Slings and Arrows: A War on the Heritage Front?

A heritage reform paper from John Rau’s office outlining significant changes to planning and development laws has local heritage groups spooked and preparing for battle.

RAU PAPER SPOOKS THE HERITAGE HORSES

The mighty row that broke out recently between the heritage property conservation lobby and planning minister, John Rau, illustrates the deep level of distrust that is corroding South Australian state and local government relations.

Staff in the minister’s Planning Reform office got the full force of it as a wave of uproar swept from the suburbs, as well as the city council, and flooded the minister’s desk. With a state election not far away, it has all the signs of a declaration of war.

FAREWELL THE LISTED COTTAGE

At issue is a bid to significantly weaken protections for Adelaide’s local-heritage-listed cottages and villas, for decades protected under SA’s Development Act 1993, managed by councils and cherished by their communities.

SA’s existing local-heritage-list comprises about 8,000 historic homes and places. Rau’s team have for some time been all ears to developers carping about the existing rules that prevent demolition.

slings-arrows-war-heritage-front-adelaide-review-3 Last month his folks discreetly circulated a bombshell discussion paper, Heritage reform – an exploration of the opportunities, seeking a quick and quiet response from ‘high level’ practitioners within four weeks. It’s to precede a new local heritage bill, almost certainly already in draft.

Trouble was, like a naughty rabbit, the paper escaped, straight into the arms of South Australia’s feisty conservation peak bodies, and residents’ and heritage groups. As a result, even some of Adelaide’s best heritage property conservation advisors (who had originally been left off the minister’s list) also got to read it.

CANNY TACTICS

Revealingly, the paper described the battle tactics. First, change the development plan rules across council areas to allow demolition ‘on merit’ instead of being prohibited as ‘non complying development’. Secondly, throw away the current two-Act division which sees local-listed properties assessed under Development Act criteria, and state-listed properties under the Heritage Act.

Instead, have all local-listed places satisfy more demanding criteria, perhaps similar to property proposals for state listing under the Heritage Act. Both are canny. If one doesn’t satisfy the developers (who will hire the best planning lawyers to drive the ‘on merit’ demolition applications) the other, like a nasty virus, over time will devastate the register.

Adelaide’s councils would see the demise of much of their development plans’ formerly listed housing stock because it would no longer be able to meet the criteria. Councils also may be sidelined from managing the process.

INNER SUBURBS THE LIKELY WARZONE

If the new legislation is passed, it would see major change to the streets of Unley, Parkside, Dulwich, Kent Town, Hackney, city residential, North Adelaide and Prospect (among other suburbs).

The state opposition is alarmed, not because most of its supporters live in the leafy suburbs and don’t want to see concrete-and-glass bunkers built in their streets where historic homes once stood, but because if it opposes the Rau bill, donations from the property development industry will dry up, only 18 months short of the next election.

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IT’S REVOLUTION

One property conservation peak body critic observed that the plan (and a new Act) would result in “…drastic changes to the way local heritage is managed. It runs contrary to the [notion of ] putting people back into planning.

It proposes instead to remove recognition and management of local heritage places from local councils and to put it in the hands of so-called heritage experts within Minister Rau’s department … the whole process is flawed. Not enough people have been invited to comment [on the paper]. No public meetings have been called.

The intention seems to be to rush through a revolution that will gut the existing protections for local heritage.” Ash, an expert in diplomatic relations, reckons them’s fighting words, thus recommends helmets, flak jackets and the laying in of provisions – sufficient to last at least until March 2018.

Ashley Whitefly is Executive Director of the Adelaide Whitefly Institute of Diplomatic Studies