Heritage Council moves to protect swathes of the Dickson flats

dickson flats

THE ACT Heritage Council has announced its decision to register the Northbourne Housing Precinct.

The Council’s assessment is available online.

The Council says that at no stage has there been any expert heritage view doubting the values of the precinct.

“The registration decision also involves a much smaller area of the overall precinct, compared to the provisional registration. Council has decided to register perhaps less than half of the overall precinct, including a sample of all of the housing types, reflecting the identified heritage values. This decision was also influenced by consideration of feasible and prudent options for the future of the precinct,” a spokesperson said.

“Subject to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008, interested parties may apply to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) for a review of the decision by the Council to register the precinct under section 40 of the Heritage Act 2004.


“Before and during the public consultation, some comments were made about the precinct being an eyesore and a disgrace, and the Council took such comments into account. But it is important to note that assessing heritage values is not necessarily a beauty contest. And the comments reflect the fact that the precinct has not been well maintained over many years. I am sure that at various times in the past similar comments were made about places like the Kingston Powerhouse (now the Canberra Glassworks), and the old Hotel Acton (now the centre of the NewActon complex). These ‘ugly ducklings’ are now some of the vibrant cultural and social icons of the city.

“Efforts to solve this puzzle have continued, and there is good evidence that some adaptive re-use of the precinct is possible. The issue of infill development can also be re-visited. Council recognises that it is possible that there may still be circumstances where there are no reasonably practicable options for all elements of the precinct, and the ideal conservation outcome cannot be achieved.

“Council looks forward to contributing further to the search for the best possible outcome for the Northbourne Housing Precinct. What was possible for the Kingston Powerhouse and Hotel Acton should also be possible for the precinct.”

UPDATE: As expected the Property Council is not amused. Here is their reply:

Preservation order for Northbourne public housing sets a dangerous precedent

The Heritage Council’s decision to list half of the Northbourne public housing precinct has been criticised by the Property Council of Australia.

According to the Property Council’s ACT Executive Director, Catherine Carter, protecting one of the Dickson Towers, alongside one pair of the houses, three storey flats, maisonettes and garden flats, sets a dangerous precedent.

“These buildings represent poor quality examples of Canberra architecture, and heritage listing them is a terrible outcome for the people of Canberra,” Ms Carter says.

“Our primary objection to the heritage listing is not the buildings’ unsightliness on the entryway to Canberra – although this is undoubtedly the case.

“Our primary objection is that listing these buildings sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Do we really want to preserve this type of building for future generations, given they didn’t adequately meet the needs of former generations?

“The planned 160-apartment complex may now need to be scaled back, and the vision for the area must be reframed. We need a new strategic plan which outlines how these buildings will be re-lifed and incorporated into the urban regeneration of the area – and that includes how we are going to fund a substantial renovation to bring them up to contemporary standards. We call on the ACT Government to outline a new strategic plan,” Ms Carter says.

“The property industry is committed to preserving our prized heritage buildings – the Canberra Glassworks, the Hotel Acton and the R M Hope building are just three examples. Celebrating our history and preserving significant buildings is essential as we enhance our city. But holding on to ageing relics that offer little in the way of amenity or aesthetics is not,” Ms Carter concludes.

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