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Locomotive Workshops heritage – new challenges

EVELEIGH: On February 22, the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) made a determination on Mirvac’s development applications for the redevelopment of the Locomotive Workshops. The decision is like the curate’s egg, good in parts. It sets out a range of binding conditions that Mirvac is obliged to follow. Importantly, it means the community will need to keep up the pressure to ensure positive heritage outcomes are achieved.

Despite overwhelming opposition from the community, the IPC, without examining options or critically examining Mirvac’s DAs, has given the green light to a travelator from a new commercial building car park to a proposed supermarket within the workshop. The loading dock will go through Bay 1, further curtailing heritage interpretation space and derailing the authentic display of the famed Davy press and furnace.

The NSW government heritage body does not agree at this stage to the proposed travelator tunnel as it risks “high adverse heritage impact on the place”. The IPC has required that further work on the design detail be undertaken.

A continuing weakness of the approach taken by Mirvac and the Department of Planning and Environment has been the almost sole focus on the workshops building. This has been to the detriment of both the industrial machines collection, one of the finest in NSW, as well as Eveleigh’s intangible cultural heritage including the social, labour and political history which has made Eveleigh one of the most important industrial sites in Australia.

The workshop was the nursery of the Australian Labor Party, with three premiers having worked at Eveleigh. Eveleigh was a “city within a city”, a showcase for the world’s most advanced industrial engineering technologies with the finest of skilled workers to operate them.

Greater attention in the IPC decision was given to the removal of one tree than to addressing the many issues still outstanding for the industrial machinery collection. This lopsided emphasis is partially explained by the antiquated nature of heritage legislation, which is now over 40 years old and in need of major revision.

The Mirvac heritage plan is staged, with stage one addressing process and stage two dealing with the content of what is to be developed. The IPC has directed Mirvac to prepare a detailed stage two heritage interpretation plan before construction begins. This has the potential to delay construction. So Mirvac now plans to rush preparation of the detailed heritage plan and complete it by May 1.

The community will need to be vigilant to make sure that undue haste does not undermine the quality of the heritage interpretation, and that further consultation with the community is undertaken before the final stage two plan is submitted to the Department of Planning. We cannot be steamrolled by Mirvac.

The community’s powerful oral presentations on heritage concerns at the IPC public hearing, followed by detailed written submissions, have resulted in a number of IPC conditions that strengthen heritage interpretation.

Firstly, the Community Liaison Group (CLG), initially set up to address only construction issues associated with the three CBA buildings, has been expanded to include heritage consultant/s and/or expert/s. Community members with an interest in preserving the workshop’s unique heritage are encouraged to contact Mirvac and become a member of the CLG.

Secondly, the continued operation of the blacksmith’s workshop has been further consolidated by the IPC decision. It was only a decade ago, when the site was government-owned, that the government attempted to close down this world-recognised heritage operation but was thwarted by a vigorous community campaign.

The IPC decision has ensured any retail operations in bays 1 and 2 will require compatibility with the blacksmith’s workshop, which will be allowed to operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day. A negative for the community is that the IPC has not addressed community arguments for bays 1 and 2 to be exclusively devoted to heritage interpretation.

The battle over the Eveleigh Locomotive Workshops heritage interpretation has involved a coalition of community organisations headed by REDWatch, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, academics and town planners. Continuing community participation through the CLG, contacting Mirvac to let them know of your concerns and supporting local community organisations is essential.

Roger Jowett is a member of the retired members association of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.

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