Heritage Disconnect

Dr. Robyn Clinch (see reference below) writes that there is a considerable disconnect between the theoretical education of potential heritage practitioners and those whose task it is to process heritage applications for proposed developments involving heritage buildings. This is especially the case in Australian planning jurisdictions. Although there are excellent theoretical principles that underpin practice by heritage professionals, the implementation of these practices, in reality, relies upon mechanistic and autonomous controls on the part of planning apparatchiks whose knowledge is not necessarily aligned with ever-shifting heritage orthodoxies. Nor should they necessarily be. I will come back to this point in just a moment.

Fig 1 - Heritage building in Coolgardie, Western Australia

The Burra Charter is a pre-eminent Australian heritage document
that lays out clear conservation techniques for cultural built heritage places
in Australia. It is an amalgam of philosophies and ideas that attempt to
systematise approaches to technical heritage problems and issues. Its primary
ontology seeks to convert the theoretical into the practical. However, its
precepts are arcane and rarely understood by non-heritage professionals. Additionally,
a one size fits all approach to specific heritage problems invites a plethora
of different responses according to the subjectivity and proclivities of the
beholder. Heritage is in essence, is a social construct and is therefore prone
to multiple perceptions and interpretations.

This brings me back to the point above about why it is not
necessary for planners (non-heritage professionals) to know the ins and outs of
heritage. After all, heritage is a hybrid specialisation of planning,
architecture, law, aesthetics, culture, history and building technology; not to
mention geography, anthropology, social science, archaeology and interpretation
– a rare combination of skills and knowledge. It is therefore best to have
trained heritage professionals processing development applications that involve
heritage buildings and places and not planners. Like medicine, planning has
become siloed into specialties amongst which ‘heritage’ is one such specialty.

Having said that, I have noticed recently that there has
been a shift in NSW planning jurisdictions (councils) away from in-house staff (planners)
being involved in heritage decision-making. Many applications involving
heritage today are either processed by internal, trained heritage staff
(usually hired on an as-needs basis), design review panels comprising
architects (but not necessarily trained heritage professionals) or are delegated
to private heritage consultants who consult directly to council for specific
applications by way of peer review. This is a good move and augers well for the
sector.

In these blogs, I have repeatedly invoked the moral that cultural
built heritage is high art and a rare science. It is not to be treated lightly.
Once destroyed, removed or vandalised, it can never be regained. In this
respect, it is priceless. But priceless not in monetary terms – priceless in
social terms. No matter the rate of change to urban infrastructure (Sydney has
recently witnessed massive change to its CBD, suburbs and peripheral towns as
result of a boom in development), it is always necessary to manage and protect
the identified heritage stock. Being flexible and pre-emptive with heritage
management systems is key. However, having the correctly trained and suitable
staff processing heritage applications is essential and local and state
governments need to allocate sufficient resources for this. By the same token,
politicians require the political will for this to happen.

Paul Rappoport –Heritage 21
14 December 2018

Reference:

Clinch, R – Fabric and
philosophy – heritage fabric and statutory controls in Proceedings of the
Fabric – The Threads of Conservation (Australia Icomos Conference, Adelaide),
2015.

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