Dr Lucas said that ‘parklands, natural landscape, historic buildings’ in the Sydney area were under threat.
|St John’s Church built in the 1840s and funded by the Macarthur family has recently been the subject of controversy around selling part of the curtilage around the church (2016, I Willis)|
The conversation discussed the view that Sydneysiders do not engage with an issue until the building or locality is going to disappear, particularly around history and heritage. Wendy Harmer made the point that people in the UK are keen supporters of historic buildings and the British National Trust.
Clive Lucas pointed out several current disputes around heritage St John’s church at Camden, Thompson Square at Windsor and building a swimming pool in Parramatta Park.
One current controversy around heritage in NSW revolves around the Sirius Building in The Rocks in Sydney.
|Sirius Building in The Rocks is currently under threat of demolition by the NSW State Government and is part of 1970s Sydney heritage (2016 Wikimedia)|
What is the bogey man of heritage?
This blog attracts lots of views to posts about heritage matters from the Old Milk Depot to St John church in Camden. These heritage posts are usually about threats to heritage.
People sometimes do not see the heritage value in a historic item until it is too late, and there is a threat to its destruction, a change in its status, or a change in its surroundings.
Often the fear of heritage matters on buildings is down to laziness of design. New developments in heritage precincts demand creative solutions that are too hard for some. There is a need for imagination and flair. Rather than development at the least cost or a race to the bottom.
Vandalism by neglect is another issue in heritage areas. Some owners and developers of heritage properties hope that they will burn down or all down.
|View of Argyle Street in the 1940s which remains mostly unchanged in over 50 years and is now part of the Camden Town Centre Conservation Area (Camden Images)|
Many older buildings have particular problems that new buildings do not have. In the 1800s there was no running water, no sewerage to the house, no electricity, no internet, or no reticulated gas.
There can be issues using traditional trades that have primarily been replaced by mass-produced building materials, particularly in areas like plumbing, brickwork, plastering, carpentry, stone masonry, and others.
It is easier to demolish a heritage building and start a new construction from a clean slate. It can be challenging to retrofit current services in old buildings, but with patience and persistence, it can be done.
But heritage is more than old buildings.
|Endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland is part of the natural heritage of Western Sydney area (I Willis)|
So what is heritage?
Historian Graeme Davison defines heritage in The Oxford Companion to Australian History as ‘inherited customs, beliefs and institutions held in common by a nation or community’ and more recently has expanded to include ‘natural and ‘built’ landscapes, buildings and environments’.
Heritage is made up of (1) natural heritage of environmental value like the Cumberland Plain Woodland and (2) cultural heritage which is man-made or built heritage like built-up urban areas.
Heritage has several values depending on the type of heritage matter, (1) intrinsic value (2) genetic diversity, (3) historical value (4) uniqueness and rarity (5) utility value.
Reasons for the threat to heritage items (1) development (2) demolition or destruction (3) change of surroundings or setting (4) change its usage or status.
|Royal Hotel in Argyle Street Camden which was demolished in 1973 to make way for another a tavern on the site and is part of Camden’s lost cultural heritage (E Kernohan, 1970, Camden Images)|
In New South Wales heritage is defined under the Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) and in the legislation is means:
those places, buildings, works, relics, moveable objects, and precincts, of state or local heritage significance.
So what is significance?
In New South Wales for an item to be considered important and significant it must meet three of the following criteria for the Heritage Council and consideration for the State Heritage List :
a) an item is important in the course, or pattern, of NSW’s cultural or natural history;Outside of New South Wales heritage is a matter for concern. Andrew Wilson from Bradford University states:
b) an item has strong or special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in NSW’s cultural or natural history;
c) an item is important in demonstrating aesthetic characteristics and/or a high degree of creative or technical achievement in NSW;
d) an item has strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in NSW for social, cultural or spiritual reasons;
e) an item has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of NSW’s cultural or natural history;
f) an item possesses uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of NSW’s cultural or natural history;
g) an item is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of NSW’s - cultural or natural places; or - cultural or natural environments.
Our present is intrinsically bound up with our past, our sense of identity shaped and moulded by the cultural legacies of our forebears. That’s why organisations such as UNESCO exist to protect the cultural heritage of the world for current and future
Cultural heritage plays a key part in the quality of our lives, building our sense of identity, proving a rallying point around which we build social cohesion and pride in a shared heritage.
|Stonehenge England UNESCO World Heritage Site (Wikimedia)|
Stories from the UK might throw some light on why heritage protection can be poison for some cities and their politicians. Aylin Orbasli from Oxford Brookes University provides a note of caution around urban development process in World Heritage Listed Sites in Edinburgh. She states:
Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status has been the subject of several negative news stories lately. David Black in the Guardian called for the city to be stripped of its status for having a cavalier approach to development, while leading Edinburgh architect Lorn Macneal said that the status is an obstacle to allowing historic homes to evolve in the way that they have for hundreds of years.The Scottish Government, like New South Wales, want to sell off historic buildings. David Black in the Guardian states that the World Heritage declaration for parts of Edinburgh has:
been an unmitigated disaster, and we’d have been better of without it.Black maintains that heritage tourism is worth annually £1.6bn to the Scottish and city economy, and yet he argues that the city undervalues its historic heritage. He wants to know why the ‘power that be’ want to ‘trash’ that heritage.
|Edinburgh Clockwise from top-left: View from Calton Hill, Old College, Old Town from Princes Street, Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street from Calton Hill UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Wikimedia)|
More than this Scottish conservation architect Lorn MacNeal has stated that Edinburgh is blighted by heritage and its planning system. He went on that
any alterations proposed for historic homes are automatically blocked by city planners, leaving the properties “blighted” by their listed status and unable to be turned into “workable”, modern accommodation.A 2012 Report on World Heritage Listing in Liverpool threatened to de-list the city. It was a wake-up call to city politicians to re-consider their decision around some new city development proposals.
These events have been put down to the view that: (1) there are few benefits from the WHS listing; (2) there is a poor understanding of the sites WHS listed; (3) there is a poor understanding of the value of the WHS listed sites.
While these problems were acknowledged, the report was considered an opportunity to re-assess the social and cultural aspects of a World Heritage Listing in totality for the city.
Heritage issues created controversy in Dresden Germany and were of seemingly little concern to the local population.
|Liverpool Pier Head, with the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building UNESCO World Heritage Site (Wikimedia)|
It seems really bizarre that the current batch of NSW political decision-makers are considered to be terrified of heritage rules and regulations that they control. It is as if the politicians are frozen by inaction.
The supporters of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism amongst NSW politicians act as though they want to destroy the past, they act as if they are ashamed of what has happened before. Do neo-liberals want a clean slate with a new beginning and treat the past as if it never existed?
|Hyde Park Barracks, Macquarie Street, Sydney, Australia. UNESCO World Heritage Site (Wikimedia)|
Heritage is essential for placemaking, maintaining a sense of place, and strengthening community identity, and for a robust and sustainable community.
The well-being and resilience of communities are determined by their place-making process and their ability to retain their identity and sense of place.
This needs decision-makers who take account of heritage matters and cultural, social and environmental processes that contribute to the historic landscape and the general well-being of these societies.
Originally posted 2 May 2017. Updated 11 September 2020.