Centenary celebrations, Patrick St Petone workers cottages

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Ceremony at plaque unveiling
for Patrick Street Heritage Trust
cnr Patrick St and the Esplanade

It is a pleasure to be here today to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the Heretaunga Settlement – the Patrick Street workers’ housing precinct.

These houses were the first to be erected under the Workers' Dwellings Act of 1905, a very important piece of social legislation passed by Seddon’s Liberal Government.

As a result, Petone carries the distinction of being the site of the very first state housing scheme in New Zealand – and possibly in the world.

The construction of these houses preceded by more than thirty years the large-scale construction of state housing in New Zealand under the first Labour Government of the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1987, as Minister of Housing, I was proud to take part in the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the first tenants moving into the state houses built by the government of Michael Joseph Savage.

Those celebrations involved the re-enactment of the iconic image of Prime Minister Savage carrying a dining table into the first state house completed on his watch in Miramar.

I am proud to say that successive Labour governments have played an important part in helping people on low and modest incomes into good, affordable homes. That work continues to this day. Nothing is more important than a secure and affordable home.

The Patrick Street houses stand as a tribute to Liberal Premier Richard John Seddon's commitment to better conditions for workers.

He recognised that much of New Zealand’s urban rental accommodation was inadequate, and that many tenants were subject to exploitation.

It was his vision for central government to provide good quality housing for workers which led to the passage of the Workers' Dwellings Act of 1905.

Seddon wanted the new houses built in what he saw as the healthier, outer suburbs of the main centres, and to be available through affordable rentals or leases.

And when he said he wanted quality, he meant it. These Petone houses were built to seven designs selected from a national architectural competition.

Initially the housing was too expensive for the people it was intended to benefit, and thus workers were slow to take up the offer to rent.

Only a fraction of the number of houses Seddon wanted to build were ever constructed, and, alas, he himself did not live to see even these first homes in Patrick Street completed. Yet these houses set the benchmark for public housing in New Zealand for years to come.

The care taken with their design demonstrated beyond all doubt that public housing can be very good housing, and that government itself can take the lead in raising housing standards.

These houses, like so many other heritage sites in New Zealand, have been recognised by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust with Category One and Two listings, and by local government here in the Hutt.

There’s been a significant shift in attitude toward the preservation of heritage aspects of buildings in recent years. People are now less likely to see heritage classifications and protection measures as a burden, and more likely to see how they could add value to their real estate.

As a result, many more people are taking up the challenge of restoring heritage buildings to high standards of historic integrity.

Several Budgets ago, our government funded the Historic Places Trust to set up a Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund to support private owners conserve nationally significant heritage buildings.

The extent and quality of conservation in these Patrick Street dwellings are symbolic of the value our country now places on all aspects of our heritage, including our built heritage.

All the houses in this heritage area have the well-deserved reputation of being solid, well-designed houses. They have also definitely acquired a certain real-estate "street appeal"; and they add a great deal to the charm and historic substance of Petone and the Hutt Valley.

The value we now place on the Patrick Street area houses also owes a great deal to the vigilance and commitment of local residents. The enthusiasm and involvement of so many Petone people, guided by the Patrick Street Heritage Advisory Committee is greatly appreciated.

Overall, many individuals, community groups, professional history and architectural organisations, and local and central government agencies, have lent their skills and expertise to ensure the preservation of these houses; and former residents have lent their memories and ongoing loyalty. These celebrations today are possible thanks to the support and sponsorship of a very wide community.

Members of the former Petone Borough Council are also to be commended for taking the first steps to ensure that these historic dwellings were protected under the district plan – and for adopting guidelines developed by the Patrick Street advisory group members to ensure the retention of the historic character of the street.

The members of the Lower Hutt City Council and its successor the Hutt City Council, are also to be congratulated on taking up the reins of responsibility for the viability of this very special heritage housing precinct.

Housing New Zealand is doing its bit for the heritage values of contemporary state housing too. It recently embarked on a programme of identifying significant heritage rental housing produced by the government, so that it can be properly recognised and protected.

We are here to celebrate the survival – and enhancement – of a very special heritage precinct.

My congratulations go to all involved in the care and preservation of the houses. I am delighted to be here today to take part in the ceremony – and shortly to unveil the plaques – to mark the centennial of the Patrick Street workers houses.