Adelaide is a unique city. Often referred to as ‘the city of churches’, right now it is busy tearing down many of its heritage buildings in rampant destruction (including Churches!) The Marshall Government has little regard for history, extraordinary buildings and early settlement. At loggerheads with the Adelaide City Council, it would appear that this episode will not end well. This is a real pity – Adelaide features some exceptional architecture and as Australia’s first ‘free settler’ city it certainly deserves a far more comprehensive Heritage protection plan.
Contrast this situation to both Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney appears to be somewhat advanced on Melbourne. But first here is a report on what is currently occurring in Adelaide. North Adelaide is a wonderful old-worldly precinct with a genuine feeling of heritage and history. Its so disappointing to see wonderful buildings being put at risk in such a calculating fashion.
Heritage advocates prepare for battle over Knoll’s North Adelaide rejection
Heritage advocates say they are ready to stand in front of bulldozers and launch a strident public campaign after the State Government rejected heritage status applications for nine North Adelaide buildings they say hold irreplaceable historical value for the state.
Last week, Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll rejected the Adelaide City Council’s application for the buildings to gain heritage listing, but said they could be protected in other ways.
North Ward councillor Phil Martin said he feared one or more of the property owners may take the opportunity to demolish the properties before heritage advocates had a chance to change the minister’s mind.
Martin said he and many others were willing to stand in front of bulldozers if any landowner attempts to demolish those buildings.
“If it has to come to it, there are a lot of us who will stand in front of bulldozers and contractors and ensure that this doesn’t happen,” he said.
“My inbox is full of complaints from residents.
“It took almost two decades for Labor to destroy its reputation on heritage – this minister looks like he’s done it in less than two months.”
The buildings include the Lohe Memorial Library at the Australian Lutheran College, cottages at the Kathleen Lumley College on Jeffcott Street, stables at St Mark’s College and a former mortuary at Calvary Hospital.
Martin’s said Knoll’s decision “could irrevocably damage the reputation of this new government” if it is not overturned.
“I would urge everyone to write to the Premier, write to the minister, write to their local member and tell them that these are places that are worth preserving.
“Anyone who cares about heritage needs to … send a message to ministers like this that history is worth preserving.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Lord Mayor Martin Haese said the city council would likely appeal to the Environment, Resources and Development Committee of parliament to challenge Knoll’s decision.
“I remain very disappointed that any number of those nine sites weren’t listed,” he told InDaily this morning.
“We will continue to explore every avenue that we have got to see if that decision can be challenged.
“I’m taking advice this afternoon on (rights of appeal).”
However, he said the committee – attended by members of various parties across the political spectrum – only had the power to advise the minister, not overturn decisions unilaterally.
In other words, the minister would still have to be convinced, even if the committee found that he had made the wrong decision.
Haese said agreeing to add the buildings to the heritage list would have been Knoll’s opportunity to send a message that he was different from his predecessor, Labor’s John Rau.
“I was certainly hoping that Minister Knoll would be in a position as a new minister to send a strong signal that he’s understanding and appreciative (of the) economic value of heritage.”
Phil Martin said he was not aware of any buildings in “immediate” danger of being demolished – but he warned property owners against exploiting a window of opportunity, while the debate over the buildings rages, to knock the buildings down while they have the chance.
“It isn’t uncommon in these circumstances where there’s a window of opportunity for these buildings to be demolished.
“I would urge each and every one of these institutions to not demolish – and behave sensibly and responsibly until those who want to preserve those buildings have exhausted every last opportunity to save them.”
He said one of the buildings had been a school, before being used as a hospital during World War I, and then as a training facility for soldiers, and later, Lutheran missionaries.
The buildings have been protected by an interim heritage listing which expires this month as a result of Knoll’s decision.
Area councillor Sandy Wilkinson said the heritage listing was part of a quid pro quo with the former Government in negotiations with the council about the North Adelaide Large Institutions and Colleges development plan amendment.
Wilkinson said he was “appalled” when he read about Knoll’s decision.
“Any member of the public looking at these buildings will assume that they are (protected),” he said.
“The minister has been poorly advised.”
He said the decision was out of step with community expectations and that he would seek a meeting with Knoll this week to try and persuade him to change his mind.
“I would hope that by discussing this with him we would be able to enlighten him about the (heritage value) of listing these properties.
However, Knoll said he believed that the North Adelaide historic conservation zone was sufficient to ensure the buildings remain standing.
“I have received advice from SCAP (the State Commission Assessment Panel) that there was insufficient merit to warrant granting these buildings heritage status,” he told InDaily in a statement this morning.
Correction: Knoll’s office had insisted, prior to the publication of this story, that the SCAP was the body that made the assessment. But a spokesperson this afternoon clarified that it was, in fact, the Planning Commission that made the assessment.
“I’m very confident that the North Adelaide historic conservation zone will appropriately safeguard these buildings,” said Knoll.
“I am working with the department and Adelaide City Council to remove any ambiguity about the ability of institutions to expand their footprint as a result of the North Adelaide Large Institutions and Colleges DPA.”
Haese said he took heart from Knoll’s comments about the DPA which he believed would threaten to transform North Adelaide into a suburb dominated by institutions rather than residences.
“That will change the face of North Adelaide if that’s not (amended),” he said.
“That is an absolutely critical matter.
“I look forward to hearing the minister’s views on how he’s going to address the deficiencies of that DPA.”
Haese said the DPA – which the council had negotiated with the former Government on the basis that it only involved 11 sites in North Adelaide – has been drafted in a way that would potentially allow more than 100 properties adjoining or “associated with” those institutions to be bought and knocked down as well.
He said Calvary Hospital had bought a house on Ward Street that had gained but later lost its heritage listing – in unclear circumstances – and that it could be demolished under the rules of the DPA.
He stressed that his council’s heritage advocacy did not mean it was “anti-development”.
“People occasionally attempt to criticise a pro-heritage stance as an anti-development stance – and I think that’s utter hogwash,” he said.
“There’s enormous unrealised economic and tourism value in South Australia’s heritage buildings, and there’s ample development opportunities on other sites.”
CEO of the National Trust of South Australia Dr Darren Peacock said the Government’s planning assessment bodies operated behind closed doors on matters of public interest.
“SCAP (see correction above) is not really transparent and accountable to anyone other than the minister,” he said.
“It isn’t clear how these assessment processes are happening in the new SCAP body.”
He said the only information he had about the decision was from InDaily’s story on the subject last Friday.
Peacock said the value in heritage was not so much in individual buildings but in the sum of all of the historical buildings in an area, that contribute to its character.
“The collective is greater than the sum of the parts,” he said.
Although: “Each of the buildings has merit in its own right”.
In Sydney, the question of preserving the city’s rich heritage is approached very seriously by the Sydney City Council. Confronted with the ‘destruction through neglect’ method of ensuring demolition of heritage listed buildings, the council has developed an innovative approach offering the exchange of ‘floor space’ in other buildings as well as implementing compulsory repairs to neglected Heritage buildings. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald goes some way to explaining the process.
Innovative techniques needed to protect heritage buildings
Battles around which buildings should be placed on Sydney’s heritage list show an increasing awareness of the value of its built environment. But for many buildings listing is only the start of the battle.
Listing can save buildings from a developer’s wrecking ball but without maintenance they are vulnerable to vandalism, decay and fire. The owners are the ones who must shoulder the cost of repairing the bad plumbing and fixing the rotten beams.
Love will only go so far. To help maintain significant heritage buildings governments need to help out. The Herald reported on Tuesday on one of the better established schemes developed by the City of Sydney Council to try to encourage owners to maintain their buildings but it underlines that more needs to be done.
Faced with scores of decrepit heritage buildings, the City of Sydney council, starting in the 1970s, set up a system where in exchange for doing repairs or improvements, the owners would be given the rights to build extra floor space and they were allowed to sell these rights to developers elsewhere in the CBD.
Sydney Living Museums, formerly known as the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, has just set a record for a deal where it has sold floor space credits worth $20 million in recognition of its program to preserve the UNESCO-listed Hyde Park Barracks on Macquarie Street and create a world class interactive exhibition. In exchange, developers have bought the right to add about 12,700 square metres of floor space at sites around the city.
The system has generally worked well. Heritage buildings, including Railway House on York Street next to Wynyard Station to the Commonwealth Bank Building on Pitt Street, have done similar deals in the recent past but this is the biggest.
The scheme should be welcomed as a smart way of making the developers who are profiting from the transformation of the CBD pay a share of the costs of preserving the past.
Yet this system only applies to the CBD. In other areas, more needs to be done to help owners keep up their heritage buildings.
The local area plans of most councils include rules which relax planning restrictions for developers who agree to preserve heritage buildings on their site.
That probably helps protect buildings in the Sydney metropolitan areas and encourages so-called adaptive reuse where old schools or churches are incorporated into apartment developments or retirement villages. But it also creates the risk that the developer is allowed to over-develop the surrounding site. Some care is still needed to maintain the integrity of the heritage building.
It also does little for historic buildings, mostly outside the metropolitan area in rural areas and regional towns, which are of little interest to developers but which are just as expensive to preserve.
Some countries offer much more generous rules to help conservation. Britain has a Heritage Lottery Fund which pays for preservation of heritage buildings and in the US developers receive federal tax credits for approved work on historic buildings.
The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage must carry the burden of funding local initiatives to protect these sites. Since it has just saved $20 million that it would have had to spend on restoring Hyde Park Barracks it should have more funds to pay for other heritage buildings which are at risk.
In Melbourne we do not seem to have moved past punitive action on those who would transgress Heritage sites through demolition or non-permitted alterations. The Victorian Government now also prosecutes neglect in a similar fashion to the NSW Government. Neglected buildings of Heritage Status are compulsorily repaired at the owner’s expense to prevent ‘destruction through neglect’ style demolitions.
However, looking at the Corkman fiasco (The Corkman Hotel Carlton), the proposed St Vincent’s Hospital demolitions of historic buildings, the Armadale and Kew demolitions of historic Victorian homes and the senseless demolitions of the Greyhound and London Hotels, Heritage Listing is not a failsafe. Firstly, it’s a slow process, too slow – and Heritage Victoria is underfunded. Secondly, there isn’t really an overriding Heritage Strategy.
Such a strategy needs to be a National strategy. It needs to be adequately funded and based on intelligent premises, with real regard for architectural, social and cultural history and heritage values.
Frankly, sanctions should be of such a nature that if someone (corporation or individuals) illegally demolishes a heritage listed building or construction, the fines or action required should equate the land value – and the cost of a reconstruction. This is the case in Britain.
It’s up to our Politicians to work cooperatively with the National Trust and various Heritage Councils to make sure such treasures are fully protected. Right now many Heritage Listings date from the 1980s and ’90s with few updates occurring. It’s time for across the board Heritage action – from all levels of Government and all industry participants. Because – as was stated once again in the Adelaide article…
“When it’s gone, it’s gone”
And that, friends, is just not good enough.