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Peter Dunne keen to see Wellington’s old air traffic control tower preserved

The four-storey building will require some significant work, including asbestos removal and earthquake strengthening. Photo / Supplied

Former politician Peter Dunne has weighed in on Wellington’s heritage wrangle, saying the city’s old air traffic control tower should be preserved.

The building is for sale and is thought to be the only air traffic control tower in the world to have a residential address and its own letterbox.

Opened in 1959, the old tower was home to Airways air traffic controllers managing flights in and out of Wellington Airport for 60 years. The new control tower was opened further down Tirangi Rd in 2018.

Dunne said Wellington has preserved a number of historic buildings and there was a good argument for preserving this one.

“It’s most unusual to have an airport control tower in the middle of a residential street, let alone a residential suburb. Wellington Airport itself is unusual in that it’s sort of plonked right between suburbs.

“I think to just see it disappear would be very sad, it’s historic.”

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The tower still has many of its original 1957 design features, but the kitchenette is described as “circa 2000s chic”.

Dunne suggested the building could be a museum of sorts where people could visit, get a view of the air traffic, and see for themselves what it would have been like to work there.

Wellington City Council confirmed the building was zoned as residential and it had no special demolition protections.

Dunne acknowledged the building could be seen as something that stuck out like a sore thumb.

“But there are many other things that we’ve preserved that would be just as ugly and unattractive, he said.

“I think the real advantage of this is that it’s a connection with the development of Wellington Airport, which was a massive project in the 1950s.”

Former politician Peter Dunne. Photo / Getty
Former politician Peter Dunne. Photo / Getty

Dunne said, at best, you’d only get three or four residential units on the site.

“I don’t think there’s a huge argument that you’re taking something out of the housing stock.”

Heritage New Zealand advised there has been no nomination for the tower’s entry on to its list.

However, there are two other high-profile buildings in the city going through the process.

Heritage New Zealand is proposing to make Wellington’s Central Library building a Category 1 Historic Place.

If successful, it will be the first heritage place listed from the 1990s.

The other building is the decaying and neglected Gordon Wilson Block flats.

The flats are the sole remaining example of 1950s high-rise state housing and are therefore “uniquely placed to demonstrate that chapter of New Zealand’s response to the need for housing”, according to the listing report.

Eastern Ward city councillor Sean Rush said he didn’t have any particular affinity to the old air traffic control tower.

“I actually looked at it and thought that could be quite funky as some sort of venue or a café, but we do have a housing crisis and if we’re starting to preserve things like airport towers- I think we’ve preserved far too much in this city to be honest.

The tower boasts views from Evans Bay to Lyall Bay. Photo / Supplied
The tower boasts views from Evans Bay to Lyall Bay. Photo / Supplied

“Heritage New Zealand sticking it to us with the library and that horrible building on the terrace, the Gordon Wilson block flats, it’s just nonsense. We’ve got to grow up a wee bit about nostalgia”, Rush said.

He said the city needed to have balance.

“There are more generations ahead of us than behind us.”

Kilbirnie Lyall Bay Rongotai Residents’ Association committee member Stephen Moore said he was of two minds about the tower.

“I’m a multi-generational local. Visually, I’d hate to see it gone, but I do recognise there would be a cost for retaining it.”

The tower is being listed for buyer inquiry over $895,000, and is expected to sell for something above that price.

Airways head of service delivery for towers Sophia Healey said the building was “very unique” but thought it was unlikely anybody would buy it to live in it, given the amount of work that needed to be done.

“It would be really nice to imagine some developer giving the place a new lease on life … but realistically there’s an awful lot to do to bring it up to standard.”

The asbestos removal and earthquake strengthening would be “fairly extensive” work, and there was still a lot to be done to make the property comfortable to live in.

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