The test for com­mu­nity en­gage­ment

Monthly Chronicle - - Local Politics - DAMIEN TUDEHOPE, MP FOR EPPING

The re­cent de­ci­sion of the Syd­ney West City Plan­ning Panel to con­sent to the de­mo­li­tion of the cot­tage at 44-48 Ox­ford Street in Epping raises a num­ber of im­por­tant is­sues as to how the in­ter­ests of the com­mu­nity are dealt with, as part of the ap­proval process.

The her­itage cot­tage at 44-48 Ox­ford Street was iden­ti­fied as a her­itage item in the Hornsby Lo­cal En­vi­ron­ment Plan. I had pre­vi­ously ar­gued that the Panel should have no ju­ris­dic­tion to al­ter a plan­ning in­stru­ment by al­low­ing for the de­mo­li­tion of an iden­ti­fied her­itage item. This ought to be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Par­ra­matta Coun­cil, which pos­sesses the au­thor­ity to draft plan­ning in­stru­ments af­ter con­sul­ta­tion with the com­mu­nity. Upon re­ceiv­ing le­gal ad­vice, that ar­gu­ment was re­jected by the Panel.

Like many in the com­mu­nity, I echoed my dis­ap­point­ment with re­spect to the de­ci­sion that was made by the Syd­ney Cen­tral City Plan­ning Panel to de­mol­ish the her­itage cot­tage. I have al­ways op­posed in­ap­pro­pri­ate de­vel­op­ment, and it is re­gret­table that this his­tor­i­cal item will make way for yet an­other de­vel­op­ment in Epping Town Cen­tre.

In a pre­vi­ous col­umn, I called for de­vel­op­ers to con­trib­ute to the lo­cal amenity, and to make greater ef­forts to­wards fos­ter­ing good­will among the com­mu­nity. How­ever, it is es­pe­cially dis­ap­point­ing that we’ve seen no ef­forts by the owner to find a com­pro­mise so­lu­tion that in­cor­po­rates the preser­va­tion of the her­itage cot­tage into the de­sign of the de­vel­op­ment.

Since the de­ci­sion of the plan­ning panel, many con­stituents have voiced their con­cerns in re­la­tion to the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing those sites that em­bod­ied im­por­tant cul­tural val­ues which de­fine Epping.

In com­ing to the de­ci­sion that they did, the plan­ning panel ac­cepted the in­de­pen­dent ad­vice of Stephen Davies from URBIS her­itage con­sul­tants and Chair­per­son of the NSW Her­itage Coun­cil. Mr Davies found that the cot­tage was not sig­nif­i­cant enough to pre­serve. I read the re­port, and was sur­prised to have read his as­sess­ment that the cot­tage was ‘only im­por­tant to the com­mu­nity for amenity rea­sons’ and had ‘no known so­cial sig­nif­i­cance with the site.’

With re­spect to Mr Davies, I and the ma­jor­ity of lo­cal res­i­dents dis­agree with that con­clu­sion. This leads me to ask the ques­tion: what are the ob­jec­tive set of cri­te­ria in which her­itage is as­sessed that takes into ac­count the com­mu­nity sen­ti­ment?

In the ab­sence of any cri­te­ria, should we be mak­ing changes to the man­ner in which we reg­u­late her­itage and con­ser­va­tion laws? Of course, this may be some­thing we all sup­port anec­do­tally, but what does it look like in prac­tice? How do “ex­perts” gauge com­mu­nity sen­ti­ment? This is a ques­tion which must be an­swered by the con­sul­tants in their re­ports.

I would also sug­gest Plan­ning Pan­els should do more to in­ter­ro­gate the find­ings of ex­perts in re­la­tion to her­itage find­ings.

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