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Putting heritage in its place

Both sides of the heritage argument are passionate in their views. WA Business News recently gathered some of the key heritage players together to discuss a raft of heritage issues, and maybe find some solutions. Tracey Cook reports.

 

A BRIEF glance at images of St Georges Terrace at pre-1960 provides ample proof that much of the city’s stock of heritage buildings has fallen beneath the feet of property development. 

And while it’s widely agreed that heritage buildings are important and should be conserved for future generations, the implementation of statutory constraints on land and buildings causes rumblings about erosion of property rights and calls for compensation.

Heritage listing can prove to be a thorn in the side of property developers and owners, and a source of long-running frustration and delays.

However, the message coming from the property development sector is that heritage is just one part of the problem, not the whole problem. 

According to Property Council executive director Joe Lenzo, developers regard heritage as another encumbrance that costs in terms of time lost on projects. 

“But they encompass it [heritage] among all the other costs in the approval process, whether it be planning approvals or other approvals – but it certainly runs into the millions of dollars,” Mr Lenzo said.

He said the problem was that only in a few case did developers go into a project with their eyes open, despite there already being a system in place that defined a heritage building or precinct and outlined the rules and regulations. In most cases, according to Mr Lenzo, the interim heritage listing occurred after the developer has become involved.

“The Heritage Council just reacts,” Mr Lenzo said.

“They react to the fact that, if a developer comes up with a plan to go through the approvals process, then they come in and say: ‘We need to assess this from a heritage perspective’.

“It hasn’t been done before so it puts another log jam in the system.”

Heritage Council chairman Patric de Villiers agreed that heritage was part of the problem, but not the whole problem. 

“If you actually isolate all the bits you don’t get an answer,” he said.

“You can isolate heritage and blame us for X dollars, but basically the planning system is stuffed.”

City of Perth senior project officer Noel Robertson believes that not enough research has been undertaken to prove that heritage had a negative effect on property values.

“Everyone keeps talking about it [heritage] being a negative, but where is the research that demonstrates that it has been a negative,” he said.

“Where are the facts and figures of that?”

According to Mr Robertson, heritage listing has proven to have a positive effect on property values in certain precincts, such as King Street and Guildford.

“I used to work at Swan and we had Guildford as part of the area I was actually working with,” he said.

“We started to notice that it was tracking very positively compared to the similar abutting areas.”

Mr Robertson said when an area was listed as a heritage precinct and had controls in place, the community knew what to expect. 

“With all those controls, design guides, all that sort of stuff, they knew if they bought into that area it would be looked after and protected,” he said.

Town of Cottesloe Mayor Robert Rowell pointed out that a lack of resources often caused local governments to list properties just because they were old.

“That’s where we go wrong, because something is ‘yesterday’, it gets listed for heritage and again we need the Heritage Council and National Trust to help us on definitions,” Mr Rowell said.

“There is a shortage of quality planners, so a lot of local governments haven’t got the resources to adequately handle these sorts of intellectual philosophies of what is there. 

“We need someone to try and set up a system, whether it is historical or heritage quality, or something like that.”

Mr de Villiers said an integrated planning framework of which heritage was one component was required and that the private sector should get involved.

“In 1909 the business community in Chicago paid themselves for a plan for Chicago because they knew that planning would maximise property values,” he said.

National Trust chief executive Tom Perrigo said it was vital, in a planning sense, that heritage was put in with everything else, not tacked on afterwards.

“I think one of the important points that this discussion clearly articulates is that heritage is not a walk-on part in the last chapter of the planning play,” he said.

“We have no coordinated cultural heritage policies in this State government, and poor old heritage council has been inundated with problems from government agencies who also don’t respect their role.”

Mr Perrigo said government agencies and developers were ignoring their responsibilities and expecting an under-resourced heritage council to solve all their heritage problems.

 

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