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Heritage demolition powers to be stripped under parliament push

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The power to approve demolition of state heritage-listed buildings would be stripped from ministers and main planning bodies and handed to parliament to decide, under proposed amendments prompted by the fight to save the Urrbrae Gatehouse.

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Independent MP Sam Duluk last week introduced an amendment to the Heritage Places Act 1993 which would give State Parliament the power to overturn plans to demolish a State Heritage listed building.

The amendment would override South Australia’s current development approvals process, for both public and private development, if the proposal is located “wholly or partly” on a State Heritage place.

It would give parliament the final say rather than the State Planning Commission, the planning minister or the State Commission Assessment panel.

Duluk said the Transport Department’s push to demolish a state heritage-listed building at Urrbrae to widen the Cross Rd/Fullarton Rd intersection convinced him parliament needed to have final approval on heritage matters.

The State Government justified the demolition decision by saying a report concluded that it wasn’t feasible to relocate the building. However, the report stated that it was in fact feasible.

Transport Department chiefs then claimed that demolition was the best option as relocation would diminish the building’s heritage value.

But a sustained community campaign and vows to make it a local election issue ended with the government agreeing to pay landowner the University of Adelaide to dismantle the gatehouse and rebuild it on the property’s southern side.

A rally at the Urrbrae gatehouse in January.
Photo: Ron Bellchambers

“There’s no doubt that the campaign to save the Waite Gatehouse showed to me that a building being on the State Heritage register wasn’t enough protection from its potential demolition,” Duluk said.

“So this in effect, by my amendments, will mean that should a private company or developer or the government want to demolish a State Heritage building … then both houses [of parliament] will have to agree to that.”

Asked whether he was confident about the bill’s passage, Duluk said: “I think many members of parliament are aware of the significance and the value that the community places on built heritage”.

“This is an opportunity for parliament to readdress the imbalance between development and heritage, and ensure that there is stronger protection for our State Heritage listed buildings.”

There are just over 2300 State Heritage listed sites in South Australia as well as 17 State Heritage listed areas.

Debate on Duluk’s amendments, which will receive less time in parliament given its status as a private members bill, has been adjourned until June 9.

Protect our Heritage Alliance convenor Professor Warren Jones said he hopes the bill would become an election issue.

“It will be a shame if this sits on the table for too long because it is an important issue,” Jones said.

“This [legislation] is timely because we’ve seen potential loss now – for the first time ever in our history – of several State Heritage items.”

The heritage advocate said his alliance welcomed the amendments because they “don’t trust” the state’s planning bodies with heritage decisions.

“The whole thrust of the planning and design code favours development over heritage – there has been weakening of heritage protection both state and local,” he said.

But the State Government rejects suggestions the new Planning and Design Code, which came into force on March 19, diminishes heritage protections.

Heritage Minister David Speirs pointed to the new code’s standards for heritage areas, such as Colonel Light Gardens, where he now has the power to overturn development proposals if they are at odds with the character of the 1920s suburb.

“The Marshall Liberal Government recognises the importance of our State Heritage sites which is why we’ve strengthened protections for our State Heritage Areas through the Planning and Design Code, which will see Heritage Standards developed for each of South Australia’s 17 State Heritage Areas,” Speirs said.

Belair National Park, Goolwa, Hahndorf, Penola and Port Adelaide are among those listed as State Heritage Areas.

The new planning code also includes a single state heritage area “overlay” rather than records being kept by individual councils, with demolition approvals to be assessed against a standardised set of criteria.

According to Planning SA, this includes assessing a state heritage building’s “historic characteristics”, the prospect of “reasonably” and “economically” restoring it, and the “contribution the building makes to the historic character of the streetscape”.

Speirs added that “the Member for Waite is a strong advocate for our State Heritage sites and I look forward to going through the changes proposed by his Bill in more detail”.

The office of Planning Minister Vickie Chapman referred InDaily to Speirs’s statement.

Even if Duluk’s amendments pass, it is unclear whether parliament would use its newly designated powers to overturn heritage demolition approvals.

Jones said the parliament’s decisions would “depend on the political scenario at the time”.

“But [the amendments] take it out of the hands of an arbitrary decision by a government department,” he said.

“Now [the parliament] may decide that it’s in the public interest to demolish state heritage because there’s a key infrastructure project.

“But at least it will be, putting it in a funny way, the will of the people one way or another, not just the whim of a bureaucrat.”

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