Historic heritage up in flames, illegal apartment at 389 Princes St, Dunedin

### ODT Online Wed, 17 Aug 2011
Crews tackle central Dunedin fire
Five buildings were evacuated and one person taken to hospital as fire crews battled a blaze in an historic building in central Dunedin this afternoon. The fire, in an apartment above a second-hand bookshop, near Chipmunks south of the Exchange, was extinguished just before 3pm. Crowds gathered as flames shot out of the second storey of the S F Aburn Ltd building at 389 Princes St.
Read more

ODT Video: Princes Street Fire
Ch9 Video: Lucky escape in Princes Street apartments


### ODT Online Thu, 18 Aug 2011
Women flee building fire
By Debbie Porteous
Frightened flatmates ran for their lives as a fire ripped through a central city Dunedin building yesterday afternoon. Crowds gathered in Princes and Bond Sts yesterday afternoon to watch the Fire Service battle the blaze that gutted an apartment above second-hand bookstore Raven Books, at 389 Princes St.

The Dunedin City Council confirmed yesterday it had no record of the building being upgraded to provide sleeping accommodation.

The building’s owner Patrick Rainsford, who also runs Raven Books, did not return calls last night. His address as listed in the phonebook is 389 Princes St.

Read more

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

Images ©2011 Elizabeth Kerr


Filed under Architecture, Construction, Heritage, Media, People, Town planning

19 responses to “Historic heritage up in flames, illegal apartment at 389 Princes St, Dunedin

  1. Elizabeth

    Local researchers are trying to establish which architect designed the building – was it W.T. Winchester or R.A. Lawson? Or both, in part?

  2. Anonymous

    Wow. I’ve worked in that building and it doesn’t surprise me that there was a fire.

    Question is: the fire safety guys were all over Sammys like a rash. How many others like this building have illegal conversions to residential accommodation? Quite a few in that area and over by the wharf, I’d say.

  3. Hype O'Thermia

    I wonder when it was altered to residential, and at that time should it have been notified or was it OK to have a home, perhaps manager’s quarters, above the shop without any extra formalities?

    • Elizabeth

      It doesn’t matter who the residential accommodation is for – the building owner, shop manager, guests, leasing tenants, whomever.

      The fire investigator and Dunedin City Council’s Building Control will be looking into all aspects of this nasty fire and the deliberate building ‘improvisation’.


      At its website, the Department of Building and Housing (DBH) states:


      The Building Act 2004 introduced a new definition for change of use. This determines when a change in a building’s use will require upgrading to certain systems and elements. For example, a residential villa becomes a restaurant, a warehouse becomes an apartment. The Building Code requirements may differ from one type of use to another.

      An owner of a building must give written notice to the council if they propose to change the use of a building, or extend the life of a building with a specified intended life.

      An owner must also provide notice to the council if they propose to subdivide land in a manner that affects a building.

      The council will then provide the owner with written notice if it is satisfied the building in its new use complies with provisions in the Building Code relating to:

      – means of escape from fire, protection of other property, sanitary facilities, structural performance, fire-rating performance
      – access and facilities for people with disabilities.

      It must also comply with the other provisions in the Building Code to at least the same extent as before the change of use.

      If the use of a building is being changed to include household units where these did not previously exist, the building must then comply as nearly as is reasonably practicable with the Building Code in all respects. This will be assessed by the council.

      Alterations to existing buildings

      The Building Act 2004 makes clear that, if part of a building is altered, the upgrade provisions are triggered for the whole building.

      Upgrade provisions relate only to means of escape from fire, and access and facilities for people with disabilities (if relevant). All other aspects of the building must continue to comply with the Building Code to at least the same extent as before the alteration.

      Councils have discretion to allow alterations to take place without the building complying with the relevant provisions of the Building Code, but only if it is satisfied that:

      – if the building were to comply with the relevant provisions of the Building Code the alteration would not take place, and
      – the alterations will result in improvements to the means of escape from fire or access and facilities for people with disabilities, and
      – the improvements outweigh any detriment likely to arise as a result of the other non-compliance with the Building Code.

      Owners contemplating changes to their buildings should seek council agreement to the extent of upgrading required. This will be dependent on the particular building proposal and should be done at an early stage to avoid delays in obtaining a building consent.


      Internal changes to a building with a protected facade which do not impact on the protected facade and or the values of the precinct (in this case the South Princes Street Townscape Precinct) do not generally trigger the need for a notified resource consent application.

      The New Zealand Historic Places Trust has affected party status if proposed building changes are likely to impact on a District Plan listed building or site, and or the values of a District Plan listed precinct.

      Where a site or a building is suspected or is known to be pre-1900, the archaeological provisions of the Historic Places Act may apply. The building itself may be considered as an archaeological site.

  4. Hype O'Thermia

    Actually what I wondered was if the original residential accommodation dates from long before special conditions applied. I didn’t mean recent remodelling when there HAVE been clear rules about popping flats into commercial buildings regardless of firewalls, exits etc.

    {The DBH information about change of use is included on this thread to raise public awareness. -Eds}

    • Elizabeth

      ### ODT Online Fri, 19 Aug 2011
      Council to investigate status of apartment
      By Debbie Porteous
      The legal status of an inner city Dunedin apartment destroyed in a fire on Wednesday is to be investigated by the Dunedin City Council. Council chief building control officer Neil McLeod said his team would take a look at the building after the fire investigator had been through. He was unable to find a copy of the original floor plan of the 140-year-old Princes St building, so it was unclear if there had always been sleeping accommodation in the building. However, if the apartment that caught fire was built or altered since 1919 – the last record of any work on the building – the council had no record of any consent application.
      Read more


      ### ODT Online Fri, 19 Aug 2011
      Warning after man tried to put out fire
      By Debbie Porteous
      The occupant of a small central Dunedin apartment destroyed by fire on Wednesday was lucky to get out without serious injury or worse, after trying to put out the fire, the Fire Service says. A Fire Service investigator yesterday determined that the fire, which destroyed the apartment above a second-hand bookstore in a 140-year-old Princes St building, was started accidentally.

      The apartment was not fitted with working smoke alarms.

      Read more

  5. Phil

    It wouldn’t be the first time that DCC has known about non-consented residential activity in a non-residential zone, and chosen to do nothing. There’s a building down in the industrial part of the port area which has been used as residential apartments for 5 or 6 years now, with the full knowledge of Building Control and City Planning. Has Building Consent for the changes and everything. In their wisdom DCC (and the Planning Committee) have decided not to take enforcement or consent requirement action because “it would likely become a permitted activity in the future once the Harbourside project was approved and the area was rezoned”. And we all know what happened to that brilliant idea. So it appears that you can happily carry out a non-permitted activity based purely on the speculation of what MIGHT happen in the future.

  6. sally

    just to clear this up, the legality of the apartment above Raven Books was actually a sensationalistic story cooked up by the Otago Daily Times, who obviously needed an angle, in journalistic mode, for what was essentially a non-story. The owner of Raven Book, Patrick Rainsford, bought the building and moved into the apartment above his own shop, in a perfectly legal manner.

  7. Phil

    We were talking about that the other night, Sally. A large number of premises along George Street/Princes Street have had owner/occupier residential activity for years. All perfectly legal and with the full knowledge of the DCC. Pretty much all of those buildings had a toilet/bathroom fitted upstairs at the time of constuction. For staff use if nothing else. If there was a Change of Activity Use it would be a Planning issue first, and a Building Control issue second.

    • Elizabeth

      The fire commander commented that there were access issues, requiring firefighters to break through partitions, and no working smoke alarms. Food for thought.

      Join with me: “What is safe fire egress?”

      • Elizabeth

        ### ODT Online Sat, 27 Aug 2011
        No action over fire
        By Debbie Porteous
        The Dunedin City Council is unlikely to take any further action on a possibly illegal flat that was gutted in a fire last week. Consents are required to build sleeping accommodation or change the use of a building, partially to ensure adequate fire safety features are included in any work done. The council’s chief building control officer Neil McLeod said yesterday he was “not quite sure where we could take it to, given the current owner bought the building in that state”.
        Read more

        It appears the current owner saw no responsibility in providing safe sleeping accommodation for himself (or his tenants?).

  8. Anonymous

    There is/was more than just owner/occupier upstairs at 389 Princes St. From memory, there are/were several bedrooms (3 I think) each with at least one resident, plus kitchen/lounge.

  9. Goblin

    Actually I looked at buying the building some years ago and one of the reasons I was put off by it was the lack of residential use. It has no existing permits for residential living. It has no Building Warrant Of Fitness. The rating differential and land use has no residential aspect to them. The upstairs was a beautiful office area with original tongue and groove walls and ceilings, probably kauri, very sad to lose that, had great potential to be restored. The kitchen and bathroom were obviously placed there at a later time.

  10. Elizabeth

    See rating information above.

  11. I have posted some photos of the building and its contents on my Facebook page:
    Andreas Makarewitsch

    This blog site has been a great resource- many thanks.


  12. Elizabeth

    ODT says Hayden Cawte has made an unconditional offer on 389 Princes Street.


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