National Trust blasts government’s ‘unfortunate mindset’ on heritage

Pulled down: the Darling Harbour Convention and Exhibition Centre. Photo: Edwina PicklesThe National Trust has blasted the state government for appearing to return to an “unfortunate mindset” where Sydney’s heritage is allowed to be swept aside in the pursuit of profit.

The trust’s NSW president, Ian Carroll, used his address at its annual heritage awards on Wednesday to highlight the peak body’s concerns for the future of Millers Point and to criticise what had already become of Darling Harbour.

Mr Carroll said despite securing listings on the trust’s register, Darling Harbour landmarks such as the Sydney Exhibition and Convention Centre and Chinese Garden of Friendship ‘‘have either already been lost or are potentially under threat’’ amid the billion-dollar redevelopment of the area.

‘‘This indicates how quickly we are willing to sweep away the important heritage of only three decades earlier, contrary to basic conservation ethics, and on the assumption that new is always better – or at least more financially viable,’’ he said.

Mr Carroll said it had been “government practice” in the 20th century to remove old buildings to make way for new development, and ‘‘we seem to be now returning to that unfortunate mindset’’.

He drew a comparison between threatened redevelopment of The Rocks in the 1970s and the recent government decision to sell off the public housing in Millers Point.

‘‘The wholesale disposal of 293 properties as presently announced will, in the trust’s view, lead to pressures from developers to purchase, demolish and redevelop swathes of this unique, oldest surviving suburban area in Australia,’’ Mr Carroll said.

The area’s heritage protections could be switched off if a developer were able to convince the government its proposal for Millers Point was a state significant development, he said.

The trust instead supports gradually replacing the public housing tenants, as their properties become vacant, with new owners committed to preserving the building’s heritage.

The state’s new Heritage Minister, Rob Stokes, who was in the audience for Mr Carroll’s speech, was not prepared to comment about any of the trust’s concerns about Millers Point.

‘‘I’m happy to talk about this, but I really want to think through and digest what he’s had to say,” he said.

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