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Liberal MPs speak out to save Urrbrae gatehouse: 'It's heritage-listed for a reason'

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The State Government is under mounting pressure to reverse a decision to bulldoze an historic gatehouse at Urrbrae, with two of its own MPs saying “it’s heritage-listed for a reason” and “worthy of further consideration to either keep or restore”.

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Davenport MP Steve Murray told InDaily that “subject to cost and further detail” he was “supportive of maintaining the building”.

“I’m in favour of – assuming it’s possible and it’s not exorbitantly expensive – retaining the building,” he said.

“It’s heritage-listed – it’s heritage-listed for a reason. I’d be supportive of it being maintained if that’s indeed possible.”

The Government has decided to demolish the gatehouse on the corner of Cross Road and Fullarton Road, built in 1890 and linked to the University of Adelaide’s Urrbrae House historic precinct, to make way for a road-widening project.

That’s despite two engineers advising that relocating it is “feasible”.

Liberal MP for Chaffey and former minister Tim Whetstone told InDaily: “I think it’s a building worthy of further consideration to either keep or restore.”

Murray and Whetstone are on the parliamentary Public Works Committee which has been asked to hear technical evidence from engineer Matt Manifold on Thursday about the work involved in moving the gatehouse.

Member for Waite Sam Duluk – whose electorate houses the gatehouse – has written to the committee urging it to hear from Manifold, the managing director of Mammoth Movers who yesterday told InDaily that relocating the building was “100 per cent feasible” and has provided that advice to the government.

“Mr Manifold has previously provided a number of reports in relation to the gatehouse project to the Department of Infrastructure and Transport as Mr Manifold is considered a subject expert in relation to the structural relocation of brick and stone buildings,” Duluk said.

“This is a good opportunity for the Government to work with Mammoth Movers to see how the Waite Gatehouse can be safely moved, so we can not only keep our built heritage, but progress this important infrastructure project.”

Duluk has been lobbying to save the gatehouse, joining in protests and organising a petition.

The Liberal Party went to the last state election promising it would look after built heritage.

Premier Steven Marshall’s election manifesto – A Strong Plan For Real Change – stated: “the Liberals have been a champion of our heritage”.

“We know that South Australians value heritage places and want them to be nurtured, re-vitalised and invested in so that they continue to give our communities character and connect people with the stories of our state’s rich history,” the document states.

“We believe that heritage is not just about the past, but instead a living representation of where we’ve come from, with plenty to teach us about where we could go.

“We want to see heritage places re-energised, some through adaptive re-use and others as places of tourism value.”

The Public Works Committee will agree to hear evidence from Manifold on Thursday, with the majority of members in favour.

Whetstone said he “absolutely” wanted to hear from the engineer.

“I would like to further understand all the intricacies around the cost and the complexity of moving it,” he said.

“It appears it’s coming at a price (the Government) can’t justify. I would like to see more detail around what the justification is in not relocating it.”

Whetstone said he supported Manifold “giving us the hard truth of what’s involved and what the cost would be”.

“Let’s make it transparent so we know what we’re dealing with,” he said.

Murray said he “would notionally support” the committee hearing from Manifold.

“I think it would be a curious Public Works Committee that didn’t avail itself of every opportunity to derive the best possible advice,” he said.

“That being said, there’s also a need to ensure that takes place in a controlled and constructive manner.”

Opposition infrastructure and transport spokesman and committee member Tom Koutsantonis said it was “a splendid idea” to call Manifold to give evidence.

“I will be asking the committee to facilitate that given the contradictions we are hearing,” he said.

“We’d like to get to the bottom of it.

“Surely it’s not beyond our imagination to upgrade the intersection and save this property.”

Manifold told InDaily he was “not interested in the politics in this, however, if the committee want me to present to them from a technical expert point of view, I’m very happy to help the committee in their deliberations”.

He said he had “significant experience” in the area, having moved more than 30 buildings in Australia and overseas during his 18 years working in the industry.

“Assuming they would like me to do so, if I can help to assist them from a technical point of view to show them how the building can be saved I’m happy to do so,” he said.

Manifold said he was “100 per cent” confident the building could be moved without it falling apart.

The Government announced last week the gatehouse would be demolished, saying it was “not feasible” to move the building.

It justified its decision based on a study by FMG Engineering; however, that report states that relocating the building “is feasible”. It details how it could be done to minimise damage to the structure.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Corey Wingard said yesterday that if the building was retained where it is, 18 homes would have to be demolished to make way for the road-widening project, while moving the building would see 14 heritage or significant trees axed.

A spokesperson for the minister said the State Government would also need to do all the preparatory and finishing works associated with moving the building.

“Moving the Gatehouse has significant risk as outlined in detail in the report provided last week and the State Government isn’t willing to gamble taxpayer dollars,” the spokesperson said.

The gatehouse sits on the Waite campus of the University of Adelaide, which is now considering legal action.

Authorities say they will need to compulsorily acquire some land from the university for the road project.

The department’s transport project delivery executive director Jon Whelan yesterday told parliament’s budget and finance committee the cost of moving the building would be “$900,000 plus or minus 10 per cent”.

“But importantly, there would be a lot of pre-work that had to be undertaken by others and post-work undertaken by others,” he said.

The department’s chief executive Tony Braxton-Smith told the committee: “The assessment of the department is it’s not overall feasible for us to do anything other than demolish it.”

Braxton-Smith agreed the FMG Engineering report said moving the building was feasible but emphasised that was “from a structural point of view”.

He said the report recommended that consideration must be given to a number of issues, “which put us in a position of providing advice to government that it is simply not feasible having regard for all of the circumstances”.

“There’s a lot of ifs, buts and maybes in the rest of FMG’s report that talk about for example two separate extensions and the joints between the different sections… the fact the ceiling is in deteriorating condition, the fact there is rising damp… existing crack damage… and that if it’s moved there may be issues..,” he said.

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