The NSW Government is preparing to walk away from another significant heritage precinct in Goulburn, the police station buildings in Sloane Street.
Once police vacate the buildings and move to their new $25 million site next year at the NSW Police Academy, the Government will investigate future uses including appointing a Crown Land manager or advertising for alternative uses of the old station.
In a letter, Minister for Lands and Water Kevin Anderson said protecting heritage values would be an important aspect of future use. This is nonsense. If the State Government were that concerned about heritage values, it would not leave the building in the first place. Old buildings need to be occupied and regularly updated.
Then Minister for the Arts Don Harwin said as much in a preamble last year to a review of the NSW Heritage Act.
“We know that the best way to keep our heritage alive is to use and reuse it,” he said.
First introduced more than 40 years ago, the NSW Heritage Act has not been reviewed since 2007 and there have been no major reforms since 1999. But even with an updated act and more support for the owners of heritage buildings, the State Government needs to show leadership by retaining and maintaining its stock of old buildings, rather than use them as mere photo opportunities.
Instead of looking after its heritage assets in Goulburn, the Government vacates and sells off historic buildings. It then builds shiny new ones so politicians can have photo opportunities with shovels turning the first sods and cutting ribbons when the buildings are opened (preferably around election time).
Quite often the historic buildings the Government (and other institutions) withdraws from are significant structures needing any prospective private owners to risk a lot of money to buy, renovate and upgrade them.
The police station is on a large central site on the corner of Sloane and Clifford streets. Before police arrived, a weatherboard convict hospital opened there in 1834, then a second charity hospital was built next to it in 1849 and upgraded in 1881-82.
Police acquired the land in 1907 and government architect Walter Liberty Vernon designed the Federation Queen Anne building, which opened about 1910. According to its heritage listing, the building is historically and socially important, in conjunction with the adjoining police buildings, for its long and continuous association with the provision of police services in the local area.
Vernon was also the architect of the Kenmore Hospital buildings, which the NSW Government offloaded in 2005 for $3m. Their deterioration ever since underlines the problem with governments walking away from their responsibility to the city’s unique heritage.
Successive owners of Kenmore have sat on the land and done little while the buildings have been pilfered, vandalised, torched and smashed. Two years ago, Region Media reported a fire was started in the old chapel, rare Australian cedar doors and stained-glass windows were smashed, and slate tiles on the roofs were broken, cracked and letting in rainfall. Marble fireplace surrounds were either stolen or taken away.
Recently Heritage NSW executive director Sam Kidman replied to a letter from Goulburn Heritage Group’s Doug Rawlinson, who raised several concerns, including the appalling state of Kenmore. Mr Kidman said the Heritage Minister’s responsibility for places such as Kenmore Hospital did not go beyond oversight of minimum standards of maintenance and repair.
But even those minimum standards are not being maintained. Since Mr Rawlinson raised the issue, the Minister, James Griffin, visited Kenmore and huffed and puffed that it was unacceptable to have the heritage-listed former hospital village in its current state.
“There are questions to be asked on what they’re not doing out there and I’ll be working with Heritage NSW to ensure that every regulatory tool we have is brought to bear in an effort to have that site cared for,” he said, while availing himself of a photo opportunity with local MP Wendy Tuckerman outside St Saviour’s Cathedral and Kenmore.
We have heard all these undertakings before, from Ms Tuckerman, federal Hume MP Angus Taylor and former premier Bob Carr. Their words all add up to inadequate protection for Kenmore. Now another heritage asset, a marker of our European history that contributes to Goulburn’s unique character today, will face a risky change of ownership.