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The fog around the ACT’s Heritage Strategy

By Paul Costigan - 17 February 2016 9

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The ACT Government has commenced a period of consultations for the development of a five-year heritage strategy (see links below this post).

Many heritage debates are contentious. Especially when things get complicated given the political influence of the property sector who constantly bang on about cutting ‘red tape’ on heritage matters which usually means they want heritage interests to be overridden as easily as possible.

Part of the tension is that not everyone can agree on what is or is not important in a heritage sense. For instance, some thought that the Currong Flats (later called apartments) were a very significant part of the social history especially as they offered attractive accommodation to those who arrived in Canberra in the 1950s & 60s. The Heritage Council thought otherwise – and so they will soon be no longer.

9e4emOther heritage sites have been lost – such as the original 1927s Capitol Cinema in Manuka. The list of heritage losses across Canberra is very long.

The most recent contentious matter was about the fate of the Northbourne Flats – a debate that was mainly based on a curious and emotive argument to recognise a particular architect.

As with all cities and towns, heritage is very important. It is part of our culture and contributes to and informs us as to who we are today. So if you share these views, you are encouraged to go online to offer opinions and comments about the proposed heritage strategy. But …

While the online presence looks accessible, the nature of questions may cause a lack of useful responses. The issues raised are so broad that to answer some of them could require a full thesis so I suspect many people will hesitate and then find something else to do.

Nor is the short survey well thought out – as it asks you to pick one priority out of so many – whereas anyone interested in heritage would have to nominate at least five of them.

The discussion paper that is available through their resource links on the right is a very generalised promotional thingy that actually does not say very much. If this was a genuine consultation, I would have expected a background document (20-30 page maximum) to have been made available to provide an overview of present documents and processes, what strategies are being present used, and clear reasons of why a new approach or strategy is required.

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A host of other important documents are not linked into the page at all (again, there are links to all this below). The ACT Government has an abundance of documentation on heritage and as anyone involved in this area would know, there are mountains of stuff available locally, nationally and internationally.

The whole exercise seems to be based on the premise that, despite all the research, studies, reports and historical data collected over the decades, for some reason known only to the Minister and his advisors, we need to start all over again.

Having looked through much of the available documents online, I am unconvinced about why this new strategy is required. Not that I do not understand when and why time based strategies are useful (having drawn up several myself).

It seems that the Minister has been convinced to ignore all the years of work hard done by the public, committees and his own bureaucracy and instead has set out on public fishing trip to see if there are other ways to get around the way heritage decisions are made.

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Something is not quite right about all this. But …

Despite all of the above, this heritage strategy exercise needs to be monitored. At some point in the future a draft of the strategy is to put out for comment. If the present stage is too convoluted, maybe hold your comments for the appearance of that first draft.

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Meanwhile here’s stuff to occupy you for many hours – enjoy:

Here’s the Five Year Strategy consultation page.

On that page – before you look through the surveys – check out the box to the right titled ‘Project Library’; in particular the document called Discussion Paper.

There is a dedicated ACT Heritage page – click here – with more about the Heritage Council.

And if you really want to know it all – check out all these available documents.

What’s Your opinion?


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9 Responses to
The fog around the ACT’s Heritage Strategy
gooterz 1:24 am 22 Feb 16

I’m sure Barr would think that we are building heritage right now.

Just look at that 400 year old transport system we’re building now.

miz 3:11 pm 20 Feb 16

farq said :

It’s like what happened with The Rocks in sydney all over again.

Canberra is supposed to learn from the mistakes other cities made in the past, not just bend over for developers so they can make a quick buck.

Canberra has no future other than just a cheap copy of worst parts of Sydney at this rate.

Too much of my childhood in Canberra is already being knocked down, trampled over and disregarded just so some developer can buy a new BMW.

‘Our Town’ by Iris Dement sums it up for me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRfzAWUf3W4

madelini 3:11 pm 19 Feb 16

Rustygear said :

Well for sure all those old houses with their 0-star energy ratings ought to be demolishable, but the opportunity is there in the exemption permit conditions to trade off their supposed ‘heritage value’ for extra-high energy ratings of whatever building replaces the old one. No point in keeping hundreds of junk buildings, that’s just the town-planning version of hoarding. Canberra’s not Venice, dudes.

I’m sure there would be ways to increase energy ratings in older homes. To start with, double glazing the windows and providing proper insulation, if possible. If not possible, work with a heritage expert regarding how to insulate your home within the parameters of its listing.

You’re right, Canberra is not Venice, or Rome, or Edinburgh, or another city with a 1000+ year history. But where there is room to grow, there should also be room to retain, so we can see where we came from.

farq 10:33 pm 18 Feb 16

miz said :

Yes the lovely old bus stops on National Circuit were probably heritage, but unfortunately they have already been removed and replaced with glossy glass ones that are far less satisfactory in keeping out wind and rain. There was nothing wrong with the old ones and they had character.

Heritage is dirty word to Barr and his developer mates.

farq 10:33 pm 18 Feb 16

It’s like what happened with The Rocks in sydney all over again.

Canberra is supposed to learn from the mistakes other cities made in the past, not just bend over for developers so they can make a quick buck.

Canberra has no future other than just a cheap copy of worst parts of Sydney at this rate.

Too much of my childhood in Canberra is already being knocked down, trampled over and disregarded just so some developer can buy a new BMW.

Masquara 8:38 pm 18 Feb 16

I thought the Currong Flats were regarded as architecturally significant rather than redolent of “social history” …

Rustygear 2:36 pm 18 Feb 16

Well for sure all those old houses with their 0-star energy ratings ought to be demolishable, but the opportunity is there in the exemption permit conditions to trade off their supposed ‘heritage value’ for extra-high energy ratings of whatever building replaces the old one. No point in keeping hundreds of junk buildings, that’s just the town-planning version of hoarding. Canberra’s not Venice, dudes.

madelini 1:11 pm 18 Feb 16

Canberra has had a bad habit of knocking down heritage buildings, whether they be government-owned, commercial or residential. Canberra is not that old, and I honestly believe that we should have a stronger heritage program. Some building destruction can’t be avoided (such as when the Manuka Services Club burned down), but we should actively try to preserve as much as we can. Without evidence of our history, how do we know where we’ve come from?

While the Northbourne Flats are contentious – let’s not kid ourselves that everything historically significant is pretty to look at – it’s important that they stay as a reminder. And really, the vast majority of the glass-and-render replacement buildings are not any more aesthetically pleasing. We could have a program of renovation, rather than destruction – give some of these buildings a new lease on life. It has been done overseas, with architecture and design firms such as Urban Splash in the UK doing great work. It’s a financial gamble, but as many of the oldest and most significant buildings are in the central parts of town, they won’t lose value. Given half a chance, they would definitely increase. And really, what cost the identity of our city?

miz 1:05 pm 17 Feb 16

Yes the lovely old bus stops on National Circuit were probably heritage, but unfortunately they have already been removed and replaced with glossy glass ones that are far less satisfactory in keeping out wind and rain. There was nothing wrong with the old ones and they had character.

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