By Angela Dorizas
A number of councils across New South Wales are failing to list significant heritage items on their Local Environmental Plans (LEP), the National Trust of Australia has said.
Department of Planning directives require councils to list heritage items on their LEPs, but at least five councils have failed to list any items in their area.
National Trust (NSW) advocacy manager Graham Quint said some were small, rural councils which may not have had the capacity to investigate and list local heritage items. There were, however, larger councils failing to list their items.
“For example, Gundagai which is a very historic town has only four items on its heritage list and they are items that are state significant and which are required to be placed on the list because they’re on the state heritage register,” Mr Quint told Government News.
He said the National Trust wrote to a number of councils offering support and assistance in submitting funding applications.
“We’re only too happy to help, but it does seem that some of them are really dragging the chain,” Mr Quint said.
“It does appear to be a reluctance on the part of the councils.”
Mr Quint said councils were unwilling to “upset property owners” by adding buildings to the heritage list. Those concerns, he said, were unfounded.
“If an item is listed on the council heritage list often there are flow on benefits for the owners of those items, in terms of being able to apply for funding grants and to apply for advice if any works are being done on those properties,” he said.
“It also directly affects their tourism pull.”
Mr Quint said listing heritage items on LEPs would not prevent councils and property owners from redeveloping their sites.
“There’s a very common misconception that if your property is heritage listed you can't alter it,” he said.
“That’s not the case. You’ve only got to look at the Capitol Theatre and the old GPO in Sydney.
“A lot of the fears do not seem grounded in reality and quite often they are political arguments.”
Mr Quint warned that the exclusion of heritage items on LEPs would threaten the character and history of local communities.
He pointed to the town of Kyogle in Northern NSW.
“They had a heritage study done 15 years ago and several hundred items were recommended for listing,” he said.
“One of those was a very import Art Deco set of shops. They came under threat from a supermarket redevelopment and zoning allowed for it.
“Because it wasn’t heritage listed the council couldn’t use the argument that it was valuable heritage.
“The development was approved, the shops were demolished and that development is now not going ahead.”
Mr Quint said heritage listing does not always prevent redevelopment, but it certainly sends a signal that heritage significance must be taken in account on any development assessments.
The National Trust have contacted Planning Minister Tony Kelly to push the case for listing local heritage items.
“When we spoke about this with the Minister he made the point of saying to us that he’d be watching very closely some of these councils now to see whether they’ve actually fulfilled their obligations,” Mr Quint said.
A spokesman for the Minister said the Government was “working collaboratively with local government to achieve appropriate levels of protection for heritage items in council areas”.
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