NSW Heritage Management System

Professional Associations


A heritage management system at local government level requires eight key elements as follows;

  • sensible and meaningful listings that properly represent a local government area’s cultural built heritage through the decades;
  • a degree of consensus about what gets listed and how those listings are treated;
  • adequate legislation to protect the identified items including conservation areas, landscape elements, buildings and places;
  • a delivery system that involves communities and meets the needs and expectations of private owners and developers;
  • an education and promotion unit that puts out positive messages to the public regarding the virtues and values of cultural built heritage;
  • a robust regime of surveillance and policing in order to protect the local government area’s (LGA’s) cultural built heritage and this implies, fines and sentencing of offenders who take matters into their own hands against the public interest;
  • an adequate stream of funding in order to resource and underpin the myriad requirements of the heritage management system and finally;
  • a process of auditing that regularly assesses, appraises, evaluates and reviews the system in order to test efficiencies, measure effectiveness of policies or tweak those parts that are found to be unworkable or unmanageable.

It is rare that all eight elements will be found to be working in concert. Usually, a lack of funding accounts for a sub-optimal delivery system or an over-reliance by local government on private owners of heritage listed places to pay for the upkeep of the listed stock or a flaccid set of policies which are ill- conceived or unsustainable.

There are many reasons why heritage management systems fall short of their mission statements and visions. Primary amongst them is the difficulty by local government councils in balancing the private right to develop land against the public interest. What precisely is the public interest? Heritage is an area where this question is most asked.


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Fig 1 – Cultural built heritage – Parisian Street

In NSW, 90% of the listed stock is in private ownership (Productivity Commission, 2006). A heritage listing is seen by most private owners as an imposition. Restrictions are placed on development to a greater degree than those placed on non-heritage properties. In almost all cases, a listed property or a property in a heritage conservation area (unless non-contributory) cannot be demolished and the development process (design, compliance and compatibility) involves specialists and professionals which push the cost of development higher per square metre than is the case for non-heritage listed development. In addition, heritage properties are more costly to maintain. Specialist trades need to be employed and the relative rarity of certain materials increases the expense.

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Fig 2 – Cultural built heritage – Surry Hills Street, NSW

In my PhD research, I framed a series of questions around the NSW heritage management system (HMS) and I set out to ascertain attitudes and sentiments from current heritage practitioners working in local and state government as well as planners, architects, planning lawyers, developers, owners and NGOs. I conducted 60 interviews in order to get a cross section of views and perceptions about the NSW local government HMS. This included views about weaknesses, strengths, capacity and resilience of the system as well as knowledge of financial mechanisms, social input and education/ promotional programs used to raise the efficacy of Cultural Built Heritage (CBH) in our society.

Some early results of this interview process indicate that:

  • Owners feel alienated from the process;
  • Owners are mystified by the process;
  • Owners feel unfairly targeted in having to shoulder the lion share of the costs;
  • Without clear and consistent treatment of the resource, owners become dissatisfied, lose faith resulting in their disaffection;
  • Developers perceive the DA processes involving heritage as being too slow, complex and unpredictable;
  • Planners find the system to be far too subjective, inconsistent and unpredictable;
  • Listees perceive decision making processes affecting heritage also to be too subjective;
  • Many owners, managers and developers do not understand the rules of engagement or the purpose of heritage listing;
  • Non-professionals do not understand what the benefits of listings are or the relationship between the private right to develop land and the public interest;
  • Councils claim insufficient funding, under-resourcing, poor communication with owners, patchy processing of heritage DAs and lack of support from State Government;
  • Heritage can become a weapon used by consent authorities to combat problematic applications;
  • Councils lack rigour, consistency and policy intelligence due to under-resourcing and perceived difficulties with disaffected communities;
  • The policing of unauthorised activities on heritage properties is not often followed through; very few cases in which prosecutions have been made; sends out the wrong message to owners, developers and the public as to how far the envelope can be stretched;
  • Policies by councils do not acknowledge the burden placed on private owners of heritage places;
  • Communities get the benefit of heritage without direct costs imposed upon them;
  • There are no set criteria for the calibre or capabilities of heritage consultants providing heritage assessments, guidance on infill development, appropriate solutions for planning offsets or traditional methodologies for the conservation of heritage buildings ;
  • Political influence can undermine the efficacy of listings at local government level;
  • SEPPs can often have an overbearingly negative impact on local listings/ conservation areas;
  • There are insufficient incentives offered to private owners of heritage buildings in order to facilitate their becoming willing and responsible custodians of their buildings;
  • Too much reliance is placed on currently buoyant real estate prices and rentals in Sydney to act as a protective mechanism for cultural built heritage. What would happen if prices went south? Would current local government policies be able to safeguard the stock i.e. by legislation alone?
  • Listing inventories are based on windscreen, drive-by, desktop studies and are hardly ever inspected internally which results in poor levels of information about such properties;
  • There is insufficient training and guidance of council planners working in heritage with regard to professional skills, knowledge, standards and appreciation of the global issues/ threats placed upon historic urban landscapes;
  • Poorly conceived LEP and DCP instruments coupled with subjective, unschooled council assessments of heritage DAs generate unnecessary litigation in the Local Environment Court;
  • The HUL UNESCO Principles are not applied anywhere in NSW except Broken Hill despite it being adopted in Ballarat (Victoria) and many other cities around the world;

There is little public support for heritage as a result of failure by government to promote it, accredit the profession of heritage consultancy or adequately educate the public in the benefits of it.


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Fig 3 – Cultural built heritage – Surry Hills, NSW

When compared to the success stories in Europe, the UK and North America, we see that a whole lot more could be done with our Cultural Built Heritage in NSW. Cultural Built Heritage is not generally considered by Australian politicians to be a pressing issue as a result of which, there appears to be low levels of political will in rectifying the system. However, a recent NSW Heritage Grant Program released by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) in NSW appears to recognise a shortfall in government spending on cultural built heritage. Such grants are subject to application and qualification and range between 10K and 70K depending on the grant category. The grant program is entitled “Heritage Near Me’ and is a welcome sign that NSW is prepared to invest in cultural built heritage. We can only hope that the program remains well funded and publicly endorsed so that it remains sustainable and actively promoted.

In the USA, there is a robust tax incentive scheme called the rehabilitation tax credit scheme and in the UK there is the heritage lottery fund. Both systems pump billions of dollars/ pounds worth of funding into the system which in turn creates employment for those working in the heritage construction, tourism, promotion, management, development, assessment and auditing sectors. Such funding;

  • Raises the efficacy of cultural built heritage as a public good in society;
  • Creates employment in the sector;
  • Returns a benefit to owners who thus far have had to shoulder the entire cost of the listing system;
  • Increases the capacity of local councils in providing consistent advice across the board;
  • Promotes clarity for owners and developers of heritage buildings;
  • Renders the system more predictable in terms of expected outcomes;
  • Links the benefits of cultural built heritage with local businesses, employment in the sector and local/ foreign tourism/ city branding etc.

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Fig 4 – Cultural built heritage – Darlinghurst, NSW (conjectural)

On this basis, it is hoped that future generations will join the dots when it comes to formulating a set of local government policies that collectively increase public support for cultural built heritage, define legal mechanisms for a workable heritage management system, adequately train practitioners working within the system and publicly promote cultural built heritage as a public good in NSW society.

Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21 – August 2016



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