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Inner West Council pushes to protect historic church

The now closed Church of Christ in Marrickville. Photo: Inner West Council

By ALLISON HORE

The Inner West Council is moving to have a now-closed local church listed on the environmental heritage register to ensure that it is protected. 

In response to the threat of demolition, the Inner West Council are seeking to amend the Marrickville Local Environmental Plan 2011 to recognise the heritage significance of the Marrickville Church of Christ building at 389 Illawarra Road. 

The Church of Christ had a long history in Marrickville before it closed. The congregation in Marrickville formed in 1889. It started as an offshoot from the church in Enmore, the central church of the denomination in NSW, before a separate church was established in 1893. The current building, designed by architect Alfred Gambier Newman opened for services in 1912.

The proposal is supported by an assessment by heritage experts Hector Abrahams Architects. They determined the building “is of significance to Marrickville for its historic and aesthetic values and in the Inner West as one of a group of Church of Christ congregations and buildings, of which it is the most prominent”. 

But the future of the building which has stood in Marrickville for over 100 years is uncertain. 

In October 2019, NSW Churches of Christ submitted a development proposal to the Inner West Council to demolish the building to make way for a mixed-use development comprising 2 retail tenancies, 55 boarding rooms and 4 dwellings. 

The $9 million development would be part of the NSW Churches of Christ’s Fresh Hope social housing program and would provide “high quality inclusive accommodation, in close proximity to public transport, services, educational institutions and local shops.” 

Fresh Hope disputes the heritage significance of the building, saying the need for affordable housing outweighs the building’s importance. The median rental price for a one bedroom unit in Marrickville is $450 per week, according to realestate.com.au data.

In response to the threat posed to the building by the development, the Inner West Council undertook a preliminary heritage assessment which concluded the building would be likely found of historic significance. In January of this year an Interim Heritage Order (IHO) was placed on the property to prevent demolition while investigations into heritage significance were taking place.

Without the property being permanently listed as heritage, the Inner West Council say it cannot be protected from demolition. While the council acknowledges the need for more housing in the Marrickville station precinct, they say there should be a “nuanced approach” which takes into account the character and heritage of the area.

The proposal is currently on public exhibition and the council is accepting feedback through their website. Submissions close on September 4.

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