The fog around Heritage Strategy

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The ACT Government has commenced a period of consultations for the development of a five-year heritage strategy (see links below this post).

Many heritage debates are contentious. Especially when things get complicated given the political influence of the property sector who constantly bang on about cutting ‘red tape’ on heritage matters which usually means they want heritage interests to be overridden as easily as possible.

Part of the tension is that not everyone can agree on what is or is not important in a heritage sense. For instance, some thought that the Currong Flats (later called apartments) were a very significant part of the social history especially as they offered attractive accommodation to those who arrived in Canberra in the 1950s & 60s. The Heritage Council thought otherwise – and so they will soon be no longer.

9e4emOther heritage sites have been lost – such as the original 1927s Capitol Cinema in Manuka. The list of heritage losses across Canberra is very long.

The most recent contentious matter was about the fate of the Northbourne Flats – a debate that was mainly based on a curious and emotive argument to recognise a particular architect.

As with all cities and towns, heritage is very important. It is part of our culture and contributes to and informs us as to who we are today. So if you share these views, you are encouraged to go online to offer opinions and comments about the proposed heritage strategy. But….

While the online presence looks accessible, the nature of questions may cause a lack of useful responses. The issues raised are so broad that to answer some of them could require a full thesis so I suspect many people will hesitate and then find something else to do.

Nor is the short survey well thought out – as it asks you to pick one priority out of so many – whereas anyone interested in heritage would have to nominate at least five of them.

The discussion paper that is available through their resource links on the right is a very generalised promotional thingy that actually does not say very much. If this was a genuine consultation, I would have expected a background document (20-30 page maximum) to have been made available to provide an overview of present documents and processes, what strategies are being present used, and clear reasons of why a new approach or strategy is required.

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A host of other important documents are not linked into the page at all (again, there are links to all this below). The ACT Government has an abundance of documentation on heritage and as anyone involved in this area would know, there are mountains of stuff available locally, nationally and internationally.

The whole exercise seems to be based on the premise that, despite all the research, studies, reports and historical data collected over the decades, for some reason known only to the Minster and his advisors, we need to start all over again.

Having looked through much of the availabvle documents online, I am unconvinced about why this new strategy is required. Not that I do not understand when and why time based strategies are useful (having drawn up several myself).

It seems that the Minister has been convinced to ignore all the years of work hard done by the public, committees and his own bureaucracy and instead has set out on public fishing trip to see if there are other ways to get around the way heritage decisions are made.

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Something is not quite right about all this. But …

Despite all of the above, this heritage strategy exercise needs to be monitored. At some point in the future a draft of the strategy is to put out for comment. If the present stage is too convoluted, maybe hold your comments for the appearance of that first draft.

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Meanwhile here’s stuff to occupy you for many hours – enjoy:

Here’s the Five Year Strategy consultation page.

On that page – before you look through the surveys – check out the box to the right titled ‘Project Library’; in particular the document called Discussion Paper.

There is a dedicated ACT Heritage page – click here – with more about the Heritage Council.

And if you really want to know it all – check out all these available documents.

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