BY ISABELLE BASTIAN
The unauthorised demolition of the protected façade of historic Hensley Hall in Kings Cross may have exposed a developer to more than simple repairs.
At the corner of Bayswater Road and Ward Avenue, where the 1912 Edwardian-era Hensley Hall once towered, all that remains of the former grand façade are two thin gables and a pile of rubble.
After a heritage assessment, Singapore-based developer Roxy Pacific was granted approval to demolish all but the Bayswater Road façade of the building as it began work on a proposed eight-storey apartment complex.
However, nearby residents raised the alarm that significant parts of the once-protected façade were destroyed as well.
After launching an investigation into the motives behind the demolition, the City of Sydney Council spokesperson stated, “City of Sydney Health and Building officers attended the site on 31 August 2017. The inspection found that an engaged column, spandrels and parapets between two gabled ends of the Bayswater Road façade had been demolished without approval.”
City of Sydney insists the developer must rebuild the facade. Before the council announced the investigation, Roxy Pacific said the demolition was necessary to create space for a new entryway. Now the company asserts the section of the façade between the two gables had been made of wood, not stone as previously thought.
They also claim it was dangerously rotten, hence giving them no choice but to tear it down. They plan to rebuild the section using brick.
Yet neither claim explains why Roxy Pacific continued with the demolition without a necessary follow-up assessment and the Council’s approval.
Depending on the outcome of the Council’s investigation, Roxy Pacific may face fines anywhere from a few thousand to a few million dollars.
Compared to the $21 million dollar project, the maximum $6,000 dollar fine for unapproved demolition would hardly affect the large developer.
But if the Council finds that Roxy Pacific caused intentional harm to the environment, the fine could reach up to $5 million.
According to a City of Sydney spokesperson, “The demolition of the engaged column, spandrels and parapets constitutes unauthorised building work and enforcement action has been taken. The developer has been issued with a penalty notice [of an undisclosed amount].”
Residents of the Potts Point area are angered by the demolition. Like many other older buildings in the area, Hensley Hall had a rich history. The building was first used as a boarding house and then more recently as the residence of local personality Barry Minhinnick, who lived in Hensley Hall for 20 years. He was a familiar face in the community, known for riding around on his bike, collecting rubbish from construction sites and dumpsters and repurposing it all in his “Simple Garden”, which he created on the side of the building.
Full of recycled items, the garden was featured in newspapers, magazines and even on television. After Mr Minhinnick was evicted five years ago, the owner of Hensley Hall sold it to the developer. Now the garden will be replaced with the modern glass windows and balconies of the 44 planned apartments and a ground floor. All that remains of the old Hensley Hall are the two gables and the many stories about its past.
President of the Kings Cross Heritage Society Andrew Woodhouse declined to comment.