Sydney’s heritage terraces could be toppled Source: Wikimedia Commons

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By Peter Hehir

With the pro developer NSW Government refreshed following their narrow win in the recent election, we can now expect a renewed attack on the historic suburbs that ring the CBD.

Thanks to the Greater Sydney Commission, the legislation exists to increase the density of these historic and visually attractive precincts by 35%. With planning controls taken away from local councils and vested in the State Government, this further distances the community from the decision making process, making a mockery of democracy.

As both major parties now have little or no credibility with the inner west electorate, evidenced by the significantly increased margins for both Green candidates in the State seats of Balmain and Newtown, the door is flung open wide for both Liberal and Labor to seek revenge on their admonishers and set about to demolish the Victorian era landscape and replace it with high rise.

The open council concept that was fought so hard for, here in the former Leichhardt Municipality by such working class champions as Nick Origlass and Issy Wyner, has been almost totally eviscerated by the demonstrably anti-people Labor/Liberal coalition that presently rules the Inner West Council; an amalgamated entity that simply wouldn’t exist today had it not been volunteered by Labor Mayor Darcy Byrne.

Was this just a cynical move in an attempt to increase his power base? Does he have aspirations to higher office? Could he possibly be grooming himself to step into Albo’s shoes? Or has he already become a liability in the eyes of the Sussex Street power brokers?

The fact that the progenitors of WestConnex on both sides of the political divide have no interest in the preservation of history – or in the stunning examples of Victorian and Georgian architectural precincts that surround the CBD from Woollahra to Hunters Hill – ensures that many such structures will fall to the developers wrecking ball.

This cavalier approach to Items of the Environmental Heritage was clearly demonstrated in the manner that the Sydney Motorway Corporation treated at least 60 such buildings, individually classified by the National Trust, and hundreds of other period homes, when they clear-felled housing precincts for the WestConnex tollroads.

So it seems pretty obvious that architectural vandalism and contempt for history are core elements of the Neo Liberal psyche. It is telling that the words heritage and history rarely appear in any of the documentation that concerns itself with development.

The worker’s cottages and terraces that make up much of the remaining 19th century housing stock in the CBD ring are ripe for the plucking. There have already been instances of developers attempting to buy rows of weatherboard cottages and terraces for demolition so that 18 or more stories can stand in their stead.

At what point does a suburb totally lose its identity and cease to be what it once was? Where is the tipping point?

Amenity is an intangible thing. A combination of visual and aural sensations, built form, light, sounds, access, traffic, air, trees, birdsong, smells, open space and invested people. Hard to define – but instantly recognisable when it is taken from us.

As a resident of almost half a century here in the Inner West, I’ve seen the rise of the open council format – an approach that was the envy of other areas and its subsequent recent destruction through amalgamation and the cynicism and hostility to residents expressed by the majority of its recently elected representatives.

The concept of grass roots democracy is sound. Especially so in a democracy. Allowing residents to have control over the precincts that they collectively own is fundamental to true local democracy.

The alienation of power is the hallmark of fascism.

I wonder what Nick and Issy would make of all of this? I’m sure they’d be shaking their heads in disbelief. Former mayors themselves who fought so hard to allow ordinary people to have the right to shape their own destiny.

I know what they’d think of Berejiklian, Abbott and Morrison.

And I have a pretty good idea of how they’d react to what the Labor Party has become. The great male moving right show was on the march while they were both still with us – meanwhile the mainstream party ideologies continue to converge.

I’d happily endorse a grass roots campaign encompassing all of the suburbs in the Victorian ring, to implement a blanket historic conservation area, thus ensuring that any future residential development was sympathetic to the existing 19th century structures and encouraged the construction of a mix of reproduction terraces and cottages – at the present density and floor space ratios, with a height restriction of 7.2 metres.

This would achieve the sort of heritage protection and preservation of amenity that the community yearns for and would so willingly support.