Tilba is the tip of the iceberg, National Trust warns

By Angela Dorizas

The demolition of an historic homestead in inner-west Sydney has raised serious concerns about New South Wales planning legislation.

The National Trust has warned that the destruction of the 1913 property in Burwood Heights, known as ‘Tilba’, may well be the tip of the iceberg.

National Trust NSW advocacy manager Graham Quint said legislative changes introduced under former planning minister Frank Sartor condoned demolition of unlisted heritage sites as ‘complying development’.

“We’re asked how many more of these are in the pipeline, but we have no idea,” Mr Quint told Government News.

“This will just keep reoccurring. It’s like a time bomb waiting to go off all over Sydney and all over New South Wales.”

The Local Government Association of New South Wales has also warned that many more historic properties may be lost. LGA president Genia McCaffery said the laws allowed developers to “completely bypass councils and override the concerns of the community”.

“The Association vigorously opposed these laws when they were initially proposed by former planning minister Frank Sartor, and the Tilba decision shows us exactly why,” Cr McCaffery said.

“We’re loosing irreplaceable elements of our history and culture for the sake of new development and it’s so unfair on us, and our future generations.”

The National Trust and LGA called on Minister for Planning, Tony Kelly, to review planning laws that classify demolition as complying development.

“It shouldn't be complying development. That was a very bad mistake,” Mr Quint said. 

“Tony Kelly is quite a good minister and I’m sure he’ll see the problem that lies ahead.”

Mr Kelly said local councils were primarily responsible for protecting items of local heritage significance from demolition.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Planning told Government News the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) was “very conservative in its application to heritage items”, with strict exemptions on any item of identified heritage significance.

“In the case of Tilba in Burwood, the property has not, at any stage, been identified by Burwood Council as a draft or local heritage item, nor is it located within a heritage conservation area,” he said.

“If Burwood Council had identified the site as having local heritage significance, as it had the opportunity to do on many occasions, including when council rezoned the site for multi-unit housing, the Codes SEPP would not have applied and a development application to Burwood Council would have been required for demolition to occur.”

Mr Kelly said he had done as much as he could to help preserve Tilba, imposing a 40-day emergency order in February to investigate whether it was of state heritage significance.

“This investigation determined that the property would be of local heritage significance only, not warranting full state heritage listing,” his spokesperson said.

“Therefore appropriate heritage protection was a matter for council not the NSW Government.”

He said the case of Tilba highlighted the need for local councils to undertake strategic heritage planning.

The National Trust urged councils to list local heritage items on their LEPs.

“There really is no protection for buildings if they’re not on a heritage list,” Mr Quint said.

“We just don’t know how many more of these – how many buildings like Tilba – there are, because it’s a major effort to go through and work out what’s on council lists and what’s not.

“We are fairly confident that this problem is not going to go away.”

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