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Govt proposal threatens to demolish local heritage system: National Trust

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The National Trust of South Australia says a Government proposal to allow local heritage buildings to be demolished “on merit” threatens to set the heritage system back 40 years.

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The Adelaide City Council last night formally expressed “concern” over a State Government discussion paper on heritage reform, which suggests: “Another improvement could involve considering the demolition of local heritage places ‘on merit’.”

National Trust of South Australia president Professor Norman Etherington told InDaily this morning that under the proposal, “the whole purpose of local heritage legislation … would disappear”.

He said if demolition of local heritage properties was considered “on merit”, that would likely be on the merit of the proposed development to replace the heritage building, rather than on the value of the heritage building itself.

“At present it’s really hard to demolish a local-heritage-listed place – under the [proposal] it would be quite easy,” Etherington claimed.

“The effect of local heritage listing almost always is that the property in hands of subsequent owners [becomes] better and better, because they have an incentive,” he said.

“If it can be demolished, the incentive is to let them rot.”

Etherington said it would be unfair to people who had sold local heritage properties under the current system if new owners, under the proposed reform, were able to demolish the property and on-sell it for a vastly increased price.

A paper released by the National Trust this morning addressing the proposal says that with it, “the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure threatens to set our system back 40 years”.

“The damage could not be undone.

“It would be a crime as well as a blunder to proceed without widespread consultation of councils, community organisations.”

Etherington and members of the city council have accused the Government of distributing the discussion paper to only a small group of stakeholders.

North Ward councillor Phil Martin claimed at last night’s council meeting that the paper had been “hidden from public view”. Area councillor and architect Sandy Wilkinson said: “I’m absolutely flabbergasted that such a crucial issue is being [managed] in this manner”.

However, Planning Minister John Rau said the idea he had tried to hide the proposals was “ridiculous, absurd [and] laughable”.

“I’m absolutely gobsmacked at the reaction [to the discussion paper],” he said.

“The idea that we had been hiding it is breathtakingly ridiculous.

“It’s difficult to imagine a more absurd statement – it’s a discussion paper, for god’s sake.”

Most councillors at last night’s meeting were surprised to learn of the existence of the discussion paper, which had been sent to its staff by the Government and circulated to councillors in an electronic newsletter last week.

Etherington said the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure had sent the discussion paper to the National Trust, but to an old mailing address that had not been used by the organisation since 2007.

Rau stressed that the proposed change applied only to local heritage buildings and not buildings of state or national significance.

He said local heritage did not apply to buildings such as Parliament House: “We’re talking about local heritage [such as] a brick wall in the suburbs”.

The council last night voted to request the consultation period for the reform be extended beyond four weeks.

However, Rau said: “I’m sure four weeks is enough to jot off a short letter [expressing] concern.”

He said after the consultation on the discussion paper there would be further consultation on a Bill that would be drafted, and encouraged anyone with a view on the proposals to express it.

The Planning Minister has a scheduled meeting with Lord Mayor Martin Haese today.

Haese told InDaily this morning he would be “working very hard to ensure that our heritage is protected and enhanced”.

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