Tongan church labels council ‘stealth-like’ in ongoing stoush over derelict Auckland house

By Sam Smith, Stuff

Auckland Council has incurred the wrath of the United Church of Tonga, which has accused the authority of being “the villain” over the costly repairs of a dilapidated historic building in the affluent suburb of Grey Lynn.

The on-going stand-off between the church and state concerns repairs the council has ordered the church, which owns Carlile House a Victorian-era house, to carry out.

It is estimated to be in the tens of millions – money, the church says, it doesn’t have.

“I do think that they are the villain” James Prescott, the Deputy Chair of the United Church of Tonga, says about Auckland Council who is looking to enforce a dangerous building notice it issued the church in 2021.

Carlile House, has been standing on Grey Lynn’s Richmond Road for over 150 years. However, for the last 30 years it has fallen into a state of disrepair, with part of the roof having collapsed and other parts falling off the building.

The council issued Carlile House with a dangerous building notice in 2021 and the house is now fenced off and boarded up to prevent people from entering.

A council spokesperson, David Pawson, told Stuff , the United Church of Tonga, was legally required to carry out work to prevent Carlile House from remaining dangerous, the “work has not been completed”, he said.


The derelict Carlile House on Richmond Road in Grey Lynn.

That work included getting the roof, flashings, and downpipes fixed and would incur a “significant cost”.

Pawson said the council was considering options to progress the matter, but added no decisions have been made as to what the next steps were, aside from the fact that prosecution and doing the work on the owner’s behalf were on the table.

The church say they feel threatened by the council and that they do not have the money to carry out the work required by them.


The house is in a bad state of disrepair and has been issued with a dangerous building notice.

“They said according to their powers they would have the right to come in and repair what it is they wanted repaired and on-charge that to the church,” Prescott told Stuff.

He said the council has not given them enough time to assess their options and that they are acting in a “hostile” and “stealth-like” manner towards the church.

“The people at the council have said well if it falls down, even if it was the last brick remaining, we are still going to hold you to fixing it up.

“I can sympathise with the idea of protecting a piece of Auckland’s history, but they are all legislative powers without any resources contributing to that. They are forcing an owner to take on their mandate of restoring old buildings.”


The house has been left largely abandoned since the early 1990s.

Prescott said the church had already spent $40k on securing the building, although he did admit they have not started any maintenance on the building, as directed by the council.

“They don’t want to put up any money to help in that exercise at all,” Prescott said, adding that a full restoration would cost between 10 and 15 million dollars, money the church does not have.

“If we had the money, or if there was money, we would like it to be redone into its former glory. The cheaper option is to knock it down and build something that is functional to what we need. The option of a refurb is a hell of a lot more expensive than knocking it down and starting again.”

Demolition of Carlile House though is off the table given its category one heritage listing. This means the building will continue to fall down unless maintained, or a decision is reached on its future between the church and the council.


The house is owned by the church next door.

Prescott said selling the land the building is on is also not an option as they believe they would be selling it at a massive discount because of the building’s heritage protection. “Nobody would want to touch it,” he said.

The property has a CV of around $8 million.

Built in 1866, Carlile House has been many things over the years, including an orphanage, a home to evangelical Christians, a remand house, and a hostel for Tongan workers.


James Prescott standing inside the house.

Auckland’s first Tongan church was built next door to the house in 1978 and the United Church of Tonga has been there ever since.

The house was cross-leased and transferred to the church’s trust in 1990. Since then, it has largely remained empty, although the church used to sell tapa cloth amongst other things in the foyer area.

The council and church have been in discussions around the building’s future for a number of years, however, things have reached a stalemate in recent times, with neither being able to come to an agreement on what to do with the building.


The council and the church cannot come to an agreement on the future of the house.

The church did put a proposal to the council where they would gift the building to them so the council could instead use the money it was going to spend on buying the house to restore it.

The church would then buy back the building for it to be used for community events. This offer was rejected by the council.

The council also presented their own options to the church. The first option was to buy the building from the church, with no conditions attached. They say this would have meant the council was in a position to negotiate with third parties interested in restoring the building.0000000001C003065E9Carlile House from the air.

They also proposed a second option whereby the building would remain under the ownership of the church, and the council would act as a developer on its behalf. Both of these offers were rejected by the church.

Since the house was issued with a dangerous building notice, there have been no further discussions on any proposals put forward and the council has not included the purchase of the house in its annual budget for 2024/25.

As for what next? Prescott is not optimistic of a solution any time soon. “ The solution by default is it just sits there and it looks ugly to all of Auckland. It is overgrown and it just becomes more frail with each passing year.”

– Stuff

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