Heritage – it’s in the eye of the beholder

This matter has raised its head once again in Hobart, and is now a topical matter for discussion.
Two projects were recently subjected to a determination based on heritage values. The first, the Welcome Stranger development was rejected in part on heritage grounds. The second, to tear down a house in North Hobart once the headquarters of the Rebels motorcycle club was approved, even though it had some heritage value.

So, what IS heritage and how is it determined? Well in many instances it is in the eye of the beholder. Some will say it relates to historic buildings, such as a colonial sandstone building, others will say it should encompass a range of architectural styles, such as Federation, Art Deco and even post-war brutalism. Others will argue it relates to a precinct, as distinct from a single building.
Heritage is governed by a range of laws, from local government planning law, to State Government through the Heritage Council, through to national and even international interests. Buildings can be regarded as being of heritage significance by one agency (eg local government), but not at another level (eg state level). So it can get very confusing.

The State’s Heritage Council maintains a Register, and presently lists almost 12,000 properties state-wide. The Register is explained on the Heritage Council’s website:
“The Tasmanian Heritage Register is an inventory of those places identified as being important to Tasmania, and Tasmanians, because of their connections to the State’s history, culture and society. These places are linked to the cultural fabric that is so important to our local communities, our State’s identity and our tourism industry. Each place has the potential to offer unique and special insights into Tasmania’s rich and colourful history, and countless stories.

For a place to be entered in the Register, it must meet at least one of the following eight criteria, as set out in the Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995:
a) The place is important to the course or pattern of Tasmania’s history
b) The place possesses uncommon or rare aspects of Tasmania’s history
c) The place has the potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Tasmania’s history
d) The place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of place in Tasmania’s history
e) The place is important in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement
f) The place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social or spiritual reasons
g) The place has a special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in Tasmania’s history
h) The place is important in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics.

In other words, the criteria are very broad, and depending on one’s own interpretation, can cover just about any building or precinct. Which brings us back to the two recent matters.
1. The Welcome Stranger development was rejected by Council, in part because it abutted a building that was on the register, and because the proposed development would tower over and adversely affect the aesthetics of its surrounding.

This building next door to the Welcome Stranger is described on the Register as follows:

Setting: This building is a significant element in the urban streetscape.

Description: A building with a hipped roof, central four-panelled door and later projecting gables with battened ends and bay windows.

History: No Data Recorded

Heritage Value: Under criteria d, 59 Davey Street is of historic heritage significance because of its potential to demonstrate the principal characteristics of a single storey Old Colonial Georgian domestic building, albeit with a Federation addition to the front.

Under criteria f, This building is of historic heritage significance because its townscape associations are regarded as important to the community’s sense of place.
Having developed its proposal, the developer then sought advice from the Council’s Planning Department, but it seems it then ignored that advice and embarked on a public relations campaign in support of its original proposal. A part of that campaign was directed towards addressing the present housing shortage, which was indeed drawing a long bow.  That approach was never going to work, and the recommendation to Council from its planning department was rejection, which Council endorsed.

2. The second proposal was to build anew on the Rebels site in North Hobart. The building was regarded as being of heritage value by the local council, but it was not on the State Register.
In this instance the developer consulted with the Council’s Planning Department, and this time Council supported the demolition and the new development proposal for that site.

In summary, it is a rather confusing and confused environment, with many fingers in many pies, and the topic is subject to interpretation. The essential message to be gained from this is the need to consult at an early stage, and take heed of the advice given.