Archive | February 2014

BURWOOD BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE DEVELOPER

A beautiful Federation mansion in Burwood is now under imminent threat of demolition following the lodging of a DA to build eight townhouses on the 1853sqm estate. The six bedroom property, at 18 Wyatt Avenue Burwood sold at auction in April 2012 for $2,950,000 to Mr. Zhou who placed the DA in October 2013.

The house was once owned by Edward ‘Red Ted’ Theodore, who led an illustrious career as a Union leader, Queensland Premier and Federal Treasurer under the Scullin Labor government during the Great Depression, later making his fortune as a private business partner of Sir Frank Packer setting up gold mines in Fiji and holding the position of Chairman of Directors within Packer’s publishing giant ACP. Theodore has been described as a radical thinker of his time and has been immortalized with both a township in Queensland and a suburb in Canberra named after him.

The house backs on to the heritage listed Appian Way, and forms part of the fabric of the heritage-rich Burwood area, a landscape local residents fear is being eroded piece by piece if proposals like this are allowed to gain traction. That fabric was tethered a few years ago with the loss of the magnificent Federation mansion Tilba to a unit development – this new case is already drawing comparisons and can be seen as another litmus test of just how determined council are to protect the significant heritage assets of Burwood that happen to fall just outside their rather inadequate conservation zones.

Worryingly the determination of Burwood Council may not be where it should… The council’s heritage architect has already approved demolition of the property. It is now before councillors for final approval, who have received 39 letters of objection amongst a growing tide of concern by residents who have invested significant amounts of money to live in an area they see as a stronghold of Federation era heritage and a charming suburb of aesthetic beauty in its own right.

Former owner Edward 'Red Ted' Theodore. Image State Library of Queensland.

The Cary Grant-like former owner Edward ‘Red Ted’ Theodore. Image State Library of Queensland.

An elegant Federation mansion. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

An elegant Federation mansion. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

Rear of 18 Wyatt Ave Burwood. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

Rear of 18 Wyatt Ave Burwood. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

President of the Burwood Historical Society Jon Breen knows all too well about the imminent danger not only for this house but the suburb in general. “This side of Wyatt Ave has always been seen as a bulwark or protection zone for the internationally significant precinct of Appian Way,” he told Burwood Scene. “Twenty years ago the National Trust proposed a buffer zone around Appian Way to protect this unique and historically important area. Such a buffer zone would have stopped the demolition of a number of historic buildings.”

On the other side, building company Ausray International appears to see this as a done deal, already advertising the new townhouses on its website under the name ‘Ausray Wyatt Place’, making enlightening claims that “18 Wyatt Ave, Burwood is located in the best street in Burwood, it has best combination of character homes with peaceful leaf and green areas.”
…umm, is that one of the so-called character homes that you just applied to demolish?

Ausray International has already advertised the development. Image Ausray.

Ausray International has already advertised the development complete with plastic people. Ausray.

The proposed eight townhouse development.

The proposed eight townhouse development.

Inheritance has joined the fight by writing a letter of objection to any intention of approval. Our associate NSW Heritage Network have done the same. What remains to be seen now is whether Burwood Council will side with the concerns of residents they are meant to represent, or side with a new breed of developer-buyers who are more than happy to invest in the area purely to knock down these magnificent treasures in order to turn a quick profit and at the same time destroy the wonderful local heritage these homes represent. Considering 18 Wyatt Avenue sold for $2,050,000 back in July 2002, an average profit of $90,000 a year was made by the previous owner just by holding onto the property, which goes to show you don’t have to demolish to make money out of real estate in Sydney. Just treat it with the respect it deserves.

Link to Burwood and District Historical Society ‘Changing Scene’ page showing multiple heritage demolitions around the area.

Main title image federation-house.wikispaces.com

Advertisements

CENTURY-OLD STEEL CITY HERITAGE TO BE SWIFTLY SCRAPPED

Some of the last remnants of BHP’s massive steelworks legacy in Newcastle are to be scrapped under a plan by the state government to remediate former industrial land around the ports of Mayfield.

In a move announced by local Newcastle press recently, the former steelworks pattern store, medical centre and master mechanic’s office are to be demolished very soon to allow what is termed ‘remediation’ of the site. The land, to be leased out by the Newcastle Port Corporation to a private tenant under a 99 year scheme is prime development holding and the idea of sacrificing this heritage seems to be another rushed affair following a brief announcement over the Christmas period, and a refusal by the Port to avoid any public consultation over the demolition under state infrastructure laws.

What exactly does this ‘remediation’ refer to…? Certainly the large tract of land occupied can be fully remediated without the need to remove these three relatively insignificant structures. This is not Fukushima after all; the buildings don’t have to be demolished so the topsoil can be excavated and the area steam cleaned free from reactor-grade plutonium…?

Diesel Loco no 35 arrives by the Medical Centre, 1957.  Image newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

Diesel Loco No. 35 arrives by the Medical Centre, 1957. Image newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

The wonderful Master Mechanics Office. Image Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association

The wonderful Master Mechanics Office. Image Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association

Former steelworks pattern store. Image newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

Former steelworks pattern store. Image Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

They were in fact the only three structures earmarked to be saved 12 years ago when redevelopment of the site was first slated… Here they have waited patiently while ‘remediation’ happens all around, and hopefully one day they will be restored and re-purposed to form part of the tapestry that makes up this site. A very important part too, being representative of the former vast empire of BHP, the steelworks which operated from 1915 until its closure in 1999, a gleaming relic of Newcastle’s industrial past. The steelworks pattern store, in particular, goes back even further, being constructed of sandstone blocks salvaged from a mansion that once sat on the Hunter River.

The Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association, a group of ex-BHP workers who advocate maintaining some of the steel giant’s legacy are against the plan. Its President Bob Cook says “The buildings are adjacent to the main entry of the steelworks, on a main road entry, and are quite practically located to be able to fit in with any future development on that part of the site, so it doesn’t seem appropriate to remove them unnecessarily when the use of the land is not known at this time.”

He sees the potential dollar value in the deal as a reason for their removal. “Quite clearly maximising the value of the land is by providing it as a free clear site and that’s one way of maximising the value, not providing any inhibiting potential buildings on the site… Clearly that’s the reason for this exercise.”

Inheritance agrees whole-heartedly, and we will be sending an objection regarding the removal of any heritage buildings on site. We would also call for a proper independent assessment of the site and whether there is a real need to remove the heritage items.

A May 2009 Remediation Fact Sheet prepared by Hunter Development Corporation gives away some of the truth of the matter. It clearly shows that the bulk of remediation work is required within a smaller 30 hectare area entitled Area 1, well away from these buildings, and in fact has already occurred. It says ‘The remediation strategy has been designed to contain contaminated soils and manage contaminated groundwater to a standard that allows industrial use of the site and addresses environmental protection of the Hunter River… The contamination, which is common to steelworks sites, is largely confined to a 30 hectare area of the site identified as Area 1. However, remediation work is also required to the bulk of the remaining areas of the site as well.’

This proves that these buildings, on the outer verge of the massive 150 hectare site, far away from the heavily contaminated Area 1, are in a low risk zone and do not need to be removed at all.

Not only this, but as part of the remediation process to date, two large stormwater drains were created at the eastern and western edges of the site, and the land re-shaped so that contaminated groundwater and surface water would be directed towards these drains rather than into the Hunter River. As can be seen the three buildings in question are on a higher fall of land away from the river and as such contaminants naturally drain away from these areas. (see images below including drainage arrows).

What I find rather strange is that the state government finds no problem with the proven high levels of airbourne pollution created by coal dust from open rail carraiges thundering all around the suburbs of Newcastle, causing respiratory health concerns to a growing number of residents, but three tiny heritage buildings left on a clean-up site for 12 years are now all of a sudden a top priority pollution threat. Perhaps, more than a decade after BHP left Mayfield, and after years of ongoing remediation already, the issue here is just a convenient way to get these buildings out of the way to allow for a true greenfield development of the site.

BHP Steelworks site, remediation factsheet image.

BHP Steelworks site, remediation fact sheet image.

BHP Area 1 shown, remediation factsheet image.

BHP Area 1 shown, remediation fact sheet image.

Area 1 remediation cross section, remediation factsheet image.

Area 1 remediation cross section showing work previously undertaken, remediation fact sheet image.

As more of Newcastle’s former industrial land is given over to developers, so too is the heritage of the city and its surrounds under threat from disappearing, as piece by piece, large swathes are redeveloped for housing and other uses. What remains to be seen is whether these important pieces of the puzzle can be kept and maintained, to at least show a hint of how the city grew, where it found its wealth, and what was once here. At least something should be kept as a tribute to all the hardened steelworkers who plied these grounds for so many years. If all this is gone then it really just becomes another block of land with which to fill with ever more residential housing…

Video of former demolition of BHP steelworks site by Warren Haasnoot.

Main title image: Former BHP Mediacl Centre, courtesy Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.