Historic buildings protect New Zealand’s heritage.  They are both valuable and irreplaceable.  As such, extra care is needed when dealing with old and historic buildings.  There are some extra steps that must be taken with respect to historic sites and buildings, and the consequences of getting them wrong can be substantial.  Thus, it is very important to do it right when renovating or redeveloping old or historic sites and buildings.

A recent case in Wellington demonstrates this. It has seen the Historic Places Trust threaten legal action against a developer who was knocking down an old building.  While the developer had the required consent from the Council, they had not obtained an ‘archaeological authority’ from the Historic Places Trust.  They were legally required to do so under the Historic Places Act, even though the building was not on the Historic Places Register.  Due to this oversight the developer is now potentially facing a maximum fine of $40,000.

So what is an ‘archaeological authority,’ and when is one required?  An archaeological authority is a permit giving permission to undertake work on archaeological sites.  It contains conditions that must be complied with while working on the site.  An archaeological authority is required in addition to resource, building or demolition consent from the local Council, as the Historic Places Act 1993 makes it unlawful to destroy or modify any archaeological site without prior approval from the Historic Places Trust.  The purpose of this requirement is to protect historic sites from the chance they may be damaged during your work.

Not all old or historic buildings are archaeological sites however.  Only those built prior to 1900 are in this category.  Permission is required to work on these properties whether they are on the Historic Places Register or not.  There are over 5500 properties on the register, which can be searched online at http://www.historic.org.nz/TheRegister.aspx.  Even if the property you are working on is not on the register, be sure to check out all the details about a property before you begin work on it.  The developer mentioned above had not done this, and claimed while he knew the building was old, he did not know it was “that old.”

Checking out all the details before you start work on an old building could save a lot of hassles down the track.  If in doubt, get in contact with the Historic Places Trust.  Additionally, if you uncover a historic site after work has commenced, you should stop work on the site and contact the Historic Places Trust.  This will ensure you protect yourself from costly consequences, and also help protect New Zealand’s heritage.