Costigan / Hapless ways of heritage in Canberra

“The ACT Heritage Unit is at the bottom of the organisational structure within the Planning Directorate. Go figure how that works when it comes to being independent,” writes PAUL COSTIGAN

Gold Creek Homestead… its withdrawal from immediate sale was a win for heritage, thanks largely to the National Trust ACT. Photo courtesy of the Gungahlin Community Council

WHEN the ACT’s Suburban Land Agency recently agreed to withdraw the Gold Creek Homestead from immediate sale, it was a win for heritage, thanks largely to the National Trust ACT.

Paul Costigan.

The ACT government’s ACT Heritage Council had decided not to list Gold Creek Homestead as a significant site. For those who observe the mysterious workings of the ACT Heritage Council, this was not a surprise.

There are many problems with heritage under this ACT Labor/ Greens government. The ACT Heritage Council is in theory independent of government. Government appoints its members and it depends on the government’s ACT Heritage Unit for administration.

The ACT Heritage Unit is at the bottom of the organisational structure within the Planning Directorate. Go figure how that works when it comes to being independent.

Also consider how a heritage unit could do anything about wider heritage issues while being the lowest unit within the infamous Planning Directorate. What chance given the common experience is that this directorate always favours the development lobby? And how committed is the development sector to identifying and enhancing our heritage?

For my sins I have read through the March 2018 publication put out by the City Renewal Authority – the “City and Gateway Draft Urban Design Framework”. This refers to the future of the northern entrance to the national capital. Residents identify this entrance as the main entrance to their hometown. Surely with all that, heritage would be a key factor listed as influencing any redevelopment along this major piece of national and local infrastructure.

There’s token mentions of the easy and obvious– the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings, Haig Park and Sullivans Creek (not much to do there). But there is no overall strategy dealing with the fact that this entrance from the border to the lake is one large heritage site. This is probably because this government mistakenly thinks that a heritage value attached to any site or building means that development and changes cannot occur. Wrong. This “Framework” document continues this denial of heritage by simply not mentioning it as one of the major issues to be considered.

At the 2016 ACT election the Planning Minister was asked for Labor’s heritage policy. The response was that the ACT Labor government did not have one and that it would continue to do what it already does. People concerned with our heritage are still pondering the implications of that answer. And now we have this “Gateway Framework” thingy. So we can clearly see that they will continue to do what they have always done – not much.

There is one more mention of heritage in the Framework: I quote “The design of our buildings today is fundamentally important, as they will be our future heritage”. If you have been watching the latest proposals and approvals for towers along Northbourne and within Dickson, there is what this government City Renewal Authority sees as our future heritage. Wonderful!

As I mentioned at the top of this piece, the small win over the Gold Creek Homestead was through the efforts of several people, including those of the National Trust ACT. What is remarkable is that this crew do this voluntarily. From the few people I have met over the years, the National Trust ACT is not exactly a fierce band of dangerous radicals. But I could be wrong on that.

This is an organisation that works, when time and resources allow, quietly and methodically with governments, residents and anyone else who cares to see this wonderful city flourish and grow. Sadly in researching this, I looked through recent years of funding and it seems that our planning and arts ministers are yet to recognise the value of having financial resources allocated to assist the running of the National Trust ACT.

Maybe it is an oversight? Dear Ministers – this could be easily fixed.

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday life matters.

 

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