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Not all of the protests described in this chapter resulted in conservation of the buildings concerned. The House of Chow building and Somerset Hotel were demolished despite community objections. Both cases were very costly to their owners. The ATO building on the Somerset Hotel site was vacated at a time of a high rate of office vacancies and remained under-tenanted for some years. The developer of the House of Chow site incurred unnecessary court costs and was unable to commence the development for nearly a decade after demolishing the building.
The townscape initiative of ACC emerged after the St Paul’s and House of Chow protests. While the city planners had already been working on the initiative in 1989, those protests demonstrated the strength of the community desire to preserve more of Adelaide’s historic buildings and prompted the Minister for Environment and Planning to urge its speedy progress. The outcome of the muddled politics involved was the establishment of a second Adelaide register, for local heritage, with more than 800 buildings listed. Adelaide’s historic buildings had altogether greater protection by 1995. Heritage values had shifted toward more emphasis on the historic and streetscape significance of buildings, and it was Adelaide’s smaller projects that reflected that trend. In the process, the newly established heritage policies were incorporated into the SA Heritage Act (1993) and Development Act (1993).
When John Bannon formed his first government in November 1982, he inherited heritage legislation he may not have wanted because of his plan to encourage major building projects for growth in a crane-led recovery from economic recession.
Moreover, he would soon learn that debates about historic buildings would not end with the enactment of heritage legislation. Debates about incentives for heritage listing, including compensation for building owners whose properties were heritage
listed, were ongoing. Debates also continued about the boundaries of heritage:
whether the SA Heritage Act (1978) was intended to protect only iconic buildings of significant architectural merit or whether buildings should also be protected because of their historic or cultural significance, whether historic conservation zones and local heritage registers should be added as a second tier of protection and whether local heritage listing should be voluntary. The debates extended further in the decade as suburban councils gained planning controls through conservation zones and adopted local heritage registers.
These debates began to trouble the SA Heritage Committee, in recommending entries on the Register of State Heritage Items, and the Adelaide City Council as it considered nominations for listing on its register and later during its townscape campaign. While parliament and ACC were committed to protecting the built heritage by 1986, the boundaries of heritage listing remained contested and they Adelaide Review, January 1992, p.5.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide divided ACC into pro-heritage and pro-development factions for the remainder of the millennium and beyond. These debates are still not fully resolved, as changing governments profess differing heritage values.
The pro-development faction of ACC comprised developers and businessmen who, with their supporters, upheld the right of property owners to develop their properties as they wished, more or less within the principles and guidelines of the City of Adelaide Plan (or whatever deviation from the Plan ACC could be persuaded to approve). Their supporters consisted of the Building Owners and Managers Association, the short-lived Property Owners and Ratepayers Association (1992) that formed to oppose the townscape initiative, development companies and often leaders of the Institute of Architects and financial institutions, as well as businesspeople of all kinds. They wanted certainty of development for the future growth of Adelaide. They believed the Register of City of Adelaide Heritage Items would provide that certainty because all buildings not on the register would be available for redevelopment. Many also maintained that the register should be limited to about 150 iconic buildings.
The faction’s leaders in and out of ACC described Adelaide as a ‘parochial backwater’ for which modernisation was overdue, claiming their development proposals would benefit the city. They attacked heritage activists for wanting to ‘place a glass dome over Adelaide’,2 making it a ‘museum city’ that would permit no new buildings if demolition of old stock were involved.
The pro-heritage faction and heritage activists outside ACC wanted to preserve more than Adelaide’s architectural icons. They wanted to preserve the traditional built character of Adelaide. The activists and heritage protectionists included Aurora Heritage Action, Inc., the National Trust (SA Branch), the Conservation Council of SA, the Civic Trust of SA, the Royal Australian Planning Institute, residents’ associations and ad hoc groups. While architect John Chappel claimed that Adelaide’s character comprised copies of second-rate English buildings, ‘the architectural mediocrity of the past century’ (overlooking the vernacular bluestone villas with verandahs inspired by India), heritage protectionists asserted that Adelaide’s Victorian and Edwardian style constituted its built character and that this character was worth preserving. They asked why imitation Victorian buildings should be accepted, as had become a trend in residential areas, when the original building could be restored Premier Bannon first used the phrase ‘environmental extremists who … want to put Adelaide under some imaginary perspex dome’ in a 1984 speech at a Chamber of Commerce and Industry dinner (News, 5 November 1984, p.6), and the ‘glass dome’ metaphor was used frequently by development spokesmen in the following years.
Conclusionand/or modified and retained. Further, the modern structures that were replacing the city’s character were themselves often second-rate generic buildings, the products of speculative developers concerned more with financial returns than with architectural quality in both the residential and commercial sectors. Heritage advocates asserted the right of the community to preserve its urban landscape for the benefit of future generations, a right that they believed superseded private property rights. They claimed they were not anti-development but advocated good building design that would complement Adelaide’s historic character.
The financial reforms of the Hawke government from 1983 advanced the speculative boom that occurred in the late 1980s. Insurance companies, superannuation funds and government financial institutions had joined large development companies and individual developers in property investment even before the major share market downturn of 1987, and more intensely thereafter. Managers of banks and financial institutions, unrestrained by reserve requirements or other restrictions on lending, lent capital freely, not to say recklessly, in a highly competitive market, mostly for office buildings. Interest rates soared and there was soon a vast oversupply of office space. Vacancy rates rose above 20 per cent by 1990. The boom was finance driven and ended by 1991 primarily because of an oversupply of office space that lowered property values and secondarily because of rising interest rates and foreclosures as speculators defaulted. Several development companies were forced into liquidation when they could not repay their loans on property which they could not lease or sell and which declined rapidly in value. The history of Kingsmead and Belmont House, the REMM-Myer development and the ‘House of Chow’ building, among other projects, illustrates the changing fortunes of property developers during this period. All states, through their government banks, along with corporate and private investors, suffered enormous financial losses that they might have avoided if lending had been regulated during the building boom. The downturn might not have been so severe or might not have occurred at all had the banks been more prudent in their lending practices instead of this small-scale version of the global financial crisis that erupted in 2007. The demands of AHA and the SA Mixed Business Association for evidence of capacity to finance a project and an economic impact assessment of a project have never been implemented, like many calls for tightening of planning legislation that remain unheeded.
Pressure on all governments by developers would have been intense in the late 1980s, much more so than previously, as developers gained easy access to finance for building projects. The state government promoted the ASER project in North Terrace, the State Bank Centre in Currie St and the REMM-Myer project at Rundle Heritage Politics in Adelaide Mall, financed through SASFIT, SAFA, SGIC, and/or the State Bank, despite the loss of heritage those projects entailed. The projects I describe in this book show how heritage politics were played, with the Premier and his Minister (or the State Heritage Branch manager acting with the Minister’s delegated authority) exercising power over bureaucratic structures in the state government, and with the elected members of ACC rejecting recommendations of its planning staff in favour of development proposals that did not comply with principles or desired future character statements in the City of Adelaide Plan. For example, as chapter 6 describes, ACC willingly approved several development proposals for the East End Market sites even though these projects would have breached recommendations of the conservation study for the site and extended considerably above the plot ratios provided in the City of Adelaide Plan. At that time, third parties had no appeal rights, so decisions of ACC and City of Adelaide Planning Commission favourable to developers were final. On the other hand, in several cases in which ACC refused demolition of unlisted historic buildings, the buildings were later heritage listed, among them St Paul’s Church and Gawler Chambers, as heritage values evolved.
Heritage politics in ACC took a nasty turn after its planners commenced their ‘townscape initiative’. Heritage values had shifted toward greater emphasis on the historic and streetscape significance of buildings, and townscape protection of selected groups of buildings that contributed to Adelaide’s character reflected that trend. The initiative would have been implemented under rules that were less stringent than those rules for buildings listed on a heritage register. It would have been a method for maintaining the built character of the city, ‘its cultural soul’ according to former Premier Don Dunstan, who supported the initiative, not unlike the schemes for historic (conservation) zones that were approved under the Planning Act (1982) for suburban districts from 1989. In 1989, city planners recommended for townscape listing the unlisted and surviving buildings contained in the 1982 DMS Character Study plus about 400 additional buildings that were later deemed to meet the criteria.
Had the initiative been limited to those 1200 buildings, ACC may have approved the proposal. However, following the public display of the initiative in 1989–90, individuals and lobby groups recommended more than a thousand additional buildings. These were compiled into a Townscape II list, but after considerable debate, ACC removed two-thirds of the buildings from the list l because they were lower than the maximum height limits specified in the Plan for their precinct and thus had development potential. For example, ACC removed cohesive rows of single-storey Victorian cottages and houses in small streets from the list because the desired future character for their precincts permitted four-storey buildings. ACC disregarded its
Conclusionheritage values. Townscape listing would have limited the development potential of the sites and their owners might have claimed compensation.
Before the second public display of the townscape initiative in 1990–91, ACC’s pro-development faction under the leadership of Councillor Henry Ninio instigated a public propaganda campaign denigrating the proposal, and they waged weekly battles against it in council meetings. While this campaign failed to engender the desired public response, it successfully created the impression of a dysfunctional council, prompting Minister for Local Government Greg Crafter to step in to resolve the matter, in a move that demonstrated the state’s ultimate control over ACC. He established a special city/state forum in 1992 to assess the townscape initiative, expressing grave concern about its effect on Adelaide’s property values. Professor of Planning Raymond Bunker of the University of South Australia chaired the forum.
It comprised four representatives of the state government, all of whom opposed the townscape initiative, and four representatives of ACC, only two of whom supported it. Not surprisingly, the forum rejected the townscape initiative and favoured a local heritage register in its place. It then drafted criteria for identifying local heritage throughout the state. In December 1992, ACC yielded to the Minister’s recommendation for a second Adelaide heritage register.
Having resolved the conflicts over the townscape initiative, in 1993 the Minister established an independent review panel to consider some 350 objections to local heritage listing by Adelaide property owners. Despite the panel’s findings that only 37 of the properties not be listed, Lord Mayor Henry Ninio insisted that all 350 buildings remain off the register. Because the state government could not enforce local heritage listing, ACC’s preferred list was accepted and the Adelaide policy of voluntary listing of local heritage (only with the owner’s consent) was born.
Several residential buildings that met the criteria for local heritage listing according to the panel but were not listed because of the owners’ objections, have subsequently been demolished, and some listed buildings have been subsequently delisted at their owners’ request. The debate over voluntary listing was repeated after a North Adelaide heritage study undertaken in 2003 recommended additions to the local heritage register as well as an historic (conservation) zone for the area. ACC recommended that 142 new local heritage places be listed on the basis of the study, but upheld its policy of voluntary listing and refused to recommend 54 buildings after their owners had objected to listing. The Minister resolved the matter the following year by listing the 33 remaining buildings that had not been demolished in the interim.
ACC approved the zone, which recognises the historic character and heritage values of North Adelaide, in 2008.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide As the debate on townscape protection was heating up, the South Australian government initiated a State Planning Review in 1991 to examine all planning legislation in the state through a complex process of public consultations. The review aimed to establish an integrated and streamlined planning system with statewide planning objectives, as outlined in its draft report 2020 Vision: a planning system.
The legislative outcome was the SA Development Act (1993), which replaced the City of Adelaide (Development Control) Act and several other Acts, to bring planning in Adelaide into line with other council areas in South Australia. The 1991–96 City of Adelaide Plan became the Development Plan for Adelaide under the new Act.
The Development Assessment Commission (DAC) replaced the State Planning Commission and the City of Adelaide Planning Commission. The Minister appointed DAC’s membership, which did not include representation of ACC. A Local Heritage Advisory Committee was established as a sub-committee of DAC, a formal process developed during the townscape review period. Local heritage and character protection through conservation zones were deemed forms of development control covered by the Development Act, not the Heritage Act, because they were outside the purview of the state government. These Acts were the final mark of the Bannon government on planning in South Australia.
The Development Act did not radically change the state planning system, except
in the following ways: