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City council outlines vision to be re-crowned heritage leader

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Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor says a new strategy and advisory group will help promote building preservation in Adelaide, following the release of a report stating the Adelaide City Council has lost its status as a nation-leader on heritage policy.

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City councillors this week agreed to establish an advisory group tasked with developing a city-first heritage strategy.

The 15-year strategy will build on existing schemes run by the council, with an added focus on delivering UNESCO World Heritage listing of the city layout and parklands, improving heritage archiving, and expanding criteria to include heritage “areas” as well as individual buildings.

The council will also lobby Planning Minister Stephan Knoll to appoint a council representative to sit on the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP) for development decisions over $10 million that are planned for the city.

It follows the release last week of a council report stating the council had lost its status as a nation-leader on heritage policy and initiatives.

“The State Government has intervened in planning policy and the assessment of larger development in the city,” the report states.

“This has reduced our influence in shaping the development of the city (and) our ability to initiate heritage policy initiatives has also diminished.

“Previously, we were leaders in the development of heritage policy and initiatives in Australia.

“We should aim to re-establish this position and use our resources to chart our own course with heritage policy and initiatives.”

In 2013, former Planning Minister John Rau removed the council’s referral powers for developments over $10 million.

The council has also previously criticised a State Government decision last year to not list nine North Adelaide buildings which advocates argued held irreplaceable historical value for the state.

A recent parliamentary committee recommended sweeping reform to the South Australian heritage system, concluding that a “sectorial approach” to the protection and management of heritage was “adversarial” and “desirous of change”.

In their response to the committee’s findings published earlier this month, Planning Minister Stephan Knoll and Environment Minister David Speirs said they would establish a panel comprising heritage experts and government agencies tasked with preparing a “roadmap” for heritage reform.

“The Government agrees that it is crucially important to ensure heritage and character places and spaces receive the protections they deserve, and that there is better, more consistent guidance as to how these places are conserved, maintained and enhanced over time,” the Ministers said.

“The Government supports the ambition for a contemporary system of heritage protection that is fair, streamlined, clear, responsive, transparent and accountable.”

Verschoor, who ran for Lord Mayor promising to advocate for improved heritage protection, told InDaily this morning there was a need for the Adelaide City Council to “call out the value of our heritage”.

“This is about how we can better promote the value of heritage by promoting the heritage that we have,” she said.

“We do a lot in preservation and we do a lot in terms of protection and so what I wanted to do is focus on promotion.

“I want to really amplify our storytelling and show off the assets of our city with a view that, in my head, the more you promote something, the more people get attached to it, the more you’ll be able to preserve and protect it.”

Verschoor said she would announce who would sit on the council’s heritage advisory group at a later stage, but hinted that the group could comprise city councillors and representatives from the National Trust and SA Heritage Council.

“It’s very focussed on promotion – this is not about preservation, this is not about listings,” she said.

“This is about promoting what we’ve got.”

She said a council committee was progressing with its bid to nominate the city layout and parklands for UNESCO World Heritage listing, a move that has been on the cards since the 1990s.

According to council papers, the parklands and city layout “fit the criteria” for World Heritage listing as Adelaide is “the only city in the world with a town plan that splits the commercial from the residential using an expansive ring of public parks”.

The papers state Adelaide is also “the first example in the world of park lands created and dedicated for public use” and its town plan has “survived and remain substantially intact”.

“We’ve done the first few stages in terms of bringing a group together, working out whether there’s other people that we need and now we’re working through what we need to do to work towards the listing,” Verschoor said.

“It’s quite a complex process and its quite a long process.”

The council is hoping to lobby for World Heritage listing at the International Council of Monuments and Sites annual world general assembly in October next year.

The parklands are also up for state heritage listing, with the council’s associate director of planning, design and development, Shanti Ditter, telling a council meeting last week that the State Government was considering a proposal.

“We don’t see this (World Heritage listing) as either complicating or competing with that process,” she said.

Central ward councillor Jessy Khera described the heritage advisory group as an “excellent initiative”.

“The position that Council has had since 2016 is that we support a single heritage authority that’s independent and where the decision stops,” he said.

“Currently SCAP does not even receive advice on local heritage item decisions.

“I remain hopeful that the State Government will work with Council to improve heritage protections that are so vital to our city and state.”

Approximately 27 per cent of South Australia’s local and state heritage places are located within the Adelaide City Council area, including two national, 647 state and 1850 local heritage buildings.

The council has invested $1.1 million in this year’s budget towards delivering its heritage incentive scheme, which reimburses owners of heritage and unlisted historic character places for conservation work.

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