by Elizabeth Handley
What makes the place you live special? What gives it its character and charm?
We travel all over the world to visit places that value and preserve their history, but do we value and protect our own heritage?
At various times in its history Queensland has lost many famous and well-loved buildings including the Bellevue Hotel, Cloudland and the National Hotel. Some buildings are saved after long hard battles only to have the whole process repeated time and time again as the next development idea comes along. Yungaba eventually lost to a unit development, the Regent Theatre lost to a high rise, Boggo Road Jail with its thriving tour business about to disappear for yet more restaurants and coffee shops.
Why is heritage important? Heritage tells us where we came from. It gives our cities and towns character and interest. It reminds us of the triumphs and struggles of the past. It makes urban spaces more stimulating to have the new and the old.
We have entered a new era of danger. Heritage protections are disappearing from our State Planning bills. Professor Peter Coaldrake, Chair of the Queensland Heritage Council, in public hearings on the proposed Planning Bills stated, “We think it is not appropriate that a single unelected official in the planning department can make a decision the effect of which is to extinguish a heritage listing.” He is referring to the State Assessment Referral Agency.
This agency recently decided to approve a development on Toowong Memorial Park despite strong recommendations against it from The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. The Minister, Dr Steven Miles, was powerless to overturn this decision.
Customs House, the three pre-1911 houses at Jones Street in Highgate Hill and Middenbury House on the old ABC site are all decisions by the Brisbane City Council (BCC) that show us that there are no real heritage protections here.
I checked Paddington for pre-1911 houses in the BCC overlay. One of Brisbane’s largest areas of Character houses had so few actually recorded that it would be laughable if it didn’t mean the possible demolition of these houses as we have seen at Highgate Hill. Houses have already been demolished in Character residential areas using Code assessable applications that allow no submissions or appeals about the decision.
Our heritage is reliant on the good will of the owners of the site and the local and state governments. It is the owners who are prepared to lovingly restore their properties that show us just how precious our heritage is and how it can enrich our lives.
Lost heritage isn’t something we can change our minds about later. Do we want our children to ask why the richness and unique character of their city was allowed to be destroyed for disposable buildings in a generic, characterless urban wasteland?
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