Heritage – are we losing the battle?

Professional Associations


Since the robust days of the 1970s and the 1980s during which NSW governments and councils committed wholeheartedly and enthusiastically to the concept of protecting our state’s heritage assets, things have been in steady decline. Many things have happened over the last 30 years that have in my view, relegated culturally built heritage into the background.

Like a difficult child, heritage has become a source of frustration for most of those who have to interact with the legislation, councils etc. The planning approval pathways are extremely opaque and inconsistent. Councils are under-resourced in order to properly deal with heritage. In many cases, architectural design excellence is ignored or stifled with a blizzard of DCP controls.

It seems to me that priorities are missed and a legion of apathy has ensued. Very little money is spent by local councils to promote heritage as a public good in society. Instead, we have a highly reactive approach instead of a proactive approach.

I fully appreciate that in these straitened times, heritage is not a priority. Notwithstanding, we all collectively have a responsibility for passing on our listed assets to future generations. There are numerous instances in which the demolition of listed heritage items has been sanctioned by the State Government thus setting a bad example. One only has to think of Willowgrove in Parramatta, the Sirius Building in The Rocks and the MLC Building in North Sydney (delisted). Treatment by the government in this fashion clearly doesn’t promote heritage as a public good. In fact, it sends out a message to developers that when they have a heritage building getting in the way of a development proposal, they too can demolish following the State Government’s example.

Despite all of this, there is immense psychological satisfaction generated for people just being in a heritage setting. We only have to think of the international heritage Meccas like Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Istanbul etc. In our own suburbs, we have King Street, Newtown, the CBD, Rouse Hill, Windsor, the Inner West etc. Since the end of WW2, billions of dollars have been spent on visiting these places and many people continue to travel to these places.

I am happy to converse with anybody through this platform on this topic. I worry about these things and am concerned that insufficient attention is being paid to our communal responsibility regarding the long-term protection of cultural assets in NSW. I am not suggesting this is the situation where owners of heritage buildings actively enjoy their heritage assets and spend thousands of dollars looking after them. My concern is more about the political agendas and general ignorance surrounding cultural built heritage.


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