NSW Heritage body lacks oversight of heritage items

An audit has found poor oversight of NSW’s most precious buildings, objects and precincts by the state government agency charged with their management and conservation.

NSW Auditor General Margaret Crawford.

It’s also revealed that Heritage NSW is considering ditching a $9 million custom-built management system just one year after implementing it because of ‘functionality and implementation issues’.

Heritage NSW, which sits within DPE and provides administrative support to the independent statutory authority the Heritage Council of NSW, is responsible for the listing, conservation and re-use of heritage assets considered to be of state significance.

There were 1,761 assets listed on the State Heritage Register at December 2022, half of which are publicly owned, and 53 assets waiting to be processed for potential listing.

However, NSW auditor general Margaret Crawford says Heritage NSW doesn’t have adequate oversight of assets and “could do more to promote effective heritage management” among government-owned heritage assets.

“Information gaps and weaknesses in certain assurance processes limit its capacity to effectively regulate activities affecting assets listed on the State Heritage Register,” she reports

Among the shortcomings identified is a lack of data about the way listed assets are being used and maintained, and a lack of guidance for staff engaging with asset owners when screening nominations for listing.

“These factors also constrain its ability to effectively support voluntary compliance and promote the objects of the Heritage Act, which include encouraging conservation and adaptive re-use,” the report says.

Information gaps and weaknesses … limit its capacity to effectively regulate activities affecting assets listed on the State Heritage Register.

Auditor General Margaret Crawford

It can take anywhere between three months and 17 years for a nominated asset to be assessed for state heritage lsting, and five years on average.

The report says Heritage NSW staff don’t have clear guidance to enable consistent and efficient approaches to screening nominations, creating uncertainty for asset owners.

$9 million mistake

The audit also reveals that Heritage NSW is now ‘exploring alternatives’ to its Heritage Management System, at a cost of $9 million in FY22, because of a range of problems including ‘challenges’ integrating with other DPE platforms.

“A transition away from the Heritage Management System will involve some risks and has costs for Heritage NSW. It also represents wastage in the initial investment,” the report says.

Ms Crawford notes that Heritage NSW has adopted a focus on customer service, including upgrading its website, but says it’s unclear how this will improve core regulatory responsibilities.

She also found interactions between the Heritage Council – which has the authority to develop its own plans but no staff or funding – and Heritage NSW – which has the resources – is unclear.

“Inadequacies in governance arrangements between these two entities contribute to a lack of clarity around the expected interactions between their strategic plans … and creates resourcing and delivery risks to their plans,” she says.

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