Pipe relic deserves more

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Viv Barrett stands on the steps of the Methven pipe shed, which sits in a paddock.

By Mick Jensen

It’s unique, an unusual example of adaptive use that typifies the Kiwi approach of making do and using whatever materials are to hand, and it’s sitting in a paddock in central Methven, unbeknown to most.

Methven’s pipe shed is a visible representative of the Rangitata Diversion Race (RDR), the big irrigation scheme that began in 1937 and which, when completed in 1945, provided water to 500 farms, covering 64,000 hectares or 32 per cent of Mid Canterbury.

There are no known examples of other buildings being constructed of concrete pipes elsewhere in New Zealand.

The pipe shed is a Category 1 listing with Heritage New Zealand (HNZ) and a Group A heritage item on the council’s district plan and was once used for storage.

It is made from one of the large circular concrete pipes made for the RDR.

Methven identity Viv Barrett said the pipe shed was a visible reminder of the engineering feat of the RDR, an accomplishment that had helped transform farming on the Canterbury Plains.

The shed was used to store explosives and also concrete, and was built in 1940.

The site it occupies was once an RDR work camp, one of a number set up to support the build, he said.

Around the pipe shed were houses for workers and work depot facilities, including an office.

As a kid, Mr Barrett, his parents and four siblings lived in a house on a similar RDR camp at Winchmore.

“The shed is a significant part of our local heritage, but the problem is, not many people know about it because it’s hidden away and is not all that accessible.”

While it was accessed through a gate at the far side of the Garden of Harmony off South Belt, it was “a bit of a walk”, he said.

The 3.65m diameter pipe is set on a concrete foundation slab that was a pre-cast control gate for the water race. Timber wedges were added to keep the cylindrical structure stable, and with concrete ends added to enclose the space and a timber internal floor inserted, it became a secure storage area.

Internally it is not in great condition and the original door has been replaced.

Past buildings around it have long since gone and it sits today in splendid isolation, with the land around it leased out by land owner Ashburton District Council for grazing.

Mr Barrett and RDR management are keen for more people to see the pipe shed and to learn more about the story of the RDR scheme, which today enables the district to grow more than 70 different types of crop.

“I’d love to see it moved to the end of the land site and close to Main Street where it can be easily viewed.

“It would be great to have it alongside Methven’s oldest building, the Roads Board building, or near it.”

Mr Barrett and RDR boss Tony McCormick have already approached Heritage NZ, Methven Community Board, and intend talking with Ashburton council about future possibilities and a possible relocation.

“I know the heritage people are not keen on it moving, because they say the site is more significant than the building, but it was moved to the site in the first place, and moving it a few hundred metres away on the same site will enable more people to appreciate its heritage value,” Mr Barrett said.