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Heritage balance challenge

THE prickly issue of heritage has taken centre stage in the past month following a review of the City of Subiaco’s municipal inventory.

The value of retaining and maintaining places of cultural significance in WA is widely supported, however achieving a balance between the theory and commercial pressures has proved more difficult for a number of local councils.

Following the introduction of the Heritage of Western Australia Act (1990), local councils were asked to develop a municipal inventory.

This inventory is a list of buildings that are, in the opinion of the local council, culturally significant. Properties listed on an inventory are not legally protected unless they are part of the council’s town planning scheme.

Heritage Council senior conservation officer Michael Betham said it was important to understand the distinction between municipal inventories and the Western Australian Register of Heritage Places.

“This is a two-tiered system,” he said.

“The State Government protects places on the registry, and that registry is fairly modest in size.

“There are just short of 900 places in WA.”

The inventory process provided councils with an informed basis for making decisions about which buildings should be protected, Mr Betham said.

“The Heritage Council’s involvement in the process is to try and encourage and guide local authorities,” he said.

“It doesn’t make a decision for them [the local councils] and they have to take responsibility themselves.”

The Heritage Council maintains that the philosophical basis for heritage is that it preserves a sense of place and makes our towns and cities richer places to live in. “There is also a growing body of opinion that heritage conservation makes a contribution to economic development,” Mr Betham said.

“The most obvious is the contribution to tourism.”

Balancing these ideals with the commercial realities of property ownership is not necessarily as straight forward as the theory, however.

Certain property industry players have flagged the issue of property values and insurance as two possible negatives attached to a heritage listing.

Palassis Architects director Nerida Moredoundt said heritage should be considered as another planning consideration alongside accepted parameters such as plot ratios.

“It’s just another level of recognition of what’s important in a community,” she said.

“It’s not any different to any other planning tool.

“I think it’s also important to note that, in the guidelines set up by the Heritage Council, there are social, aesthetic, historical and scientific values.”

In certain circumstances a council may require a property owner to undertake some process, such as documentation of the building, ahead of its renovation or demolition, to preserve its heritage value, Ms Moredoundt said.

Buildings and places are put into certain categories under the heritage act.

Places in category one are on the State register and are already protected by the heritage act. They are also on the state registry.

Category two places are given to buildings considered important in the community. If they are put in the town-planning scheme then they are given consideration.

For category three places the guidelines are less clear, however the owner should, where possible, act to retain and conserve the building. This doesn’t mean it can’t be demolished, however.

In this sense heritage is an additional planning consideration that councils take into account when looking at proposals.

In an area such as Subiaco there are already planning restrictions in place to ensure any development is in keeping with the character of the area, especially the residential areas, Ms Moredoundt said.

“When you speak to people who buy in the area, they buy for that reason, she said.

“Within the context of planning, heritage is just another layer of understanding.

“You may want to engage a specialist but it’s not a requirement. You also might increase the value of the property by getting good advice.”

Several local councils are reviewing their municipal inventories this year in line with the requirements of the act.

This reaction from the residents of Subiaco has drawn attention to the gap that exists between the will to conserve significant buildings in WA and the commercial pressures of property ownership.

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