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Coalition of community groups call on Premier to prevent Urrbrae gatehouse demolition

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Twenty-five community groups, including the National Trust, the History Council, the Institute of Architects and the Conservation Council, have written to the Premier calling on him to stop the planned demolition of the heritage-listed gatehouse at Urrbrae.

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The open letter, which includes descendants of Peter Waite, who left the gatehouse and land to the University of Adelaide, describes the Transport and Infrastructure Department’s decision to demolish the circa 1890 building as a “travesty” and argues that the cumulative loss of heritage for development projects is destroying the fabric of Adelaide.

The letter also opposes the proposal to remove a number of significant trees which the department says is necessary to widen the intersection at the corner of Cross Road and Fullarton Road.

The groups say previous consultation on the road project contained the “scantest of detail”.

“We write to call upon you to initiate a genuine and transparent community consultation process on the proposed design for the Fullarton and Cross Road intersection upgrade and to explore fully those options that preserve the built and natural heritage of this site and which properly respect Peter Waite’s bequest to the people of South Australia,” the letter says.

“We are extremely dissatisfied with the inadequate consultation and repeated misinformation about decision making in this project from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport. The South Australian public and our heritage places deserve much greater respect and consideration.”

The gatehouse, also known as the lodge, is part of a historic precinct including Peter Waite’s grand Urrbrae House the arboretum. The land was bequeathed to the University of Adelaide nearly a century ago and is home to the institution’s Waite campus.

The gatehouse, along with an adjacent strip of land including a number of significant trees, is set to be compulsorily acquired by the State Government to widen the intersection. The works are part of a $100 million federal and state-funded project to upgrade two intersections on Fullarton Road – at Cross Road and Glen Osmond road.

Both projects are designed to cut travel times and improve safety.

The State Government insists that relocating the gatehouse would be risky and expensive, despite receiving two engineering reports saying that moving the structure is feasible.

The open letter calls on Steven Marshall to run a new consultation process on the intersection proejct “and to explore fully those options that preserve the built and natural heritage of this site and which properly respect Peter Waite’s bequest to the people of South Australia”.

It is signed by the National Trust of South Australia, Community Alliance SA, Conservation Council SA, Protect our Heritage Alliance, Environmental Defenders Office, History Council of SA, Mitcham mayor Heather Holmes-Ross, Friends of Waite Arboretum, Friends of Urrbrae House, Henry Wells, representing the living descendants of Peter and Matilda Waite, the Institute of Architects (SA), Professional Historians Asociation (SA), Treenet, Mitcham Historical Society, the Mediterranean Garden Society,  and a range of local residents groups.

The letter says the decision to demolish the gatehouse ignored the feedback from the previous consultation period and “added insult to injury by not only proposing the demolition of the lodge but also changing the justification for the ‘need’ to do this and seeking to drive a wedge through the community by stating that for the lodge to remain, some further 18 homes would have to go”.

“For the State Government to propose the demolition of a State Heritage listed place is a clear breach of the public’s expectation about the State’s responsibility for protecting our most treasured places. No government in living memory has advocated such a thoughtless and needless act. It makes a mockery of the heritage protection system and your Government’s election commitment to protect our heritage,” the letter says.

The groups have urged the Premier to require the Department to bring a new proposal to the community which preserves the gatehouse and minimises the loss of trees.

“Too much of our precious built heritage and too many of our mature trees have been lost because of the intellectual laziness that demands a clean slate for the design of each new project,” the letter says. “We do ourselves a dis-service when we justify these losses by saying that it’s only one old tree, or one old building. The very fabric of Adelaide is being destroyed by the cumulative losses that we are seeing on a daily basis.”

The University of Adelaide strongly opposes the demolition of the gatehouse and the acquisition of Waite campus land for the road-widening project.

InDaily asked the Premier’s office for his response to the open letter and received a statement from a State Government spokesperson.

“The State Government is committed to heritage projects across the entire state however, in this case, it has been determined that in order to minimise the impact on local residents, further property acquisitions and more significant trees in the Waite Arboretum, the former Urrbrae Gatehouse will not be retained in its current location,” the statement said.

“As the Government has outlined from the beginning, this was a difficult decision and one that wasn’t taken lightly.

“Retaining the gatehouse in its current location would require the full acquisition of 18 additional properties, partial acquisition of another seven and possibly the school gymnasium.

“The State Government will work with Heritage SA and the community on future opportunities to retain the Heritage context of the Gatehouse, and explore other opportunities within the local area to improve State Heritage assets, with an unprecedented $2 million dedicated to support these activities.”

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