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Heritage advocates warn of development plan loophole


Adelaide City councillors and heritage experts have warned a loophole in the city development plan could encourage property owners to allow local heritage-listed buildings to run to ruin.

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The Adelaide City Council Assessment Panel has voted to hold off from approving the demolition of a pair of dilapidated local heritage listed houses at 306 Gilbert Street after it was argued approval could prompt property developers to neglect heritage buildings in the pursuit for vacant land.

A structural assessment report for 306 Gilbert Street stated the circa-1900 bluestone semi-attached houses had dilapidated to a “seriously unsound” condition, with extensive cracking, internal damage and collapsed walls warranting demolition of the building.

But the Assessment Panel decided on Monday to hold off on granting immediate approval for the building’s demolition, instead instructing council to conduct an independent structural assessment of the property.

Panel member and councillor Anne Moran said approving the demolition of the building could lead to a “planned decay of heritage buildings” from savvy property owners wanting to cash in on vacant city land.

While stressing that she wasn’t accusing the owner of the Gilbert Street houses of doing any such thing, she said the case could set a precedent for others.

“A listed house is a listed house in my mind,” Moran told the panel.

“I just think that we need to keep in mind that a lot of owners will leave buildings to ruin on purpose and I’m not absolutely saying that this owner has done it, but that’s why our heritage incentive scheme is there.

“I always hate the fact that someone can put a plan up… and if the plan’s nice enough and swanky enough then they can ignore the listing.

“This is just another way – I’m not saying this person is – but, it’s an easy way to get around it and I think it should be hard to get around heritage listing.”

According to council documents, there is scope in the Adelaide City Development Plan for local heritage-listed buildings to be demolished if they are sufficiently distressed or diminished and are no longer capable of adequately representing their heritage value.

SA Heritage Council chair Keith Conlon said the 306 Gilbert Street case was an example of why State Government should reform the heritage legislation to streamline state and local heritage listings in the one Act.

State and local heritage assessments and listings are currently regulated under different Acts, with state heritage listings falling under the Heritage Places Act and local listings classified under the Development Act.

“The protection of local heritage buildings needs to be clearer and more transparent,” Conlon told InDaily.

“We have a system that is more difficult to work at a local heritage level.”

In its submission to State Parliament’s current inquiry into heritage, the SA Heritage Council warned South Australia could face a “decay of social and neighbourhood culture” resulting from allowances for heritage property demolition in development plans.

“While the Heritage Places Act establishes obligations to maintain heritage places, and penalties for failing to do so, no such mechanisms are provided for Local Heritage places,” the submission states.

“Demolition controls of Local Heritage places within Development Plans are stringent. Most, however, include allowances based on poor condition or economic viability to rehabilitate.

“Collectively, this has regularly incentivised property owners to allow their properties to fall into disrepair in order to meet these provisions.”

The submission goes on to state the processes under the Heritage Places Act and Development Act are “vastly different”.

“This has been a source of notable inconsistencies that have created an ongoing legacy of inefficiency and uncertainty,” the submission states.

“These inconsistencies have often tarnished the reputation of heritage in the community.”

North ward councillor Phil Martin said the State Government and the National Trust needed to work with the council to develop a better grading, protection and maintenance system for preserving historic and heritage buildings.

He said 306 Gilbert Street shouldn’t have reached a point where the council was actively considering its demolition.

“There has to be a better system so that local government can intervene before another historic house is lost to this mess,” he said.

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