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Cost legacy not lost on those deciding city heritage issues

THE planned demolition of the St John Ambulance building on Wellington Street has further inflamed the issue of heritage in the city.

Destruction plans for the building were moved forward after City of Perth councillors voted in favour of the demolition.

St John Ambulance wants to replace the historic building with a $10.2 million office complex.

It claims the new development is maximising the site for the not-for-profit organisation, however the redevelopment plans have drawn attention to the difficulties in managing heritage property.

Councillors claim incentives for retaining heritage buildings are the key to making any heritage policy work-able.

The building, built in 1940, has been recommended for the State register of heritage places, however Heritage Minister Judy Edwards is yet to make a decision.

St John Ambulance claims the building will cost more than $1 million to maintain, a cost the organisation claims is unbearable.

City of Perth councillor Lisa Scaffidi said the outcome with the St John Ambulance building was a warning for the City of Perth.

“I think this is really just a precaution for us to identify what we consider heritage,” Cr Scaffidi said.

“We need to readdress how organisations that find themselves holding heritage property can go about it (redevelopment plans).”

Incentive may be the big word when it comes to heritage, but just who should foot the bill is not so clear.

There are concerns that a heritage listing is just another compliance cost for property owners in WA to shoulder.

Heritage Council director Ian Baxter said incentives were available for property owners, including rate remissions, land tax reductions and plot ratio bonuses.

“Incentives may also apply when a heritage building restricts future site development,” Mr Baxter said.

The economic benefits of owning a heritage building have been outweighed by serious concerns about the opportunity cost in relation to any redevelopment plans.

City of Perth councillor Vincent Tan has a very different take on the demolition plans.

“I think with the St John Ambulance issue it was a case of weighing up the lives versus an older building,” Cr Tan said.

“I couldn’t find it in my heart to come down on the side of an older building.

“I think it’s very easy to say we should preserve a building at all costs, but we put the burden unfairly on the owner of a building.”

Cr Tan said a heritage listing could reduce the value of a building by up to 50 per cent.

“There are now many people who buy a building as part of their superannuation plan and for those people it’s very unfair that their super goes down,” he said.

“I think the minister for heritage needs to be given funds to preserve old buildings,” Cr Tan said.

“People have to understand the council is not in a position to put tens of thousands of dollars into heritage funds, it’s just not possible.”

The City of Perth developed a list of significant heritage sites for the heritage council and this municipal inventory was submitted to the heritage council.

The municipal inventory was developed to allow individual councils to have input into the State’s heritage register.

Despite the fact the City of Perth included the St John Ambulance building on its inventory, the council has still voted in favour of a new development on the site.

“What we need to do is look at lateral ways of doing things,” Cr Scaffidi said.

“I think there will be a big outcry about this. A vote to overturn the municipal registry – I find this very disappointing.”

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