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A defining moment

WIDESPREAD community support for the conservation of heritage in WA has done little to calm residents and property owners angered by the repercussions of a heritage listing.

Central to the issue is the philosophy of the Heritage Council, which is to identify heritage places and encourage the conservation of culturally significant sites.

One industry player said he felt unsure about the definition of heritage in Australia.

“Does 200 years of European settlement give you heritage?” he said.

“In Europe when you talk about heritage you’re talking about buildings that are 800 years old and people are still living in them.

“In Claremont there are buildings that are less than eight years old that are on the heritage inventory.”

A huge number of Perth’s historic buildings were lost to new developments in the 1960s and 1970s ahead of a shift in community values.

City of Perth Lord Mayor Dr Peter Natrass said while it was regrettable that these buildings were demolished in the past, there had to be a balance between heritage and the pressures of business today.

“There’s a limit to what is heritage,” Dr Natrass said.

“We [City of Perth] have followed the same path as all the councils appear to have followed.

“At some stage someone drove around the city and pointed out the heritage buildings.

“There were about 300 buildings [in the City of Perth] and we started off that way.”

The actions of the local councils involved in developing municipal inventories have provoked the most heated debate about heritage in local communities.

“What we should do is start at the bottom and work with people,” Dr Natrass said.

“We need to ask people whether they have a property they consider has heritage value.

“Some people would be proud to have a classification.

“This is only a recent thought and I’m going to suggest it to the heritage committee here.”

Dr Natrass was critical of the model councils such as Subiaco had adopted.

“I suspect the model was started by the Heritage Council, which is run by heritage activists. Councils have followed like lambs to the slaughter,” he said.

“What we need to do is decide what type of heritage we want to preserve and then choose some examples, and then write to the individual owners and seek an appointment to discuss the benefits of a listing.

“And not the airy-fairy benefits [but] the real benefits.”

While inclusion on an inventory does not provide the same protection as a listing on the State heritage register, inclusion in the town planning scheme would place serious restrictions on properties, ac-cording to City Vision president Ken Adam.

“If a council is going to list its municipal inventory in the town planning scheme it’s starting to get very serious,” Mr Adam said.

“And that becomes a heavy restraint.

“I’m of the strong view that the people should not be given category one-type protection unless the property is professionally assessed.”

Part of the problem was that a number of local councils didn’t understand the difference between character and heritage, he said.

At the same time it wouldn’t be appropriate for property owners to decide whether they wanted to be part of the city’s heritage.

“It’s not about getting permission; that’s not appropriate. It’s about whether a place deserves recognition,” Mr Adam said.

The Australian Property Institute (WA division) president John Sheridan said that certain properties in Perth could be devalued by a heritage listing.

“Many houses in Subiaco sell effectively for land value. In these cases the inability to demolish the house would undoubtedly reduce the value of that particular property,” he said.

“The impact of development sites also may be significant, as the existing improvements could be located in a position that prevented subdivision or further development.

“This can again reduce the value of a property.”

The Heritage Council said heritage property was directly related to economic development, especially with regard to tourism.

“In terms of economic impact, if you look at the areas we’d argue that there is a fair bit of evidence that conservation areas tend to perform quite well,” Heritage Council senior conservation officer Michael Betham said.

“Property values tend to grow at a faster rate.

“The possible explanation is that there is greater certainty of development style and quality in those areas.”

In West Perth there are a number of heritage houses that are utilised as commercial spaces.

The zoning in the area allows for higher density development, and the resale value of some property in this area is based on its development potential.

Subiaco-based architect Colin Moore said councils needed to make a decision between zoning and heritage, and stick to it.

“If you’re zoning a section [of the town] as the city centre zone then you’re going to lose some of the buildings that have survived from a different zone,” he said.

“Some councils seem to think you can have it both ways.

“They think they can zone land for a higher land use and keep all the buildings on it.

“As soon as you do that you’re working against yourself.”

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