By Emily Contador-Kelsall & Joe Bourke
The National Trust of Australia has voiced their concern over the loss of national history as the NSW government sells off Millers Point housing without adequate heritage protection.
Millers Point is the oldest surviving urban area in Australia, with some buildings dating back to the 1820s.
Director of Advocacy at the National Trust of Australia (NSW), Graham Quint, said Millers Point is of national significance and new owners weren’t taking the heritage permission seriously.
“We believe it’s much too big a risk to simply sell the properties outright without proper bonds in place,” he said.
“The problem at the moment is that three of the places have stop work orders on them, so obviously unauthorised works are taking place.”
Heritage expert Phillip Jenkyn said the point the trust was making was valid but that significant heritage assets shouldn’t be sold out of the public domain.
“It’s typical of governments that do not have any forward thinking, and the community does. The community has children, and they have grand-children, and they are always looking forward,” he said.
“These properties have been there since the 1820s; they are part of our history and our heritage. The Rocks is one of the most important areas in the nation, having been fought for by Jack Mundey and a whole host of people to preserve it.”
Brian Scarsbrick, CEO of the trust said they are “deeply alarmed” at the damage facing the 293 State heritage listed properties.
The National Trust said they were not against the sale of Millers Point properties but opposed the “inadequate conditions” and “manner of sale which fails to protect the heritage values of the properties”.
According to Housing NSW’s report “Millers Point Conservation Management Guidelines”, under the Sydney Local Environmental Plan 2005, development applications for Millers Point property owned by Housing NSW require a Heritage Impact Statement (HIS).
“A heritage consultant will need to prepare the HIS, which will identify the heritage significance of the property and describe the impact of the proposal on that heritage significance.”
Mr Jenkyn said as a nation, Australia undervalues its heritage and history and it “greatly diminishes us as a people to do that and diminishes this government to do that”.
“It wasn’t the Liberals who fought for the Rocks…here you’ve got again a Liberal government weak on heritage, weak on heritage protection,” he said.
“The governments of both political persuasions have been castrating the heritage office and heritage protections.”
A City of Sydney spokesperson said the NSW Heritage Council asked the City to review the area’s planning controls following the NSW government’s decision to sell 293 government-owned and heritage-listed properties.
“The proposed changes to the controls will provide consistency and certainty for future home owners in Millers Point, while further protecting the area’s irreplaceable heritage,” the spokesperson said.
“They are designed to protect these buildings as they move into private ownership.”
The Central Sydney Planning Committee — a joint City of Sydney and NSW Government planning body — supported the changes.
The National Trust is not only concerned about the destruction of the physical heritage of the area, but sees Millers Point’s social heritage endangered as well.
Mr Quint said the people living at Millers Point were the descendants of the early people who worked on the harbour, and “a lot of the building there was actually built for them.”
“They are part of the social significance of the area, and they are actually recognised in the state listing, so to be moving those people out, evicting them, is actually against the social significance of the area,” he said.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the inner city needed more social and affordable housing or “Sydney’s famous egalitarianism will be destroyed”.
“The inner city will become an enclave for the wealthy,” she said.
To protect the history at Millers Point, the trust is calling on political parties to make clear their policy on the protection and conservation of Millers Point and suggested “99 year leases”.
“These properties could easily be sold on 99 year leases which would involve purchasers being contractually obligated to protect the properties’ heritage values.They should remain ‘in the public estate’ and return to the Government in 99 years at massively increased values,” Mr Scarsbrick said.
Mr Jenkyn said he expected a movement similar to the 1960s Green Bans would rise in response to the government selling off Millers Point.
“The public usually takes a while for things to seep in because there is so much information and misinformation out there…so things don’t catch on immediately,” he said.
“But when things start to turn, they start to turn, and there is a real turn against this government, because they have put communities under enormous stress over the past two years and more, over their amalgamation threat and their poor planning threat.”