A landmark report which provided strong reasons for wide-ranging protection to the city's heritage was shelved out of fear it would discourage developers, The Courier has been told.
The Sinclair Knight Mertz (SKM) report Analysis of the Value of Heritage to the City of Ballarat was provided to council in January 2007. It had been commissioned in the wake of the 2006 League of Historical Cities World Conference, which was hosted in Ballarat; the Ballarat Heritage Precincts Study written by Dr David Rowe and Wendy Jacobs; and the decision by the Bracks state government to seek World Heritage listing for Victoria's goldfields.
THE SKM report found the value of heritage to the city had more than simply an economic benefit - although the economic benefit was itself profound. The idea and preservation of the city's built past, the report said, was intrinsic to how Ballarat understood itself and develop civic pride.
The authors conducted workshops and a comprehensive survey, noting the City of Ballarat at the time had a number of initiatives in place to protect existing heritage infrastructure, including the protection heritage places under the planning scheme, and the employment of two people providing heritage advice including relevant advice to statutory planners, council officers and property owners, and heritage loans available to residents.
"The significant heritage fabric of Ballarat dominates the overall Ballarat tourism product, particularly with its links to the gold rush and the associated cultural changes that have occurred overtime," the report said.
"Ballarat's special role in Australian history has provided the city with a rich source of promotional and marketing material. The large number of heritage buildings in and around the central business district enabling Ballarat to 'tell its story' through its built history.
Over the next 20 years, demolition approvals may become more common as it is becoming more difficult to control development.SKM report, 2007
"Additionally the cumulative effect of 'streets' of heritage buildings adds to this image and helps communicate a Ballarat of another time, drawing in cultural tourists who want to experience a slice of the gold rush times."
Among the findings of the report were included a proposition for the creation of clear, straightforward heritage overlay advice scheme, with appropriate state and federal assistance; and the establishment of a Centre for Classical Building, in collaboration with the-then University of Ballarat, which would offer courses and advice in heritage building skills such as stonemasonry, traditional painting and decorating techniques, cabinet and furniture-making, wet and solid plastering, and iron foundry work.
So why did this report, with its carefully researched and costed plans and suggestions, disappear? The council's current Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) strategy makes no mention at all of its existence. Nor does the Our People, Culture & Place manual for implementing heritage plans in Ballarat.
Two people with an intimate connection to heritage in Ballarat who remember the report's commission are Anne Beggs-Sunter and Di Gow. Both members of bodies like the Heritage Advisory Committee, the pair say the report came at a time where the enthusiasm for building on Ballarat's heritage was strong - but so was the influence of developers on planning decisions.
"It was (then CEO) Richard Hancock who commissioned it," says Ms Beggs-Sunter.
"But the head of planning at the time had no planning qualifications, and terrible things started to happen in terms of heritage. The heritage officers were starting to get fed up, and then this report came along, and it was substantive. We had workshops on it, input into it."
"It was a huge amount of work," says Di Gow.
"I remember how everyone involved with this, all the workshop groups, were really excited about the report, and how good, how receptive, SKM were to work with. The sessions were held at Hughye House and the rooms there were full of people.
"So many of us, on a voluntary basis, put so many thousands of hours into this, into HUL - all of the things we've tried so hard to achieve and put countless, countless hours into - and then council shelve it and do what they wanted to do anyway."
"The problem with HUL is that it is just a motherhood statement," says Ms Beggs-Sunter.
"It has no implementation in planning. For many councillors and officers heritage was just a nuisance, and yet this study found just how important it was to the people of Ballarat."
One finding of the report is prescient: "Over the next 20 years, demolition approvals may become more common as it is becoming more difficult to control development."
The Courier put several questions to the City of Ballarat regarding the SKM report and heritage strategies. The City of Ballarat said it could not respond until next week.
Read the full report here.
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