Call for tough penalties to restrain developers

Heritage consultant David Helms outside his Windsor heritage overlay home. Photo by Freya Fajgman.
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HERITAGE CONSULTANTS: A call for tough penalties for damaging protected properties. Amy Collins, Freya Fajgman and Tayla Wilson report.

Heritage consultants are calling for harsher punishments for developers who destroy historic properties and landmarks.

After the illegal demolition of the Corkman Pub in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton, some heritage professionals say there must be greater punitive measures to prevent further heritage destruction.

Gareth Wilson, project and research officer for the University of Melbourne Department of Architecture and Planning, says, “a fine of $100,000 or $200,000 is not going to deter someone from building something if they are going to make millions of dollars from it.”

The penalties for destroying property covered by the Heritage Act 1995 are limited to orders to rebuild and fines of up to $200,000.

“The fines aren’t big enough to discourage developers,” says historian Sue Hodges. “I think they should be jailed or there should be very severe penalties.

“You can’t build it back, it’s not the same to rebuild.”

David Helms, heritage planner, says it is fortunate that demolitions of this nature are so rare considering the lack of penalties.

“The fines against it are really quite low in comparison to what sort of money they [developers] can make out of it,” he says.

According to realestate.com.au, 60 per cent of residential buyers surveyed consider heritage listing a disadvantage.

Heritage consultant Ted Woollan says, “a lot of what I do is trying to turn it around so they [heritage listed property owners] can see heritage as an asset rather than a problem.”

Wilson acknowledges that “part of the story of a commercial city [is] that you can’t hold on to everything, you are going to lose some things and you’ll gain other things in response.

“You can re-educate people to appreciate that there is an interested minority of people who will pay a premium to live in a heritage property,” he says.

Gareth Wilson, Project and Research Officer for the Department of Architecture & Planning at Melbourne University. Photo by Freya Fajgman.

Hodges says heritage is not seen as valuable to the free market and that the government needs to legislate to protect it.

“Heritage gives a city its meaning and history,” she says.

Although some see heritage as a hassle, others believe it is necessary for the preservation of culture.

Helms says, “recently people have come to understand the value of a heritage place … people will pay a premium to live in these two storey terrace houses, because they are beautiful and they are valued.”

Heritage consultant Natica Schmeder says, “these really good buildings add something to our city… things of beauty that are never going to be created again.

“The further we get away from the time when these buildings were built, the more irreplaceable they are. Heritage buildings were built to be repaired, so these buildings are renewable in a way. if you do these very small, good maintenance efforts they will last basically forever.”

However, a shortage of skilled tradespeople to maintain and restore heritage properties has made it harder for owners to comply with restrictions.

“There’s hardly anyone working in heritage,” says Hodges, “there’s not enough people studying it.

“Heritage is a sector that lacks the capacity to address contemporary issues.”

Schmeder agrees: “In terms of the materials that were produced, there’s a level of craftsmanship that we don’t have anymore.

“There are buildings being built in the current boom that will reach their obsolescence… some you already see now, they are only 10 years old, or less than that, and having problems… so you just sort of wonder what are they going to be like in 100 years” says Helms.

Woollan says the issue between heritage and development “probably can’t be solved.

“There’s always been tension between heritage and development and that’s probably a good thing. I don’t see heritage as the be all end all of everything, it needs to be debated and thought about in each particular case.”