellington City Council (WCC) Mount Victoria North Residential Character Area Rule, an area that’s ‘important to the city because it covers an area of high visual appeal, particularly when viewed from the city and harbour. It is a characteristic Wellington residential environment of closely packed hillside housing, enhanced by the prominence of St Gerard’s Monastery. The monastery building, in its setting at the top of the coastal escarpment above Oriental Bay, is the object of many of the central area viewshafts identified in the plan. This special composition is one which the Council seeks to protect and enhance.’
In this picture, you can see why, see the prominence of Joe’s place and, to the right, the reserve that once was part of the Fitzgerald garden and then the monastery garden, where the Redemptorists had their orchard, grew their vegetables and kept their chooks.
In 1993, when the Redemptorists subdivided the land and sold the monastery and the church to the present owners, the Institute for World Evangelisation — the International Catholic Programme of Evangelisation, (ICPE), the WCC bought the garden, ‘to prevent [the Monastery] being obscured by new buildings’. In 2013 the garden became classified as a ‘scenic reserve’, a park. Today, as a ‘suburban reserve’, it’s administered by WCC Parks & Reserves.
When they subdivided, the Redemptorists retained ownership of some of the land, where it adjoins MacFarlane Street. A right-of-way runs across the Redemptorists’ land, towards the park.
You can get to Joe’s place along the right-of-way.
You walk past the cloisters.
Then on, past a well-tended garden.
And then at the end of the right-of-way you reach the reserve.
It’s a gorgeous wee park, with — as Fitz long ago noticed — the ‘most magnificent panoramic view’.
Sitting on that seat you see an old pear tree planted by the Fitzgeralds or the monks and, among the grass, traces of old brick paths and walls. And you can see Oriental Bay beach and your mates in the water down there.
And then, if you wander round the park you can admire the rest of the panorama.
Lots of sun here when it shines, all day.
Moving on, you reach the back of Joe’s place, and a view towards the green belt and Mount Victoria.
And then, if you walk further, along a path owned by the ICPE, you pass the little strip of neglected reserve land on no 1’s third boundary. And reach a different kind of reserve, a public zigzag, a popular green corridor from Mount Victoria to Oriental Bay, the Freyberg Pool, Te Papa and the waterfront and city and back again. It’s known as a ‘road’ reserve and long ago it was part of the road on the other side of the hill, Hawker Street.
The zigzag wasn’t always green. Here it is before no 1 was built.
When you reach the (upper) zigzag from the ICPE path that runs past Joe’s place, you see more Oriental Terrace houses.
That one with the grey roof and green front (no 6) and its neighbour on the left (no 8, not visible) pre-date Joe’s. The white one was built in early 1900.
All of the upper zigzag’s modest homes except no 1A were built before St Gerard’s Church, before the Monastery and before the Seven Sisters, the group of wooden houses along the shoreline at 188–200 Oriental Parade now protected by the WCC, among its other heritage sites.
Most of the dwellings on the zigzag were also built before St Gerard’s. So were those above the Oriental Terrace pathway across the hillside to the east (where men and women took advantage of the shadows and unnerved the Ladies who had to pass up and down in the dark) including the very earliest one at no 10.
Because the zigzag’s classified as a road reserve, the WCC’s care for it is very basic, far less than the Parks & Reserves’ care for the gardens that border the pathway from MacFarlane Street to the park. The WCC does provide some shrubs and fruit trees to plant and picks up organic and inorganic rubbish when necessary but its contractors responsible for road reserves visit the zigzag only now and then with a leaf blower and to spray weeds.
I live in one of the upper zigzag houses and because spraying makes me ill (4), our household cares for some of the zigzag in return for no sprays and especially to provide safe food for bees, also at risk from sprays. It’s also a joy to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables that humans and birds enjoy and to build up the soil.
We’ve planted lots of harakeke/flax in two areas, available to weavers (and last year a very successful no-water tomato crop among the flax bushes) and to many birds who, like pollinators, love its flowers. Olive trees. (They need another variety to fruit. Coming soon.)
Cape gooseberries for passersby (as I run the plant list in my head, I look out the window and see someone enjoying them). Heritage, self-seeding, cottage flowers and herbs. An apricot tree with some companion coriander.
For a decade or so we cared for two patches. And for the last eighteen months we’ve cared for a third one, in front of Joe’s place. Lots of clearing of surface and buried rubbish, nasty weeds and fallen branches and then experimentation, to see what will grow where among the trees, what can be grown successfully without much watering, what can provide a consistent food supply for bees and other pollinators. We’ve built two-and-a half hugelkultur (5), mounds of buried wood and compost that will help improve the soil and plant responses to lots of water or to drought. And we’ve responded to requests. Last year a parsley patch for one local. This year, parsley seeds for anyone who’d like some. Organic vegetables for a mate with cancer (and for us when she’s out-of-town).
I know now that cape gooseberries grow well on one side of the zigzag but not on the other, where a sorrel patch and other greens do well. I know now that borage, parsley, fennel, poppies, thyme, alyssum and calendula — all loved by bees — self-seed very easily. Bergamot’s back this year, a kind of mint. Bees love its flowers. Bee-loved perennials, lavender and rosemary are also underway. Bumble bees are also spreading clover, which fixes nitrogen.
I’ve learned to plant baby greens inside tin cans so the slugs and snails can’t reach them and to use wire cages to protect seeds and seedlings from birds. I’ve learned that the kale may be safe from white butterfly caterpillars because a volunteer landcress grows nearby. Bordoloi beans, descended from seeds brought back from Italy by a World War II soldier, are doing quite well this year on a hugelkultur. But it’ll take a few years to get this patch of the zigzag properly established.
Neighbours take responsibility for other areas. There’s one with new fruit trees — plums, feijoas — and pumpkins. That part has different sun, and pumpkins grow much more quickly there than the same varieties planted across the path.
Another area has some beautiful new natives, thoughtfully sited and lovingly cared for. Yet another has some potted plants that particularly appeal to some visitors.
And some areas are completely neglected except for the WCC spraying and leaf blowing.
Hundreds of people a day use the zigzag as a green corridor to other recreational pursuits, to get to the city and to get home. Individuals and teams use it to train, too. Up, down. Up, down, sometimes urged on by their trainers. A little less intensely, individuals and groups of all ages use it to exercise themselves, their children and their dogs and for conversations, both planned and serendipitous. The zigzag also has an open Facebook page, set up by a temporary resident and used now and then.
Some people come for special purposes because of what grows on the zigzag. In a couple of uncultivated areas, there are big elder trees. People gather the flowers for elderflower champagne.
Like this guy, who was happy for me to take a photo.
He told me that if we pick the elder flowers, more will come. In Wellington, he said, it’s not worth waiting for the elder berries because the birds get them first.
When I garden on the zigzag, people often pause to chat. In the last eighteen months, increasing numbers of these are tourists, from around the globe and within New Zealand. They ask directions to various destinations. They ask about the monastery. They ask about the houses and tell me that they enjoy their age and domestic scale. They ask where the denizens of the zigzag park their cars (up or down, on a ‘real’ road, usually). Sometimes I tell these visitors about the little park, show them the way. Sometimes they come back, to tell me how much they loved it.
They ask about the gardens, too. They notice the mix of natives and exotics, of food and flowers and they like the diversity. They take endless photos. On a calm day, people watch the bees — recently one guy spent over half an hour moving from flower to flower to photograph them. Visitors often leave with herbs or some heritage seeds, a cape gooseberry or two (last summer it was those tomatoes), though last week one child was far more excited by a bumble bee than the cape gooseberries.
Some locals tell me that they like the constant change in the patch outside Joe’s place.The other day, one of them suggested that I should have invited Prince Charles when he visited; he’d have enjoyed it, the almost-daily visitor said. Others would like greater order in the experimental garden outside Joe’s.
When I dig and weed, enjoying the tranquillity, I often see Joe’s place through the plants and then feel profoundly grateful for all those who ensured that the park beyond Joe’s is a reserve for us all to enjoy.
But change may be coming.
A letter came from the WCC, about Joe’s place. And then a notice in the local newsletter, about the zigzag.
Ever since, I’ve tried to understand what’s happening and why. I’ve been following breadcrumbs along a complex path through the area’s long history, via the actions of the WCC, of past and current owners of St Gerard’s and others. Thanks to the prime position of the monastery and that ‘most magnificent panoramic view’ the story of the sale of Joe’s place is just part of a long and continuing story where the stakes are high. The path I’ve followed through the documents has been a challenge and I’ve returned a couple of times to Georgina Smyth’s wonderful poem On the Motorway to Hof, especially these bits–
Does that mean, if I see
that I have to drive 40?
Does it also mean, you can actually drive 80 or 40?
Does 40 really mean 40?
What’s pressing on my heart?
That I hear and don’t hear.
I have to say
‘That thing is what it is.’
Of course there are other things I can’t even
make a start on.
If green is
does that mean
that time is time and not longer?
Don’t ask me.
I don’t know the answer.
with four-and-a-half hours,
with five dollars, whether it’s true that
But here’s what I understand, so far. Please feel free to leave a note, wherever you think I’m mistaken.
The letter came in October, from the WCC. The ICPE has decided to sell Joe’s place, currently valued at $720k. It’s suggested a land exchange with WCC, so that the WCC owns the path marked ‘B’ in the image below and the ICPE owns the reserve strip on the third boundary of Joe’s place. According to ICPE information in the latest Mount Victoria newsletter, the path will include some ‘stranded’ land between the two titles, to be landscaped. I’ve tried to identify it, but can’t.
As you can see, the path, outlined in red, starts under the car park. Here’s its narrow, uninviting entrance, with Joe’s chimney in the background.
If you’re running down the hill to the beach, you probably won’t notice the entrance way. There’s no signpost to the park.
The beginning of the reserve land’s visible a bit further down, outside Joe’s. I’d love this space to open up, through to the park. But it’s steep. And narrow at the end closest to the park.
If the land exchange goes ahead, said the letter, Area A would be amalgamated with 1 Oriental Terrace creating a larger site. Council understands that ICPE then intend to dispose of this site to fund earthquake strengthening of St Gerard’s Monastery. Area B would be amalgamated with [the park] and become part of Council’s reserve network. There would be reserve ‘revocation’ and some rezoning involved.
St Gerard’s earthquake risk is well-known. Back in 1995, an Historic Places Trust report stated that ‘engineers expressed concerns about the likely (poor) performance of the Monastery’s gable end walls and that there is no seismic separation between St Gerard’s carpark and the monastery building’. As far as I know, the monastery carpark itself, even though it’s constructed in a way that places the monastery at risk in an earthquake, has not been assessed but may also be a risk for anyone on the zigzag below. This is all scary stuff for nearby residents.
The WCC has yellow-stickered the St Gerard’s complex, so it has to be strengthened or demolished within 15 years. But reports vary. According to a 2013 report, it’s at about 27 per cent of new building standards and it will cost up to $10 million to bring the buildings up to even 67 per cent of those standards. Back then, the St Gerard’s Maintenance and Restoration Trust chairman, Gordon Copeland, suggested that this was way beyond the sum anyone could expect to raise in a public fundraising campaign and that it would probably be more realistic to strengthen the buildings to 34 per cent of code, not yet costed. But last year another report suggested that the buildings may reach minimum standards with no work.
When I first read the letter I didn’t know much about any of this. I thought, ‘O, someone will buy Joe’s place and do it up. Great. And it makes sense that ICPE sells it to fund earthquake strengthing. When slate tiles from the monastery roof fly off in gales they’re hazardous to the people of the zigzag. Imagine what it’d be like at our place in a serious earthquake’. Then I read the letter again and had some questions.
And then, in one of those odd synchronicities, the Mount Victoria and the Oriental Bay Residents Associations (the zigzag adjoins both suburbs) announced – I read it in the Oriental Bay newsletter – that ‘we have recently put proposals to the WCC for the improvement, beautification and maintenance of public areas around St Gerard’s Monastery’. ‘O’, I thought again. I’d had a brief email exchange with an Oriental Bay Residents Association representative, followed by silence. And now this. What was going on? And how was the sale of Joe’s place connected to the beautification of the area? I did some research, asked the WCC some questions and registered a formal objection, now partly outdated by what I’ve discovered since.
From the beginning, I wondered about the proposal’s relationship to the WCC’s own Heritage Policy–
The Council works to identify and protect the city’s heritage places to help retain them for future generations…Wellington celebrates its past through the recognition, protection, conservation and use of its heritage for the benefit of all.
Hmmm. In this heritage area, I thought, how does this proposal protect the heritage precinct and retain it for future generations? Is the proposed exchange going to be for the benefit of all – including visitors from out-of-town and overseas – or will it benefit only a single organisation – the ICPE – and the purchaser (a developer or home owner/s)? Will Joe’s place be protected by planning rules?
According to the ICPE, again in the latest Mount Victoria newsletter, ‘There will be little if any change to the view of Oriental Terrace from Oriental Bay’. But what about all those other public viewshafts, to and from the monastery precinct? In those views, Joe’s place within the almost complete green belt around St Gerard’s adds sigificant visual pleasure. And although Joe’s disrupts the viewshaft to and from Mount Victoria, because of its age it contributes an extra layer of story through its appearance within an iconic historical precinct.
Pleasures like these are treasured in any city that wants to retain its heritage for future generations and to enhance contemporary tourist experience, especially that of the ever-growing ‘green’ tourist sector, often walkers, who seek the historic and authentic. A new development will eliminate these pleasures forever. Anything that disrupts viewshafts on this side will also block sun from the zigzag in winter and compromise the enjoyment of its visitors.
Later I also wondered about the proposal’s connection to the Our Living City policy and to other policies I don’t know about, especially those in relation to tourism–
With our harbour, hills, wild coastline, and native flora and fauna all situated in close proximity to urban life, our connection to nature is a significant point of difference, benefitting us ecologically, economically, socially and culturally…Wellington’s greatest strength as a city is our quality of life, and nature plays a big part of this.
To achieve its Our Living City goals, the WCC plans ‘to engage with the community, share stories, align Council policies and programmes, and grow partnerships’. To what extent does this proposal take into account our stories, our quality of life and the role nature plays in this, that almost complete green belt around St Gerard’s and down the zigzag? And, to what extent has the WCC aligned its policies when making this proposal? I wondered.
So I asked about the ambit of the WCC investigations. Did it consider, for instance, purchasing Joe’s place for the city and using it to link the zigzag with the park? Within its response to my many questions, the WCC wrote–
The investigations into … the proposed reserve land exchange have been limited to a request from the Monastery for the exchange to occur. I can advise that the Council has not considered purchasing [1 Oriental Terrace]. The zig zag and the park around the Monastery are already connected by the track and as such there is no need to acquire this residential land…There is no requirement for additional park open space in this area with the large area of Town Belt nearby and the reserve land in front of the Monastery.
The WCC also advised that there was no relation between the beautification of the zigzag and the proposed exchange as these ‘are two completely separate projects’.
In my submission, I suggested that the WCC negotiate with the ICPE to buy no 1 and the path from the park to Oriental Terrace — perhaps with help from the public and philanthropists (naming rights, anyone?), to enhance both the park reserve and the popular road reserve and retain the present viewshafts. Joe’s place could be retained, maybe as a visitor centre or something similar, given the increased volume of tourist traffic. Or it could be demolished, to connect the two reserves, as a single outstanding park with easy, open, access. This was before I knew and fell in love with the history of Joe’s place; I imagined a stand of manuka trees and beehives beneath. And no spraying!
Then, much later, I learned that the WCC was interested in buying the Redemptorists’ remaining piece of land (also referred to as ‘Lot 2’), with its right-of-way from MacFarlane Street to the park. I became attracted by a third alternative: the WCC could buy no 1 and shift Joe’s house to the bottom corner of the Redemptorists’ plot, down by MacFarlane Street. There’s a corner there where the house wouldn’t affect views of the monastery and it could be restored to become something like a home for a prestigious artist-in-residence. Then, no 1’s ‘vacant’ land could become an extension of the park, connecting it to the zigzag and providing an uninterrupted sweep of trees around the front of the monastery as well as an unimpeded viewshaft to and from the top of Mount Victoria.
I understand that the residents associations would also like the zigzag and the park to be treated as ‘one integrated entity’, with perhaps a community orchard, but don’t know if they’d like the city to buy Joe’s place.
After I sent in my submission I researched further and found some troubling facts. So I kept looking. I read Fitz. I looked for photos. I visited the Alexander Turnbull Library at the National Library. I visited National Archives. I ordered Certificates of Title. And then I went to the Wellington City Archives.
I learned that there’ve always been problems in upper Oriental Terrace. For instance at the end of 2015, when a broken drain leaked down the zigzag for weeks and several people fell, including a woman in her 90s, I found this letter to the WCC, from 1891.
Earlier, there’d been the night soil problem in lower Oriental Terrace.
There are lots more Oriental Terrace letters in the WCC’s archives, often from residents concerned about an aspect of the zigzag’s condition. They include this letter from the Roseneath and Oriental Bay Municipal Association.
There are letters about boys taking a short cut and damaging drains. About a pesky gumtree. About ‘shooting timber’ in to build at no 3. And about those lighting problems, of course, among other requests for ‘lamps’.
There’s also a record of an earlier request to rezone no 1, from the Redemptorists, a request the WCC refused.
Like the ICPE today, the Redemptorists appear to have seen no 1 through the lens of economic development. But Joe’s place is a piece of land and a dwelling, each with its own valuable history and presence. Together they enhance the monastery precinct and the viewshafts to the monastery. They enhance the zigzag as part of this. They (or just the land) could further enhance it, if the WCC and the rest of us work towards this.
As I crisscrossed through the available documents, I considered my overarching question of Who Benefits and How? from the proposed exchange and rezoning, within the framework of city’s Heritage and Our Living City policies.
And I discovered that:
– The WCC set some Special Conditions for the Redemptorists’ subdivision. These included construction of the present path as a public right-of-way. The documentation of how this failed to happen is a long poem that sometimes made me laugh when I found a new verse. I can’t do it justice but I can lay it out.
– Some of the key agreements made at the time of the subdivision appear to have expired: the sale of no 1 may be just the beginning of major developments. Once it’s sold, more major change is possible. (Again, warm thanks to those who ensured that the park is a reserve, for all of us.)
– There’s at the moment nothing to stop a major and inappropriate development of the site at no 1, made larger by the proposed acquisition of reserve land, because – based on a recommendation from one of its own reports containing significant inaccuracies – the WCC has excluded all of the upper zigzag from its Design Guide for the Mount Victoria Character Zone. ‘But there’s no vehicle access so it’s impossible to provide necessary parking’, said a neighbour. I checked that out, too and discovered that there could be ways round that.
At the moment, because of these factors, Joe’s place is most likely to be redeveloped, with — thanks to the exchange — a larger section and a zoning that encourages intensive development. It’s hard to imagine this happening in a significant heritage zones in other parts of the world or in Wellington’s other less intimate reserve areas.
What follows is a concentrated read. ‘More pix in this part, please’ said one trial reader, but I hope you’ll work on your own pictures for this bit. These documents are a bit like a hugelkultur. A mound, where we can’t see what’s buried underneath and can’t see the continuous metamorphoses going on down there. We can only imagine. And focus on what we can see, the courgette plant that’s struggling, the cornflowers’ bright bright blue. The bees among the bergamot. The thrush scratching at the bare soil. And then ask–
Does 40 really mean 40?
What’s pressing on my heart?
That I hear and don’t hear.
The Special Condition That Morphed
According to that latest Mount Victoria newsletter, the public path from the park to Oriental Terrace was agreed by deed between ICPE and the WCC in 1998; the deed can be terminated at any time with 6 months’ notice. But its history goes back much further, to the WCC approval of the Redemptorists’ subdivision, in 1991, and the subsequent agreement between the Redemptorists and the WCC, when the WCC bought the park.
Reading through the archived documents 25 years later it seems that the Redemptorists did their best to ensure that they could in future deny public access to the promontory. The WCC at first resisted this and tried to protect public access with a special condition but for some reason lost impetus and in the end didn’t even try to take advantage of its right to create an easement. So the city is now being asked to increase the size of no 1’s land (and therefore a larger development) in order to achieve something that it has already negotiated and renegotiated and if the curent proposal goes through may now compromise the wide public benefits of a first class monastery precinct.
When the subdivision plan was presented, the WCC almost immediately identified a problem if the reserve strip alongside Joe’s place was the only access to the park. Because of this, it required a right-of-way (later Right-of-Way “C”) from the park to the zigzag, as a special condition of approving the subdivision. Along with the other special conditions, this was incorporated into the WCC’s agreement with the Redemptorists. But in spite of this, the agreement refers to the right-of-way to a potential easement. And the subdivison plan included in the relevant Certificates of Title doesn’t include Right-of-Way “C” or any reference to this easement.
From the beginning of the information in the Town Clerk’s file and the relevant subdivision file, two people’s documents predominate, Bruce Purdie of Spencer Holmes Miller, Consulting Civil Structural Engineers, Resource Managment Consultants (&c, now defunct) and Michael Brownie, then City Surveyor and now Team Leader of Land, Customer and Property Information.
In separate documents, they provide very similar backgrounds to the project.
This from Michael Brownie to the WCC Environment Committee, in August 1991–
During the latter part of the 1980s the Redemptorist Fathers discovered that they no longer had a need for the monastery buildings and therefore proposed to sell or subdivide the land to release capital from their asset. A number of proposals were explored including comprehensive housing developments and a small cluster of high class units, leading to a large site on the promontory which would be suitable for very high value residential development. [Bruce Purdie’s account, in the letter accompanying his firm’s subdivision plan 5437E, in July 1991, described the large site on the promontory as ‘suitable for ambassadorial or diplomatic residences’] .
In early 1989, public appeals were planned to save the buildings and a number of proposals were explored, including the setting up of a Charitable Trust or Foundation. Council also expressed interest in protecting the site for the greater benefit of the citizens of Wellington.
Council passed a resolution in June 1989 which included the following:
That Council take any action necessary in order to protect the viewshaft of the District Scheme and the green space in the area.
That Council pursue the prospect of purchase and sympathetic development of the above site, closely controlled by the Council, including possible retention of green space.
Since that time, considerable negotiations have taken place between Council and the Redemptorist Fathers Trust Board.
Plan 5437E looks pretty much like this, the eventual subdivision.
In his letter accompanying Plan 5437E, Bruce Purdie (if you look closely on the plan above, you can see where he signs it) makes the first reference I’ve found to the path past Joe’s place–
Lot 1 [now the park] containing some 3042 square metres includes the promontory and the cliff face. It is for purchase by your Council for open space purposes. We understand it is to be classified as a reserve at a future date. It includes a leg onto Oriental Terrace with a view to future pedestrian traffic linking up with the Council’s zigzag. This may involve creation of a small triangular right-of-way across Lot 3 [the main monastery/church site].
Michael Brownie’s next report to the Environment Committee is dated 20 August, 1991. He’d taken a look at the reserve strip alongside the path past Joe’s place and this is how he describes ‘the leg onto Oriental Terrace with a view to future pedestrian traffic’–
A 2.5 metre wide access strip out to Oriental Terrace is included but an inspection of the site indicates that this may not be in the correct position to permit pedestrian access from Lot 1 out to the zigzag pathway in Oriental Terrace. It is my opinion that a pedestrian Right-of-Way should be registered over part of Lot 3 following the line of the existing fully formed path to the east of the monastery buildings to permit walking access.
He formally recommended that–
A satisfactory Right-of-Way shall be created over the westernmost portion of Lot 3 where it adjoins Oriental Terrace in order to provide a practical and negotiable pedestrian route from the body of Lot 1 out to the zigzag pathway leading up from Oriental Terrace to Hawker Street. This Right-of-Way must be shown on the Land Transfer Plan as Right-of-Way “C”.
In a letter on 10 September, P C Mitchell, the Acting City Solicitor, suggested that the Right-of-Way “C” condition and some others be deleted. He wrote–
A number of conditions proposed in your report of 20 August 1991 would create difficulties for the Council in its effort to acquire land or rights from the subdivider. From my perspective the Council has a finite sum for this deal, and I am therefore reluctant to accede to conditions which will simply drive up the price for no immediate benefit. I appreciate however that the regulatory perspective demands minimum standards and consistency and I do not want to compromise these either.
He asked for deletion of the condition that ‘Lot 1 shall be shown on the Land Transfer Plan as recreation reserve to vest’, apparently because he saw this as an impediment to Council’s ultimate future ability to be able to use (and sell) the land in the event of the St Gerard’s Monastery buildings being demolished. He also requested deletion of other conditions, including the one requiring Right-of-Way “A” as well as the one requiring Right-of-Way “C”.
On 12 September, Michael Brownie made another report, as a ‘supplement… to be read in conjunction with’ his 20 August report. In a section headed DIFFICULTIES WITH SUGGESTED CONDITIONS OF CONSENT, he wrote–
The Acting City Solicitor has raised objections to the suggested conditions of consent…I feel it is pertinent to comment that the Acting City Solicitor is acting in this case in the role of the intended purchaser of one of the lots in the proposed subdivision and would not appear to have the wider aspects of the ongoing use and maintenance of the land uppermost in his consideration.
Although a second version of this document omits any reference to a conflict of interest, I was reassured by this first one. At the WCC, I thought, they watch out for conflicts of interest and deal with them in a straightforward manner. ‘Is this still the case?’ I wondered. (6)
On 19 September Michael Brownie noted that ‘Construction plans must be submitted to the City Engineer for approval [including] The construction or upgrading details of the path for pedestrians only which will be contained within Right-of-Way “C”.
The Town Clerk’s notice of approval for the subdivision, dated 14 November 1991, is almost the last item in the Town Clerk’s file. The approval is subject to some ‘special conditions of consent’ including this one–
PEDESTRIAN ACCESS TO LOT 1
A satisfactory Right-of-Way shall be created over the easternmost portion of Lot 3 where it adjoins Oriental Terrace in order to provide a practical and negotiable pedestrian route from the body of Lot 1 out to the zigzag pathway leading up from Oriental Terrace to Hawker Street. This Right-of-Way must be shown on the Land Transfer Plan as Right-of-Way “C”.
The formal agreement between the WCC and the Redemptorists Fathers, dated 24 February 1992, is included in the subdivision file. They had agreed that the Redemptorists would subdivide the site and that certain of the seven lots would be ‘sold, transferred, vested or covenanted…to or in favour of the Council on the terms set out in this agreement’, according to Plan 5437E as approved by the Council, ‘subject to certain conditions contained in its letter from the Town Clerk’s Office dated 14 November 1991’.
Lot 1 with the appurtenant rights of way would be sold and transferred to the Council for $1million, under various terms and conditions. In relation to the path past Joe’s place, in spite of the Right-of-Way ‘C’ condition–
Lot 3 …shall be subject to…any right of way that may be required on survey to satisfy Condition e) of the approval;
…shall be …for pedestrian use only [and] created by easement certificate. The Council shall be under no obligation to form the right of way over Lot 3 (if one is required…) but if it does so, formation and maintenance shall be at its cost; and
[it] would be the Council’s obligation to form and maintain if it chose to do so.
By 21 October 1992, Ashley Haughton, a Senior Surveyor appointed by Michael Brownie to ‘avoid possible conflicts of interest’, sent out a Memorandum (note the plural ‘conflicts’).
Right of Way “C” is not specifically on his list of ‘Conditions requiring attention’ although it may be included within (h) Construction, as part of the work to be done before the land transfer could be sealed, to be carried out ‘to the satisfaction of the General Manager, Cityworks Division’.
When Bruce Purdie wrote to the WCC on 29 September 1992 he noted that–
The (14 November 1991) original approval included 11 Special Conditions of Approval and we comment on these as follows…
Pedestrian Access to Lot 1
No pedestrian right of way is required over Lot 3 as the access is included entirely within the Lot 1 leg to Oriental Terrace.
And then, under the heading Construction
…plans had been approved between April and July 1992, by Drainage, City Works and Culture and Recreation, including construction of the pathway to Oriental Terrace.
There’s a copy of the subdivision approval in the subdivision file, not far before the agreement between the WCC and the Redemptorists. In similar green ink and handwriting used on Ashley Haughton’s memorandum it confirms that Right-of-Way “C”– ‘Doesn’t exist, [even as an easement]is now leg of Lot 1 to Oriental Tce’. Yes, that very leg identified at the outset as a ‘2.5 metre wide access strip out to Oriental Terrace…that…may not be in the correct position to permit pedestrian access’.
Was this a retrospective attempt to legitimise WCC’s failure to follow through on the Right-of-Way “C” condition? I don’t know, of course. But collectively, the documents record the demise of a mandatory special condition, in circumstances where we know there were conflicts of interest. In the gaps between the information the documents provide are stories. Fortunately, there are still people alive who can tell them.(7)
The Planning Decision Based on Errors of Fact
Almost the first thing I discovered when I started my research was that the WCC has excluded Oriental Terrace zigzag from the Mount Victoria North Residential Character Design Guide and based that exclusion on errors of fact.
I’d thought that 5.3.5 of the District Plan would apply to Joe’s place. This ‘requires a resource consent for (restricted discretionary activity) for the construction, alteration of and addition to residential buildings (and assessment against the Mount Victoria North Residential Character Area Design Guide)’.
The assessment against the design guide includes the buildings that are covered by the Pre-1930s Demolition Rule. This applies– ‘…to those neighbourhoods where significant concentrations of older buildings contribute to a distinctive townscape character and a wider sense of place… the focus of this rule is the contribution of the buildings to townscape character’.
The upper zigzag houses would fit exactly into this, I thought. But no. Yes, the zigzag houses are within the Mount Victoria North Residential Character Area. But, according to a WCC Planning Department’s email, in a Character Review the council made in 2008– ‘…a number of additional areas were assessed for inclusion in the pre-1930’s Demolition Rule and an urban design assessment of those potential areas was undertaken. Oriental Terrace was one of the areas considered for inclusion, but was assessed as not meeting the relevant criteria’.
When I read that the core criterion within the Character Review was the age of the houses and that the review’s author assessed sixteen Oriental Terrace houses and found that none existed before 1900, I thought WHAT!!!?? How come, when Joe’s place and three of the five houses closest to it are pre-1900, another is 1900 and as already mentioned, there’s at least one more at 10 Oriental Terrace? Others are pre-1920 so qualify to fit within the pre-1930s Demolition Rule.
Then I read on and saw another criterion, relating to visual prominence. The review states that ‘it is difficult to obtain a medium and close range view of the area from public spaces’ and consequently Oriental Terrace is given a ‘Low’ (2) rating for visual prominence. WHAT!!!?? I thought again, visualising the prominence of Joe’s place in all those ‘iconic’ photographs, all those visitors and locals toiling up and running down the zigzag, past the upper zigzag houses, remembering a Dutch couple carefully examining and photographing the upper zigzag houses, just the other day. For long range, medium or close views from public spaces, Joe’s place and the other nearby houses may be unparalleled in Wellington.
Again, what happened? How did it happen? Why? And who will now benefit from a shonky chain of research and decisions based on it? Let’s hope that the WCC will remedy their errors.
The Expired Agreements
After I understood that Joe’s place is at risk and that a larger section zoned Inner Residential could mean that a new and inappropriate building could be erected, I looked a little further. Why, I wondered, has the ICPE chosen this way to raise money? If earthquake strengthening is in fact necessary and the ICPE it can’t afford it, why doesn’t it launch a public appeal? Why doesn’t it form a partnership with developers, many of whom would like to be involved? For instance, there’s Rex Nicholls, a Wellington property developer and husband of a former Mayor who in 2013 offered the church some free advice on how to fund the strengthening– ‘The building needs a new use. A high-quality hotel or expensive apartments would work’, he wrote.
I think I found the answer re a partnership or sale in the notes to the ICPE Financial Statements for 2014, filed with Charity Services–
The Institute is bound by an agreement with [the Redemptorists] that if it sells the property within 40 years of purchase [2033?] then half of the sale price will be paid to [the Redemptorists]. This undertaking is secured by a registered mortgage on the property. The Monastery is also subject to a high level heritage designation which is likely to severely limit redevelopment of the property, and therefore its value.These impairments make the value of the Monastery very uncertain and reduced from the RV. The property at 1 Oriental Terrace is not so impaired and has been revalued to RV.
That mortgage to the Redemptorists is still on the Certificate of Title. If the ICPE has only a half share in any sale of the whole complex or a share of it to a developer and no incentive to contribute any necessary earthquake strengthening within 40 years of its 1993 purchase from the Redemptorists except the greater safety of those living at the monastery or nearby.
As well, it’s not certain that the ICPE would apply the money from the sale of Joe’s place to help with restrengthening, so there’s no guaranteed public benefit in the sale of Joe’s place, unless the public gets an improved amenity through ownership of it.
So what other possible reasons does ICPE have for selling Joe’s place? Who might benefit and how? I looked a little more closely at the other conditions in the agreement between the Redemptorists and the WCC.
According to the agreement, Lot 2 was retained by the Redemptorists and leased to the WCC for 20 years (until 2003). It’s that area labelled, in that photograph at the beginning, as ‘Redemptorists’ with a 3.5 metre wide Right-of-Way from MacFarlane Street to Lot 1, that well-tended pathway to Joe’s place, the pink area on the plan, above. That Right-of-Way, according to the agreement, was to be created by an easement that modified the Redemptorists’ rights so that it could be used only for pedestrian traffic and WCC use. But only for the period covered by the covenant.
I haven’t seen a copy of the covenant(s), but in theTown Clerk’s approval for the subdivision of 14 November 1991, Michael Brownie refers to them like this–
…satisfactory covenants under Section 291 Local Government Act shall be registered against the titles to issue for Lots 1, 2 and 3 as follows:
(i) In respect of the entire area of Lots 1 and 2 and the area shown as Covenant ‘B’ within Lot 3 [the area in front of the monastery that borders on the right-of-way from MacFarlane Street to Joe’s place, dark blue on the Plan above]; there shall be a covenant to preserve trees and bush and an absolute prohibition against any building construction until such time as the buildings known as the St Gerard’s Monastery
–are destroyed or
–the Council no longer lists them as a building of local importance in the District Scheme or
–in the case of Lot 2 and area B on Lot 3, the covenant can be removed after 20 years.
According to the Certificate of Title for Lot 2, the memorial for the WCC lease was deleted in October 2013 and a mortgage to the WCC was discharged at 4.03pm on 7 April 2014, exactly the same time as a WCC mortgage over Lot 3 was discharged. Does this mean that the Monastery buildings, Lot 2 and Area ‘B’ in Lot 3 are now freely available for development and if so, how does this fit with the reserve and the path that lead from the park to Oriental Terrace?
I puzzled a bit over this. Then I reread the agreement between the WCC and the Redemptorists. It says–
At the end of the covenant period, the [owner] of Lot 2 shall be entitled with his her or its tenants and any other persons lawfully entitled so to do from time to time and at all times by day or by night to go pass and repass with or without horses and domestic animals of any kind and with or without carriages, vehicles, motor vehicles, machinery and implements of any kind over and along the said right of way.
Gulp. If, as I believe, the covenant is extinguished, building is now possible on Lot 2 and on Area B of Lot 3. As well, the current owners of Lot 2, (the Redemptorists and anyone that they sell to) can now take bulls and bulldozers down that tranquil path from MacFarlane Street to the park and then onwards almost to Joe’s place, by arrangement with the owners of Area ‘B’. ICPE could presumably develop a car park on Area ‘B’ to lease to whomever eventually dwells at no 1.
Unless, as also is provided for in the agreement, the WCC promulgates any planning control for the purposes of preserving the monastery or of protecting and keeping clear defined views of the monastery from elsewhere in the city [including the zigzag] and then pays the owners of Lots 2 and 3 compensation, there is nothing to stop a major development that compromises the public’s enjoyment of the path and the park. A developer could even tunnel from the now-unrestricted pathway and under the tiny patch of the path to the zigzag and into the back of no 1 to provide car parks.
Or, the ICPE could enclose Area B where it adjoins the park. The boundaries of the various lots are not clear on the site and it seems imperative that a survey is done before any approvals, to remove the risk of surprises later.
Could that beautiful swoop of a walk be lost? Will it become impossible to stroll from MacFarlane Street to the zigzag without going into and through the park? Maybe. Not great for the elderly, the disabled, or people with pushing buggies. Is the proposed exchange necessary if the WCC is to retain both access from Oriental Terrace and any pedestrian-only access at all? I hope not.
Is it possible that Joe’s place will be transformed into an architecturally, environmentally and historically incongruous development? It is, I think. So is there really, as the WCC told me, ‘no need [for the city] to acquire this residential land’? Again, if it does not, who will benefit and how? Not many Wellingtonians. Not many visitors, from New Zealand or outside. Not the city’s heritage and environment.
Why not widen the focus from the strip of reserve, the pathway and ICPE’s desire for a larger footprint at no 1? Why not take an integrated view and consider the best outcomes for the zigzag and the park and those who use them, alongside the possible effects of the expired covenants and the fulfillment of ICPE’s present and future wishes? Why not consider all the viewshafts to the monastery, including the intimate views so attractive to tourists, from the zigzag, and from the path right through to MacFarlane Street and the viewshafts to and from Mount Victoria’s peak? Why not seize this opportunity to enhance a major historical precinct in perpetuity, instead of foreclosing on its potential?
Yes, like the Redemptorists, the ICPE is a business, albeit with charitable status. But the monastery’s owners, past and present, have already done well from the people of Wellington. We raised money to build the monastery. Our representatives didn’t press for that Right-of-Way “C”. But maybe now’s the time for reciprocal generosity of spirit from the ICPE and the Redemptorists (through their ownership of Lot 2 and financical interest in the monastery). Time for them to be open to a solution that will provide real and lasting benefits to the city as well as to ICPE.
The WCC is a business too, but needs to be careful with our heritage and our quality of life, where ‘nature plays a big part’. Taking a wider view, how can it best align its policies and programmes in this context, while offering some support to the ICPE’s plans?
On 11 February 2016, I went to present an oral submission to the council’s Environment Committee. It was great to hear the other presenters and the councillors’ questions to them. There was Jonathan Waddy, who suggested moving Joe’s place to the front of the section as one option for a purchaser; the Mount Victoria Residents Association representative who opposed the land exchange, had some good heritage-oriented ideas and emphasised the value of various viewshafts, not just the one from Oriental Bay; and the Oriental Bay Residents Association representative who also opposed the exchange. She was joined by engineer and developer Maurice Clark, who has carrried out many earthquake strengthening projects.
Maurice spoke against the land exchange and explained that earthquake strengthening would require access right around the monastery, including along the (probably too-narrow) path that is part of the exchange proposal, under which there may also be some footings. He also suggested that the strengthening may cost as much as $20m. If I were the ICPE and the Redemptorists, I’d be considering selling the monastery right now. Perhaps to someone who would demolish it. I imagine there’s a queue of developers who’d be only too happy to make them an offer.
Having heard Maurice, and understood that there’s also some doubt about whether the Redemptorists would sell WCC their Lot 2, it feels more than ever that the best thing is for the WCC to buy Joe’s place for a public reserve. This would mean demolition or removal of Joe’s house. But the benefits would perhaps compensate for that loss–
– public, pedestrian-only, inalienable and inviting access from the zigzag to the park, regardless of what happens on the main monastery site and regardless of who owns Lot 2 and whether there’s increased vehicle traffic on its right-of-way;
– a publicly owned green reserve right around the front of the monastery;
– an improved viewshaft to and from Mount Victoria lookout and from Palliser Road (a route much-loved by pedestrian tourists and tourist buses) and a new and beautiful viewshaft from the zigzag, through the trees and towards the city and harbour;
– no risk from an unsympathetic development on the no 1 site.
Anyway, the debate and decison-making is now over to the WCC. If you have anything to say to councillors they can be reached collectively at firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you know of someone who’d like to endow a public park, now’s the time to suggest this possiblity to them!
I’m back to the garden, and to other work.
Post Post Script
The May 2016 Bay View quotes a 20 March email from Iona Pannett, chairperson of the Environment Committee–
The land swap has been agreed to in principle. I am currently seeking advice whether the matter will be voted on at Council as the wording in the recommendations was unclear.
I was the only one to oppose the swap. This was not because I felt it was impossible to protect the area whilst allowing ICPE to raise funds to do the strengthening work but because I felt residents had raised valid questions and that some safeguards needed to be put into place.
There are now some additional steps to take which include drawing up an agreement and putting in place a plan change. I will talk to officers more about what is involved and get back to you with some suggestions about how you can be involved, if you so wish.
The Bay View added: (We have not been informed of any further developments by the time we went to press.)
I imagine that before long, we’ll see something like this, down the road where the Mount Victoria planning limitations in theory still apply. But I hope for a miracle.
(1) I have seen the CT and the relevant WCC drainage file, from when no 3 was built in the late 1890s, as well as some specs that are undated.
(2) Jenifer Roberts Fitz; The Colonial Adventures of James Edward Fitzgerald (2014) Otago University Press. I also enjoyed Edmund Bohan’s ‘Blest Madman’; Fitzgerald of Canterbury (1998) Canterbury University Press.
(3) I’ve begun to look for more information about Joe. But so far haven’t yet found any.
(4) Last year, the United Nations declared that glyphosate, used in Roundup ‘probably’ causes cancer, but there’s some disagreement about it. It’s been banned completely in Sri Lanka, El Salvador and Colombia. Sale of glyphosate products is tightly regulated in Germany, banned in some Swiss supermarkets, in the Netherlands and France. In Argentina many health professionals are advocating a ban after seeing a rise in cancer rates they attribute to glyphosate use and Costa Rica also has health and environmental issues from its use. In Wellington, following aerial spraying at Paekakariki, the Wellington Regional Council asked New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority to investigate. The EPA’s Chief Executive Dr Freeth has replied, saying that the EPA is reviewing reports from the World Health Organisation, the European Food Standard Authority (EFSA, which here concludes ‘that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and propos[ing] a new safety measure that will tighten the control of glyphosate residues in food’) and the United States’ EPA. They anticipate being able to make decisions in April next year.
In the United States, although California is moving to place glyphosate on its list of known carcinogens (and has now been sued by Monsanto), the Environmental Protection Agency has missed its key deadlines for evaluation. In the meantime, a peer-reviewed paper published in examines thousands of pages of Monsanto’s glyphosate animal studies that were given to the EPA during chemical registration and sealed by EPA at Monsanto’s request is here. (It wasn’t ready for EFSA deadline and it seems that a big issue is what happens to glyphosate when mixed with the other Roundup ingredients.)
Even though the spraying is at a distance from our place now, I get a strange kind of foggy malaise each time the council sprays in the unprotected parts of the zigzag. I think ‘what’s wrong with me’? And then, a little later, see the dying plants and know exactly what’s wrong. It’s often windy in Wellington. The spray drifts and affects different people in different ways.
(5) This is what a hugelkultur looks like.
This photo comes from Bee Bayou Farm and Apiary. This is what they say about their project, which made me change from calling our ‘hugelkultur’ to calling them ‘swales’: ‘…we were wanting to transform the area adjacent to our bee yard into a small orchard…but I wasn’t quite sure about how to plant it now that we have it cleared. [An advisor] explained to us that since our farm is sloped, in order to take maximum advantage of rainfall, we should dig swales to catch our runoff and increase our water efficiency tremendously!’ The Third Plate, by visionary New York chef Dan Barber, encourages me to engage with this kind of gardening.
(6) The relevant Town Planning file [00277:1229:12] has the Acting City Solicitor’s letter — also in the Town Clerk’s file — at 404, the first version of Michael Brownie’s memo at 399 and the second at 342 (probably filed with the final version on top, at 342).
(7) Michael Brownie kindly looked at my timeline re the morphing condition and has now (11 February) provided the Town Planning file. It is much more substantial than the two I originally had access to (the Town Clerk’s and the subdivision files). I will read the full file when I can.
The Bay View; Official Bulletin of the Oriental Bay Residents’ Association.(2015, November).
Charity Services New Zealand. (2015). Charity Summary: Institute for World Evangelisation — ICPE Mission (New Zealand Branch).
Cochran, C. (1995). St Gerard’s Monastery Hawker Street, Wellington: Conservation Plan (prepared for ICPE, New Zealand Branch).
Mount Victoria newsletter. (2016, February).
O’Brien, R. (2002). St Gerard’s Monastery (for Heritage New Zealand).
Wellington City Council. (2014). Draft Suburban Reserves Management Plan 2014.
Wellington City Council. (2015). List of Earthquake-Prone Buildings as at 20/11/2015.
Wellington City Council. (2008). Wellington City District Plan Residential Review: Character.
Where would any writer be without the generosity of others? Many thanks to Avon MacDonald, Shirin Mukherjee, Tracey Kearns and Des Marshall at Wellington City Archives; to the archivists and librarians at the Alexander Turnbull Library, especially Gillian Headifen; to the patient, helpful people who work in the online service at Land Information New Zealand; and to the desk staff at National Archives. Warm thanks also to my readers and advisors, most of whom have been just ‘there’ for a long time now, in the most beautiful ways.