‘GUNYAH’ STILL UNDER A THREATENING CLOUD
Having endured in recent times an allegedly corrupt mayor, excessive developer-biased rezoning and a rapid changing of the character of their suburbs, Sutherland Shire residents now face the very real prospect of losing their oldest building, thanks to an errant council who seem determined to dig up, sell off and knock down as much as they possibly can during their time in the sun…
Sutherland Shire Council seems intent on pushing through its draft LEP, which will not only raise the building densities of many of the beachside suburbs, but also seeks to remove its oldest house from the heritage list. The worker’s cottage, at 5 Evelyn Street North, known as ‘Gunyah’, dates from c.1870 and formed part of the vast Thomas Holt Sutherland Estate. It is in fact the only remaining physical link to the estate and widely recognised as the oldest house standing in the Shire.
All this hasn’t stopped council from seeking to de-list the building, claiming restoration costs as being prohibitive. But there are a few fishy smells coming from Sutherland Shire’s reckless decision making… remembering council actually owns the site, and has let the building slip into disrepair over a period of more than a decade through total lack of maintenance.
And also remembering that the entire draft LEP springs from the troubled tenure of former mayor Kent Johns, who resigned both his mayorship and pre-selection for the state seat of Miranda in disgrace after allegations of corruption following his famous last-minute Mayoral minute, these are all reasons for concern. He remains on council, and many of his Liberal colleagues are still running the show, such as Cr Kevin Schreiber.
And the fact that this decision contradicts advice from not only council staff, but also the State Government independent review panel means councillors intend acting without any given mandate, neither from the public, nor state government, nor even their own council officers. This simply defies logic.
By de-listing the house they stand to now make a massive profit by on-selling the land as a greenfield development site. Perhaps rezoning is on the cards, as has occurred directly across the road where townhouse-units are now being built. The property minus the cottage would be worth a pretty penny (reportedly up to $1.8 million), considering its proximity to the shoreline and desirability of location.
Cr Kevin Schreiber, a Liberal councilor who served as deputy mayor 2012-13 next to Johns, told Fairfax “As much as we like to keep our heritage sites, … the cost far outweighs the benefit to the community.” But we can take what he says with a little grain of salt. Schreiber himself was referred to ICAC for questionable development approvals and political donations back in 2008, along with three other Liberal councillors including our friend Kent Johns.
Schreiber and Johns denied the claims, which related to 30 non-compliant approvals within two years, but all the councillors were de-listed from the Liberal party at the time and forced to register as Indepedents. That makes three times since 2002 by my reckoning Kent Johns has been involved in ICAC referrals, and yet this character remains a B ward councillor in the Shire still making planning decisions. Is there any wonder the LEP has turned out like it has?
Current deputy mayor Tom Croucher, another member of the Liberal dream team, claims the council can’t afford restoration. “The council has no funds to restore it. I ask it be removed from the heritage list,” he said. Simple as that…
Okay let’s assume that to be true. That they can’t afford it. It may well be… So what gives them the right to de-list the building as a heritage item? Just because they can’t afford to fix it? It makes no sense to me at all, am I missing something here? If you or I own a heritage-listed house, and we decide we can’t afford to renovate it, does it then get de-listed, and sold to the highest bidder as a development site? Is that how it works? I really don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I didn’t think it worked that way. If it did there wouldn’t be many heritage listed homes left.
The clear and logical solution for Sutherland Shire Council is, if they really can’t afford to renovate the cottage – this asset to the people of the area, this visual link to early European settlement – then don’t. Sell it as a heritage listed item for somebody else to renovate, or lease it as a museum for people to enjoy. Don’t destroy the very local heritage you are meant to protect just to turn a bigger land sale profit, that is not the right thing to do. It may sound clichéd but once it is gone, it is gone for good, there is no bringing it back. And buildings of this vintage, in this locale, with heritage links to our founding forefathers, are already few and far between.
I implore people, residents and non-residents alike, to contact Sutherland Council, and ask that they not go ahead with de-listing and demolishing this important cultural asset as it would be an irreversible loss to a community so closely tied with the early European settlement and growth of Australia.
Email Sutherland council firstname.lastname@example.org
The safety fence has already gone up around the house, this is not a false alarm.