The Trouble With Listing Campaigns

Underlying the future workability of any heritage management system is the notion of information. It is essential that information about restrictions and costs be made available to owners, future purchasers and developers.  Information or the lack thereof about hidden costs associated with CBH is one of the greatest aspects of negativity that surrounds the sector.

Owners and developers require certainty in terms of costs otherwise a continuing disendorsement of CBH may become pervasive. The Australian Council of National Trusts maintains that public and private funding for historic heritage conservation has fallen behind that for the natural environment, despite recognition of the value that heritage conservation makes to the overall wellbeing of the community and the development of social capital. It explains that the lack of funding is currently characterised by a reduction in necessary expenditure on essential maintenance and conservation as well as through a failure to invest in improved interpretation and the identification of new heritage places.  Inadequate funding has the consequence of effectively reducing the capacity of governments at all levels to provide the kinds of information and advice the public requires in order for it to properly conserve their own and the community’s heritage assets (PCR 2006, Submission 40).

It is notable that heritage listings in NSW have dramatically declined in number and local government lists remain stagnant. This tendency has been evident since the mid 1990s, and information availability is a crucial parameter.  Due to under-resourcing, Councils suffer from a reduced capacity to roll out listing campaigns which require a high level of community consultation. The tendency in the past has simply been for Councils to commission heritage consultants to identify items of heritage significance based on familiar criteria such as historical, associational, aesthetic, technological and social significance.

Traditionally, the consultant will draw up a list of buildings and places addressing the designated criteria. The list is advertised and affected owners are notified that their properties are scheduled for listing – inviting them to respond by way of written submissions. For those residents unfamiliar with the planning regime surrounding the listing campaigns, an enormous amount of disinformation and confusion is generated.

Invariably, the Council, due to lack of funding, has insufficient means to deal with the plethora of claims, questions, fears and concerns on the part of affected listees. When local Council listings first commenced in NSW in the early and mid-1980s, there was no mechanism set in place for owners to appeal their listings.

Councils were empowered and still are to ignore owner’s written submissions and persist with the gazettal of listings.  Despite the fact that today, this situation has not changed at local government level, Councils have generally become more aware of the plight of private owners and the ‘NIMBY’ opposition expressed by them.  This coupled, with a paucity of resources to deal with the queries and concerns of listees has resulted in a general stagnation and in some cases, a freezing of lists.  Traditionally, listing campaigns by local Councils in NSW are not followed up with any offers of compensation to affected owners or any negotiated agreements.  Accordingly, potential listees regard the campaigns as highly suspicious, inflexible and antithetical to their needs and expectations as property owners.

Thus, at the core of listing campaigns is the notion of community support which cannot be won over by Councils in the absence of adequate levels of information, community consultation and a suite of compensatory policies. Castro, Guccio & Rizzo (2011) undertook a study of heritage management and found that that the public sector plays an important role in the conservation of cultural heritage notwithstanding varying degrees of effectiveness.

Typically, government action follows community interest by applying a mix of regulatory tools such as public spending, tax exemptions and regulation. The efficiency and effectiveness of heritage conservation policy in its capacity to meet community expectation crucially depends on the decision-making process employed and on the actors involved. Bureaucrats responsible for implementing conservation policies are affected by external variables.

Public sector intervention in the heritage sector is most commonly affected by economic and political variables and to a far lesser extent by managerial variables. Their study stresses the positive role on efficiency exerted by incentives because they build greater operational autonomy into the management structure.

Regulation of CBH could be made more effective by improving the distribution of information to owners, encouraging public participation and allowing processes and procedures to become more transparent. Schuster et al (1997) suggest that by using a number of tools including direct ownership, regulation, incentivising, modifying property rights and providing information, governments can retain a positive capacity to incentivise the heritage sector. Incentivising CBH would in turn encourage heritage listings because owners would be exposed to positive tangible benefits arising from such processes.

Paul Rappoport - Heritage 21 - 21 March 2012

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