Friday, September 5, 2008


A Freedom of Information request by the Association of Concerned Mid Mountains Residents (ACMMR) has revealed that elements within the Blue Mountains City Council, the RTA, the Department of Planning and the Heritage Office have collaborated to try to thwart a Heritage Planning process in order to demolish the historic 1903 Mechanics Institute Hall in Lawson.

The Institute is in the same class as many others with State and even National heritage significance, but now renewal of its heritage status has become a major stumbling block for the gazettal of a Council-approved Heritage Amendment to the Blue Mountains Local Environmental Plan 2005. The FOI indicates that Planning Minister Frank Sartor will be pressured to override democratic processes by removing the Institute as a heritage item from the Amendment presumably to facilitate demolition. If it retains its heritage status the RTA will need to comply with the Roads Act before continuing the widening of the Great Western Highway. However the RTA has an alternative highway plan that would avoid demolition of this community asset valued at $2-3million.

ACMMR requested the documents because of a lengthy delay in gazettal of the Amendment. Members were concerned that there may have been inappropriate intervention due to obsessive Council bias toward unnecessary demolition, and now feel that these concerns were justified. The Amendment is based on the findings of two heritage studies commissioned by Council, which the RTA relied on for its Review of Environmental Factors. Neither report recommends demolition but Council has meanwhile surged ahead with its demolition agenda.

Public submissions overwhelmingly rejected the Council’s “preferred option” of demolition, an unprecedented feature of its 2007 Plan of Management, but it was nevertheless adopted, only with the casting vote of Labor Mayor Jim Angel. Public sentiment for the Hall ran even hotter after Council then rejected, again with the casting vote of the Mayor, the RTA’s generous offer to use its alternative highway plan. Funding opportunities were also ignored, and moves to further investigate these were ruled out of order by the Mayor. This has left the community perplexed and angry, especially as Heritage Funding will be sought for other buildings nearby. As no post-demolition plan is available, many fear the site may eventually feature medium-density housing. ACMMR maintains Minister Sartor should determine that the highway go ahead with the RTA’s workable new plan rather than apply demolition by force to a prime heritage theatre building sorely needed by the community.

Support for the Save Our Hall campaign has come from far and wide including the National Trust, the Association of Mechanics Institutes and Schools of Arts NSW (AMISA) and thousands of Blue Mountains residents and visitors who are signing petitions and letters.

written by Julius Timmerman