Erskine College (Former)

Erskine College complex seen from across the valley

The former Erskine College (a former girls’ college) located in Island Bay, Wellington, is a Category 1 listed place with Heritage New Zealand.  It is closed to the public as it needs earthquake strengthening and other repairs. A resource consent for ‘redevelopment’ was lodged with the Wellington City Council in August 2016. You can read a news item about it here: ‘Chapel restored as plans for $30m Island Bay housing project at heritage site unveiled‘. In December 2016 an interim order preventing work going ahead was granted and is discussed in this article. Two members of our committee wrote an opinion piece on the potential threat to heritage buildings of Special Housing Areas. In late December 2016 we were saddened and disappointed to read of the vandalism in the chapel.

Two news items about the site appeared in the Dominion Post on 1 June 2017 and in the Dominion Post on 17 November 2017 . The June article reported: “The Save Erskine College Trust (SECT) and Heritage New Zealand have given approval to most of the development of the former Catholic girls’ school in the seaside suburb of Island Bay.  Under the agreement, developer Ian Cassels’ Wellington Company can start work on the development while further engineering, design and feasibility work is done on the main convent building and chapel. Although there were no guarantees and it would be challenging, Cassels said feasibility works would explore further options on how to save part or all of the heritage-listed main convent building, which had been earmarked for demolition.”

You may also like to read heritage consultant Elizabeth Cox’s series of blog posts on Erskine.

In November 2016 we wrote a letter to the Wellington City Council supporting retention of the chapel and former main classroom block (Click for PDF copy): erskine-letter-nov-2016. 

On 25 January 2018 the Environment Court gave its decision on the fate of the Main Block – it could be demolished! Read more in this article.

These are photographs of some of the plans and concept drawings unveiled in 2016. These proposals would have seen the Main Block demolished, retention of some of the Reverend Mother’s garden, and the chapel restored and strengthened.

This is a link to the January 2015 Conservation Plan prepared by Archifact Ltd for Wellington City Council.

Demolition of the main block began in October 2018:

The following information is from the Heritage New Zealand assessment on Erskine College: The four-storey Gothic brick and reinforced concrete building was designed by noted Wellington architect John Sydney Swan, who was just then emerging from his partnership with Frederick de Jersey Clere. The building was ready for its first pupils at the start of 1907, and the roll steadily increased over the years. The original main convent building has been added to over the years, firstly in 1916 – but the most well-known addition was made in 1929-30 when a chapel was constructed to the side of the main block. As the heritage assessment noted: “The magnificent interior of the Chapel is one of the finest New Zealand spaces built in the Gothic tradition. It is remarkable for its windows and structural embellishments, its furniture, its acoustics, the quality of light and the soaring immensity, and the paradoxically intimate devotional space that has been formed.”

Chapel interior, altar end
Chapel interior
Detail on staircase newel posts





Photographs by Vivienne Morrell

In early December 2018 the Court of Appeal quashed resource consents granted for a $500 million development in Wellington at Shelly Bay. The proposed development is by the Wellington Company (which is also responsible for Erskine); but of more interest is the reason the court quashed the resource consent. The court found the Wellington City Council made an error of law when determining whether or not to grant resource consent. The Court found that in considering the application the Council relied on the purpose of the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013 (HASHAA) – the purpose of which is to enhance housing supply – but did not give “substantive consideration to matters in the RMA [Resource Management Act] such as the preservation of the natural character of the coastal environment and the protection of historic heritage from inappropriate use and development.” (my emphasis) Quote from this news item.  Unfortunately this decision is too late to save Erskine main block.