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The preservation of heritage buildings and places can generate conflict in the community. The forum sought to address areas of misunderstanding.

The public forum Keeping Castlecrag Special! sponsored by Willoughby City Council and the Progress Association on 26 October 2004 was a great success with some 100 residents attending.

The forum explored the special qualities of the suburb that the community may seek to retain and helped to explain the processes that are used to achieve the conservation of the built and natural environments. The aim was to demystify the issues and correct misinformation.

With Deputy Mayor Terry Fogarty in the chair, Bob Clark of the Sydney Harbour Trust led the session on Castlecrag’s special character using dramatic images to reinforce his coverage of the special features derived from its harbour setting. He covered the pressures for change and highlighted the scale and design of buildings and the need to retain tree cover as the key issues that need to be addressed if Castlecrag’s special character is to be maintained. With the assistance of projected images showing key elements of Castlecrag’s unique heritage. Bob reminded s that what we do no\w will have major future impact. Castlecrag is different for other places, and it is best to build with an understanding of this local character. As Bob said, people who know Castlecrag say affectionately, “Ah! Castlecrag”.

Professor James Weirick gave a most informative and entertaining presentation on the special features of the suburb that need to be preserved. Her reminded us that Griffin had made a gift of the foreshore and bushland reserves for the whole community, and these set a fundamental structure for development of Castlecrag that persists today.

The Griffin Conservation Area is today protected by DCP 16, and this ensures that the significant features of Castlecrag will be retained. The features that characterise Castlecrag are nationally and internationally recognised – an urban character which respects the character of the landscape, allows sharing of views, encompasses design aimed at conserving the landscape quality, sense of community and social connections; and where the built form is subservient to the natural landscape. Professor Weirick observed that a repeated theme in Castlecrag is the way in which roads have been constructed in the landscape; the roads are small in scale, perhaps inspired by the ancient roads of Japan. This is very different to the roads in most other Sydney suburbs. He detailed some of the techniques that have been used to create buildings subordinate to the landscape. These include disaggregated elements of the building, and integration of gardens with adjacent reserves. It has been demonstrated on many sites that the griffin aims are still relevant and possible to retain, that there is a sense of continuity with the Griffin philosophy here; modern houses are still sited so that the bushland filters the views of the buildings.

John McInerny (Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney and Past President of the Planning Institute of Australia) has had a long contact with Castlecrag. He tackled the myths that are often spread about the financial implications of heritage listing.

John said that the Griffins are classed as one of the most important Australian influences in urban design, and there is increasing international interest in the Castlecrag area. He examined the financial implications of ownership of properties in conservation areas and analysed individual listed item – Vs – conservation areas which contain many such items and have overall landscape controls. John said that there is no doubt that a conservation area classification does add value to a property when compared with equivalent properties outside the conservation area. The development controls for conservation of certain qualities add certainty, and the specific and unique environment is valued. The NSW Heritage Council’s publication, Heritage Listing – benefits for owners, states: “people purchase heritage buildings because they like them”. The document emphasises that heritage listing does not preclude changes. Some agents say that heritage properties are easiest to sell and bring the best prices. Isolated (listed) heritage properties may not appreciate in value as rapidly as those in conservation areas, although an individual heritage listing may improve the value and should not restrict the owners too much. John said that development controls need to be clear and rigorously enforced, quoting John Milne “All that makes existence possible is the enforcement of constraints on other people.”

John gave examples of how good architects can work successfully with new buildings in the urban design framework of conservation areas (e.g. Paddington, Sydney). The Griffin Conservation Area DCP is a good planning instrument; its intention is to re-state Griffin’s vision, and replacement buildings can be an opportunity to reinstate the vision, and to correct some of the mistakes of the 1950s and 1960s.

Peter Moffitt (Architect, Planner, Urban Designer, and Castlecrag Resident) noted that the Willoughby LEP lists over 200 heritage items: they are not all buildings, but many types of items. In a review of the list in 2001, there were an additional 50 properties nominated, many by their owners.

In examining the way in which a heritage listing might affect a property owner, Peter said that a property owner can sell, rent and maintain a property in the normal way – no special approvals are needed. A development application is needed for alterations and additions, and this is the process to allow consideration of the impact on the heritage values of the listed item. There is usually no problem with actions such as updating bathrooms. And a property owner can apply to the Valuer general for a heritage-restricted value on a listed property. Link to Willoughby City Council Heritage Listings.

Willoughby Council’s Environmental Services Director, Greg Woodhams then spoke on Planning Controls and DCPs. He explained that the plan-making process is the means to enunciate the values, through planning controls – such as for the Griffin Conservation Area.

Greg advised that to avoid delays, anyone planning to submit a development application to Council should consult the planning staff early in the process. A heritage impact statement is relatively simple and there is a standard format for guidance. When the development application is lodged with Council, it goes through the examination of Council experts, and neighbours are notified. Issues to be negotiated are identified before a report to Council is prepared. For some applications, a Council Officer can do the report and decision. For the rest, Council makes the decision. Then a construction certificate is issued, and there may be ‘Section 96 modifications’ for small changes. Council or a private certifier carry out mandatory inspections for compliance.

The DCPs for Willoughby City and Castlecrag are very good, because there is an active community. This improves the planning instruments through many inputs, and the DCPs reflect the views of the whole community. Link to Willoughby City Council DCP 19 Heritage & Conservation and DCP Guidelines

The Forum concluded with questions and discussion and the Chair thanked all for their attendance. It was suggested that there should be another such Forum in the future.

Lorraine Cairnes

Download the “Castlecrag Heritage Forum transcribed notes October 2004”