Advocacy NSWNational Trust Ethical Principles for Heritage and Conservation

Following from its inception in 1945, the National Trust of Australia (NSW)  advocated for the conservation of the heritage of NSW in all its forms. It was largely through the advocacy of the National Trust that the Heritage Act 1977 was enacted and that Heritage Schedules have been included in local government planning instruments in NSW. The heritage consultancy industry has developed since then, in response to these statutory requirements.

The industry now performs a key role in providing advice to planning approval authorities in relation to the nature and extent of the heritage values of places in NSW. However, the growth of the heritage consultancy industry over the last four decades has occurred in the absence of any single professional body responsible for setting professional standards and objectives and ensuring minimum standards of competency.  This has resulted in a wide range of work approaches and a diversity of perspectives regarding the role of the consultant in relation to both their client and the relevant approval authorities.

The Trust, whilst acknowledging that client – consultant relationships are important, does not believe that heritage consultants should be advocates for their client’s proposals. Rather, they should provide clear, unambiguous assessments and statements that identify all relevant heritage values and unreservedly assess the impacts arising from their client’s proposed developments upon those heritage values. Such assessments are necessary for approval authorities to have a proper basis for decision-making in relation to developments in NSW and their individual and cumulative impacts upon the heritage of NSW.

The Trust acknowledges that there is a natural diversity of opinion and values within the community (and consequently within the heritage consultancy industry). However, the overall standard to which the Trust, and others, aspires is a collective opinion and a community standard, not any single perspective or personal view. Whilst this concept may, on face value, seem to be undefined, it is a concept with a long history in the legal system and for which there are many precedents. The role of the heritage consultant is to identify, understand and enact a collective, community standard to the best of their ability.

​The Board of the National Trust of Australia (NSW), at its February meeting, endorsed the National Trust Ethical Principles for Heritage and Conservation Professionals, as set out in the attached document. The Trust commends these Principles to all professional heritage consultants. The Trust would be pleased if heritage consultants adopted and/or endorsed these Principles in the conduct of their work. The Trust would also be pleased to accept comments in relation to the content of these Principles.

The National Trust of Australia (NSW) will use these Principles in its own work and as a basis for the Trust’s submissions on the work of heritage professionals, publicly exhibited for comment and will highlight those instances where we believe the Principles have not been met.

The National Trust encourages heritage professionals

  1. to give full, appropriate weight to the protection, conservation and enhancement of the heritage of NSW, with preservation of significance as the fundamental objective;
  2. to acknowledge that the heritage of NSW includes both statutory listings at the local, state, national and international level and non-statutory places listed on key non-statutory lists and that the heritage of NSW also includes any item, place, object, or material evidence that could be considered, in a professional opinion, to be suitable for listing;
  3. to give full and appropriate weight in Heritage Impact Statements to the protection and conservation of an item, place or object, not just observe minimal statutory requirements;
  4. to ensure that, where Conservation Management Plans endorsed by an approval authority are in place, policies and recommendations are consistent with the CMP, unless substantial information and assessment, also endorsed by the authority, indicates an update and amendment is justified;
  5. to make certain that heritage assessments are as accurate as possible with regard to listings and documented history, follow appropriate guidelines and are independent, impartial and unbiased.
  6. to only make recommendations and provide advice within the scope of their experience and expertise and fulfil an overriding duty to assist the public rather than their client.
  7. to recognize that “local heritage significance” means that an item has significance to a local area and that it may be rare and of high significance.
  8. to follow the concept that the identification, conservation, continuing use and presentation of heritage is both in the public interest and a fundamental component of the public interest.