By EVA BAXTER
The Inner West Council narrowly decided against listing Marrickville’s Church of Christ as heritage last month, instead supporting its transformation into affordable housing.
The Church of Christ is the last of a line of religious buildings that spanned 165 years in Marrickville, the rest have been demolished. The dwindling Church of Christ congregation operates Fresh Hope, a charity organisation and community housing provider.
Save Marrickville, a group of residents taking action to ensure that the suburb is planned with community, environment and future in mind, supported the heritage listing in order to help preserve the history and character of that section of Marrickville town centre.
“We also support genuine affordable accommodation but do not believe that communities should be forced to decide between affordable accommodation and heritage,” said Paul Mortimer from Save Marrickville.
Councillor Tom Kiat, a young renter, split from his fellow Greens to oppose the heritage listing, but proposed that the heritage significance should be noted. He said possibilities of how the affordable housing project can incorporate the heritage elements of the existing structure should be discussed with Churches of Christ Property Trust and Nightingale Housing.
Marrickville Library is an award-winning example of the incorporation of heritage into new developments. It has been put forward as an example of how the church to housing conversion could look.
“It’s useful, it’s embraced by the community, serves the community’s needs and we’re not throwing out the old simply so that we can have the new, we’re integrating them together,” said Greens Councillor Louise Steer.
However, Nightingale Housing has told the council it wasn’t possible to integrate the Church of Christ façade or any other part of the building into their design.
Nightingale is building under boarding house legislation and the council is objecting to Nightingale’s plans to build outside of the legislation’s guidelines.
Philippa Clarke, a journalist and student, has benefited enormously from church-sponsored affordable housing in the Inner West and wants it to be accessible to young people in the future.
“I think it is exactly the kind of contribution churches can make to the community in the 21st century,” she said.
“Having a church as my affordable housing landlord has meant that not only is the rent kept deliberately low for the location, but the church takes care to maintain the property and be responsive to the residents’ requests for maintenance.”
Clarke has been an active Greens member and has never spoken against a heritage listing before.
“Councils are going to have to balance the two equally important priorities of affordability and heritage for many years to come and it’s never easy, but in relation to this particular proposal, I believe the right decision was made,” she said.