Demolition halted

Community concern . . . Adding their voices to calls to retain Highgate Presbyterian Church in Maori Hill in July (pictured) were (from left) heritage developer Richard MacKnight and local residents Gillian Fleming and Barbara Frame. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Prominent city landmark the Highgate Presbyterian Church has been saved from demolition – for now.

Planned demolition of the Maori Hill church was halted after an appeal hearing decision released by Southern Presbytery commissioners Stephen Christensen and Kerry Enright on Tuesday.

The decision has come as a “great relief” to parishioner Tony Borick, who appealed the decision to demolish the church.

“I am highly delighted by the outcome, and I want to thank everyone in the community who supported me,” he said.

The Highgate Presbyterian Church Parish Council also welcomed the decision, which found it had acted appropriately in its consultation with parishioners about the future of the church building.

Mr Borick presented his concerns to Southern Presbytery commissioners at an appeal hearing on October 30, citing that the decision to demolish the church had been based on “misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete information provided to the congregation by the parish council”.

Those concerns were dismissed by the commissioners, who said in the ruling “it seems to us that the Parish Council has at all relevant times sought to be open with the congregation; to seek its view and direction; and to act in accordance with that direction”.

However, the commissioners felt that the congregation needed more detailed information and directed the parish council to obtain a detailed independent engineering evaluation of the building’s structure.

Such evaluation should also be accompanied by an informed estimate of the costs that would be incurred to make the building structurally safe.

The commissioners also directed the parish council to seek the input of experts in heritage restoration and to have these experts attend future meetings to decide the fate of the church building.

Although his appeal had been dismissed, Mr Borick felt the commissioners had granted his wish in terms of the future process.

“This is what I wanted to see happen, so I am very pleased with the result,” he said.

In a written statement, the Parish Council said it was “heartened that the Commission Report recognised that the Parish Council had acted appropriately in its consultation with parishioners”.

During the decade-long process, the council had “always acted in good faith, consulting with our parishioners with the clear aim of creating a facility to enable a vibrant church community building which can be shared with and used by the wider Dunedin community,” the statement said.

The Parish Council now planned to review the commissioners’ recommendations.

Dunedin City Council heritage adviser Andrea Farminer, who had supported Mr Borick’s campaign to save the landmark church, welcomed the commissioners’ ruling.

“I am pleased with this outcome. It is reasonable and sensible,” Dr Farminer said.

“[The process] also allows the parish council and the congregation to draw on the public support that has been shown for the church as it works on a solution.”

While the church community worked through the process in the coming months, the wider community would retain an important local landmark – at least for the time being, she said.

The organisers of a 1414-signature petition in support of retaining Highgate Presbyterian Church, Barbara Frame and Gillian Fleming, were thrilled at the outcome.

“I’m really pleased that it’s not all over yet for the church, and I’m optimistic that good sense will prevail,” Mrs Frame said.

“This process will be an opportunity to examine the issues in a logical, fact-based way.”

Ms Fleming was “over the moon” and hoped that a more in-depth process would mean the retention of a much-loved landmark.