THE passage of the Eastern District Urban Design Frameworks through Council last Wednesday was anything but smooth – and all for its mention of ‘heritage’ in relation to Toora.
The ED UDF project, jointly funded by Regional Development Victoria and South Gippsland Shire Council, considers the future development of the small towns of Port Franklin, Toora, Welshpool and Port Welshpool, and the rural localities of Mt Best, Agnes and Hedley. These communities were selected for attention because of their declining and ageing populations and their relative social disadvantage.
At a public presentation session earlier in the day, Toora resident Barbara Morris gave some intimation of the fiery debate that was to come at the Council meeting, when she argued passionately against the inclusion of a heritage overlay for Toora, chiefly on the grounds of the restriction and costs it would mean for property owners.
Mayor Warren Raabe did his best to reassure her that the UDF did not introduce a heritage overlay for the town, but merely recommended that it be looked at in the future. However, she remained unconvinced.
“I feel they could impose it any time they choose,” she told ‘The Mirror’ later. “I’d like to have any mention of a heritage precinct for Toora removed. If a homeowner wants to apply for heritage listing for their property that is all very well, but they can apply to Council as an individual.”
Councillor Jeanette Harding took up the cudgels on her behalf at the meeting.
She proposed accepting the UDF only if the reference to a heritage precinct on page 20 of the document was deleted.
The offending passage suggests:
“When Council reviews the South Gippsland Heritage Study 2004 [it should] consider the appropriateness of a precinct-based heritage area for Stanley Street. In consultation with property owners, also consider including features of significant value in the Heritage Overlay.”
Cr Mohya Davies stressed that this did not mean Council was applying a heritage overlay on any property “though this may be a consideration in the future – and I would recommend this. Toora is a quaint town with tourist potential.” She said she was sorry that there was so much angst in the community, but there was nothing to fear as “this just mentions the possibility of a future heritage overlay”.
Councillor David Lewis was not having a bar of this. He rose in support of Cr Harding, saying: “I feel people are being told what is good for them, that is, heritage precincts…Cr Davies says they have nothing to fear, but on the contrary they have everything to fear…It is very easy for Council to lose control of these heritage issues.”
Cr Lewis added that he felt there was “always pressure on communities in these heritage areas to do things they don’t want to do. Clearly the people of Toora don’t want to revisit this heritage issue again.”
Cr Jim Fawcett weighed into the argument, accusing Cr Lewis of “scaremongering of the worst type”.
“Cr Lewis is raising unnecessary fears in the community,” he said. “Be assured that the process provides for addressing things in the future such as heritage overlays. It is appropriate that an urban design framework should reference heritage overlay questions.”
Cr Bob Newton then spoke up, and he was on the side of councillors Harding and Lewis. “The way we’re going about this is totally wrong. Council is totally out of order in what we’re doing. If we leave these words in we will frighten a lot of people. It’s not scaremongering, it is [a matter of] people not being able to afford to do things on their properties. You are creating a rod for your own back by not accepting this amendment.”
The contrary view was taken by Cr Mimmie Jackson. She began by pointing out that there were some who actually supported mention of a heritage overlay. “Some people do want heritage protection,” she said, adding that it was entirely appropriate for Council to mention heritage overlay in an urban design framework.
In his summation Mayor Warren appealed to his colleagues to look at the bigger picture: “We’re asking the Minister for Planning to put on display our UDF after a massive amount of work has gone into it on the part of our strategic planners. This is a wonderful document which gives certainty to the eastern end of the shire.”
The document, he said, presented values and opportunities and ideas on how best for the eastern end of the shire to grow and prosper. He reminded his fellow councillors that there had already been extensive community consultation on the Eastern District UDF and there would be more to come.
A majority of councillors – Raabe, Fawcett, Davies, Jackson, Kieran Kennedy and Jennie Deane – then voted to adopt the UDF – complete with the page 20 reference to ‘heritage,’ while councillors Newton, Lewis and Harding voted against the motion.
Is heritage a dirty word?
Providing some background later to the press, Cr Raabe said that heritage had long been a controversial subject in South Gippsland Shire. He said that Heritage Victoria had funded a shire-wide heritage study in 2002. It suggested heritage protection for certain buildings and trees. It was put out to public consultation and attracted an avalanche of responses, with the vast majority, possibly 1000 people, against it. It came to Council in 2004 and because of the level of angst in the community, Council decided that though it could apply a heritage overlay to public buildings, any heritage overlay on private buildings would require written permission from the owner of that building. To date, no action has been taken because of the prohibitive costs.
In relation to the Eastern District UDF, the mayor said that all the planners have suggested is that at some later date Council look at the issue of heritage overlay. They suggest that because Stanley Street in Toora has a particular character Council could consider protecting it as part of a shire-wide heritage review.
“For that to happen, Council would have to allocate money in its budget, but it would require community consultation…What happened today was that we adopted the Eastern District Urban Design Frameworks and asked the Minister to put them on public exhibition. The public will have one month to comment. This is a very exciting document which has been hijacked by a couple of lines that the [strategic planning] officer would have been remiss in not putting in.”