By Mick Jensen
Ashburton council has tagged up to $130,000 for the demolition, preservation and partial restoration of buildings at the former Chinese settlement on Allens Rd, but is committed to work further with descendants of the original settlers to develop a “sympathetic” and scaled down development plan for the entire site.
The demolition and some other building work will be done during this financial year and the development plan could include full restoration of two buildings, landscaping, walkways through the site and the creation of a memorial to honour the settlers.
The decisions follow recommendations from heritage consultant Arlene Baird to the working group and also feedback from the families.
Speaking at last week’s meeting, Robert King, a descendant of Charlie King, one of the market garden’s original shareholders, said the decision for the descendants to sign an agreement with council had been made after several years of discussions and as a solution for the future of the property for both the families and community of Ashburton.
He told councillors that the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the original settlers wanted to acknowledge the support of the local community by giving back to the present day descendants of the settlement’s first customers.
Acknowledging the comprehensive and informative heritage report from Arlene Baird, Mr King said he had spoken with descendants of two shareholder families and had feedback from another which he was keen to share.
He said families welcomed internal access to specified buildings, but believed some concepts were too “grandiose” compared with the agreement and original vision.
Items not favoured included a community orchard or allotments, a large car parking area, separate “exuberant” memorial and memorial garden.
Mr King said families had concerns about consultation with Chinese groups outside of the shareholder families and did not favour an archeological survey dig of the long drop toilets as outlined as an option in the heritage report.
Ashburton council community relations manager Vincie Billante said that after hearing from Mr King there would be greater consideration needed to be given to “the spirit of reciprocity, generosity and gratitude” that was the intent of the families.
Funding for the project would also be sought from the Chinese Poll Tax fund, although it was uncertain if that would be successful because funds had been given for the same project in the past and may not be repeated.
The heritage site includes the remnants of a Chinese market garden shop, accommodation for Chinese settlers who worked on the market garden, living spaces, food storage areas, animal shelters, a classroom, a laundry, and toilet and kitchen facilities.
The site has been assessed as having medium-high cultural value.