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National Trust ramps up campaign over heritage reform paper

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The National Trust is ramping up pressure for more extensive consultation over suggested local heritage reforms in South Australia, arguing that “damage caused by hasty and poorly designed changes can’t be undone”.

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The organisation this morning hosted a rare media call to reiterate its complaints over a State Government Local Heritage Discussion Paper which suggests reforms including updating Local Heritage listing criteria and streamlining development assessment processes.

Both the National Trust and the Adelaide City Council last month expressed concern over the paper, including the consultation period. Although the original one month allowed for submissions has already been extended to October 7, the National Trust wants it pushed further forward and for consultation to be expanded beyond “selected groups”.

“What needs to be done immediately is to extend the period of community consultation for at least six months,” National Trust South Australia president Norman Etherington said today.

“The consultation should be launched at a well-advertised public forum with the Planning Minister (John Rau) in attendance.”

Etherington claimed there was no transparency in the “flimsy” discussion paper, and no explanation of who had identified the “issues of concern”.

He further suggested that any proposals to streamline the heritage listing process were really just an attempt to water it down and “provide more excuses” for demolishing buildings.

A specific suggestion that has sparked concern is that one “improvement could involve considering the demolition of local heritage places on merit”. Etherington has previously said that 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.

National Trust CEO Darren Peacock told InDaily that the last time the National Trust hosted a media call was in 2014, over the future of the historic Fort Largs site. The fact that it was doing so on this issue showed the depth of its concerns, which were not allayed by a 45-minute meeting it had with government representatives last week.

“This is pretty serious because it really goes to the heart of the whole local heritage system,” Peacock told InDaily.

“Some of the ideas in this paper are really far-reaching.”

Of the consultation, he added: “Because this affects every community in the state you should have public forums across the whole state.”

Minister Rau has previously stressed that suggested changes apply only to local heritage buildings and not buildings of state or national significance.

Acting Planning Minister Tom Koutsantonis told InDaily that the discussion paper was “exactly that – a discussion paper, not a policy statement from government”, and insisted it had not been rushed.

He said the document was the culmination of a process that begin after an expert panel appointed to review planning systems in 2013 identified “serious deficiencies in heritage practice and recommended legislative reform”.

“In March 2015, the Government said it would separate consideration of heritage from other planning reforms, and would produce a discussion paper.

“On 9 August this year, the discussion paper was distributed to councils, professional bodies, interest groups and other entities. The paper also has been published on the Planning Department website.”

Koutsantonis added that the paper “considers approaches that could be taken to make the system more consistent, more transparent and accountable and less cumbersome by having simpler processes to engage the community, owners and the broader public”.

“The discussion paper aims to elicit comments that would be considered as part of any future legislative reform.”

The National Trust has released its own critique of the State Government discussion paper. Titled “Our Local Heritage Under Threat: defending gains made in Local Heritage protection over 40 years”, the response follows the same format as the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure document, but the attractive photos of protected heritage buildings are replaced by pictures of buildings that have been demolished, while coloured panels feature questions and comments such as “How dumb is this?” and “Give DPTI a kick in the pants”.

Story updated with additional comments after publication.

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