NSW Local Heritage Under Imminent Threat

North Sydney Oval 14Helen Wilson, a local heritage advisor has expressed concern that the latest Heritage Council (HC) letter dated 29 October, 2013 on the NSW Planning Bill seems to be a complete about-face on a number of the Heritage Council's previous concerns. These concerns were strongly expressed in the HC's submission on the White Paper and Exposure Bill. They are listed as follows;

  • The Heritage Council (HC) will become an advisory body only making recommendations to the Director General who will be required to follow the HC's advice.However, if there is a conflict with another government body then the DG (Director General of the Dept. of Planning) does not have to take the Heritage Council's advice into account. Also if there is a delay by the HC while it makes its determination, the DG does not have to take the HC advice into account.
  • The Heritage Council has consistently said that all development applications for heritage items must remain merit assessed. However in the Bill, Councils can choose to code assess heritage, but the question is; how does one write a code to retain significance? Further, code assessment does not get advertised, so the community would not get to hear about it or have the chance to provide information or voice concerns.
  • In relation to Strategic Planning, local heritage items and conservation areas will not necessarily be considered under Regional and Sub-regional strategic plans. This is contrary to the long-existing Section 117 Direction for heritage. It appears that it is the intention of the Bill that only SHR-listed and World Heritage-listed items be required to be considered. Local strategic plans prepared by councils would have to be consistent with Regional and Sub-regional plans; hence they would effectively be over-ridden.

Watters Gallery Riley St East Sydney 8In an email by David Logan, another prominent Sydney heritage consultant, who wrote to the Heritage Network on 13th November 2013, he explained that the Heritage Council's letter to Minister Hazzard which was extensively read out in Parliament was sent by the Chair of the Heritage Council. The Heritage Council itself did not meet to discuss the letter nor was any resolution passed.

Mr Logan iterates that some aspects of the Planning Bill are an improvement on the Exposure Bill. However, there are a number of major concerns which have not been resolved through policies, guidelines or regulations. They are:

  • Strategic planning provisions for Regional and Sub-regional plans do not specifically provide for identification and conservation of local heritage which comprises 90% of the State's listed heritage buildings.
  • Merit assessment and public notification of development applications must continue for all development proposals involving heritage items, heritage conservation areas, Aboriginal heritage, places, archaeological sites, and sites adjacent to heritage items, unless the proposals are of a very minor nature.
  • The Heritage Council's approval role has been diminished. The proposed caveats on the HC's approval role should be removed.
  • Heritage is given insufficient recognition and prominence throughout the Bill. There needs to be a stand-alone heritage objective and it must include 'identification of heritage'.
  • There needs should be a specific requirement to consider heritage impacts during development assessment.
  • The NSW Planning Policy for Heritage which is critical to successful heritage management under the legislation is not available for review prior to adoption of the legislation.

All these points were made in the Heritage Council's Submission of 27 June 2013 on the White Paper and Exposure Bill. The HC has previously expressed that the new legislation constitutes the greatest threat to HERITAGE in NSW to have ever arisen since it began to be systematised under listings forty years ago. There is now a perception that the Heritage Council has been 'downgraded' in its role - to an advisory body only. Further, there is a real concern for the 27,000 listed items of local heritage significance and the 500 odd conservation areas spread out through NSW. What will become of these? We are talking about our police stations, fire stations, countless residential buildings, commercial office buildings and industrial premises which although listed, have been cast under a very threatening shadow of extinction. To make matters worse, the President of the Australian Institute of Architects (NSW) has commended the Bill to the voting MPs, pointing out that "amendments have already been made in response to concerns raised by the community, councils, environmental groups and our own membership organisations."Railway Institute Central and Dental Hospital 17

That letter ended with the signatories urging all MPs and MLCs to "endorse meaningful reform and legislation before the Parliament". However, it disingenuously omits to say that very prominent heritage groups like ICOMOS Australia, the Heritage Council of NSW and numerous other heritage groups and societies have flatly refused to endorse the new planning Bills. It now remains to be seen how heritage owners will repond and countless affected communities once they see the divisiveness of the plan.

Paul Rappoport - Heritage 21 - 7 July 2013

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