THE old saying that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is never truer than when applied to property developers and heritage buildings.
Where one person will see a unique building that could either be restored or revamped into a modern context, another will view a heritage building as a hindrance to obtaining the real value from a subject site.
While most people agree on the importance of preserving our State’s iconic heritage buildings, the preservation of workers cottages or industrial buildings for their historic and social value is not as widely appreciated in the community.
Heritage listing can be a touchy subject, particularly when owners and developers were unaware of any heritage interest in their property until after purchase or plans for redevelopment have been made.
While the Western Australian Heritage Council has started an accelerated program to clear its extensive backlog of buildings, there currently are more than 1000 buildings to be assessed for heritage value.
Given the size of the backlog, the onus has fallen on developers and property owners to make inquiries into whether their building is heritage listed, or whether the WA Heritage Council has any interest in it.
The recent placing of a conservation order on the Court Hotel and two former residential buildings on James Street by Environment and Heritage Minister Judy Edwards – on the recommendation of the WA Heritage Council and after the City of Perth council gave development approval – has attracted criticism.
The Heritage Council recommended the conservation, or stop work, order to ensure the site was protected while an assessment of its cultural heritage significance was made ahead of consideration of the buildings for possible entry in the State Register of Heritage Places.
The buildings are not yet listed in the State Register of Heritage Places, but are situated within the proposed Northbridge East Precinct, which was awaiting assessment for entry in the State Register at the time of a recent City of Perth decision to support a development application, which involved demolition.
The council recently moved to reject the action in a unanimous vote to formally advise the minister of the consequences of issuing conservation orders, particularly in relation to the confidence of developers within the city.
Councillor Lisa Scaffidi said the retrospective action of conservation orders made a mockery of the whole heritage system and was detrimental to developers’ confidence in the city.
“Why wasn’t the building heritage listed before so potential buyers and property owners were in no doubt about what redevelopment they could do,” she said.
Ms Scaffidi said it required significant amounts of money to progress a project to development approval stage.
“Who is going to recompense them for the money spent if they cannot go ahead,” she said.
“It is morally reprehensible.”
WA Heritage Council acting director Stephen Carrick said there was a grey area in terms of development, and that the organisation was trying to achieve more certainty for developers and property owners by decreasing its assessment backlog.
Property owners and developers can make inquiries direct to the council, he said, to check for heritage registration on their buildings or if there was any heritage interest in it.
“Early contact with the Heritage Council is the best way to avoid later problems,” Mr Carrick said.
Municipal inventories, a list of buildings of varying heritage significance compiled by local governments, can act as early warning signs for developers.
Unfortunately, many local governments’ municipal inventories are incomplete.
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