15 September 2021

National Trust blasts War Memorial works' heritage impacts

| Ian Bushnell
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New War Memorial Entrance and parade ground

An artist’s impression of the new War Memorial Entrance and parade ground. Images: AWM.

The Main Works proposal for the redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial includes massive changes to the original design and setting that impact the institution’s character and damage its heritage values, according to a submission from the National Trust of Australia (ACT).

The public consultation period on the Main Works proposal closed last Friday (10 September) and attracted hundreds of submissions.

The Early Works, including the demolition of Anzac Hall, have already been approved and are underway. This proposal was for the new Anzac Hall and Glazed Link; the new Southern Entrance, forecourt and parade ground; and the Bean Building Extension.

The War Memorial says the controversial $500 million redevelopment is needed to tell the stories of more recent conflicts and missions, justifying it partly as a contribution to the healing process for veterans.

The National Trust lacerated the proposal, saying the supporting evidence on heritage issues appears weak and inconsistent and the whole design should be reviewed.

“It appears to be written to justify a predetermined outcome rather than a professional and objective report. The fact that it was prepared four months before the design was finalised and submitted is alarming.

“We are not convinced by the evidence provided that this design can be supported or should be approved as the impact on heritage values is significant,” it concluded.

The National Trust took issue with claims the new form would not alter the character of the site, saying the new main entry and new Anzac Hall are both massive changes, the first transforming the view from Anzac Parade, and the second enveloping the rear section of the Memorial and dominating the view from Mt Ainslie.

It says the proposal contradicts itself by saying it has respect for the Memorial’s heritage values yet admits that the replacement of Anzac Hall has a significant impact on those heritage values.

“The suggestion that the so-called adverse physical impact is balanced by positive social values is not justified or supported by evidence,” the National Trust says.

“The appreciation of the existing building in a landscape will be lost forever and dwarfed by the new extension and glassed link.”

AWM Bean Extension

The AWM Bean Extension.

It says the glazed link will have a huge impact on the setting and the protrusion of the oculus in front of the building is a major intrusion.

“The fact that the glazed link will be somewhat visible along the land axis is alarming,” the Trust says. “The fact that it will reflect light and be clearly noticeable even if a relatively small projection has not been considered in the [heritage] assessment.

The National Trust rejects the Heritage Impact Statement view that the new entrance makes little change to the external presentation of the main building, when the existing front stairs, the plinths on either side and the central section of the current entry, all part of the original design, will be removed.

It also cannot accept that the new Anzac Hall and glazed link enhance the heritage values.

“The argument that it provides space for a larger display is not an enhancement of the existing heritage values which in part is with the physical form and fabric,” the National Trust says.

It says exhibition requirements do not justify the need to impact other fundamental heritage values.

The National Trust says the EPBC National Consultation Report appears focused on establishing social interaction with veterans and not addressing the impact on the physical place or setting.

“A social support to a larger memorial does not need to have an adverse impact on the heritage values of design, fabric and setting but in this situation it has,” it says.

Critics of the proposal say the scope and cost of the redevelopment are unjustified, that the enlargement will house war machines and that it is not in keeping with the Memorial’s original commemorative mission.

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The magnitude of opposition needs to be listened to. An expert review panel is required and changes need to be made to the NCA leadership as the CEO and Chief Planner are not adhering to any advice from bodies such as the National Trust or following the NCA’s own guiding principles- urgent changes need to be made. One would think that the ACT Planning Minister would step up and make comment but then again the minister has commented he can’t wait to “grow” Canberra. The growth of Canberra cannot simply be at the expense of heritage and environment. Looking at minister Gentleman’s occupation and qualifications on the ACT website and the fact that there is deafly silence from the ACT Planning directorate, is of great concern. It is too convenient and inappropriate to use the old chestnut that the ACT Government has no jurisdiction and that it is solely an NCA matter .

Except the proper planning processes have been followed, individuals and groups have had their ability to be heard multiple times through the consultation and the decisions have been made by the appropriate authorities in line with their mandate.

The fact that you and others don’t agree to what is being proposed is irrelevant. You are free to outline your opposition to the proposal once again when you get to vote at the next Federal election.

Exactly the same as everyone else.

The ACT government really has little to no role here, so I don’t know why you would call on them to make noise here, which would simply be meaningless posturing.

Peter Stanley9:45 am 14 Sep 21

Thank you, National Trust, for at least trying to restrain the madness and folly of the AWM expansion. Your submission identifies the most egregious excesses of the grandiose plans which are now utterly transforming one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. The Memorial we will get will be unrecognisable, physically and in its new militarist spirit. This tragedy has occurred despite massive popular protest and the opinion of heritage experts (such as the National Trust and the Australian Heritage Council). Thank you for at least trying. The Morrison government listens only to its billionaire mates (eg Kerry Stokes) and to tiny sectional interests. Democracy is a hollow concept in our Australia, and the tragic farce of the AWM expansion is only the latest manifestation of the government’s corruption.

You’re saying that you want to deny the pollies their chance to have an “Opened by Minister Muckamuck” plaque enshrined in a big new shiny thing?

Stephen Saunders8:23 am 14 Sep 21

Morrison, Nelson and Stokes are perfectly happy to win ugly at any cost. All that a citizen can do is decline to visit.

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