Australia’s oldest church site under threat – St John’s Parramatta

A rezoning application has been made to allow for the construction of tower buildings on either side of St John’s Cathedral, the oldest church site in Australia.

What is the issue?

The National Trust (NSW)’s Parramatta Regional Branch has been following this Planning Proposal since 2018 and has presented at three City of Parramatta Council Meetings and one Local Planning Panel to oppose this enormous high-rise development.

Proposed development at St John’s Anglican Church, Parramatta.

The Site-Specific Planning Proposal (rezoning) is for the erection of two tower buildings, one on each side of St John’s Cathedral, the oldest church site in Australia. The Planning Proposal also seeks the demolition of the heritage listed St John’s Church Parish Hall by providing a list of community benefits.

However, the Planning Proposal will destroy the heart of Parramatta and create a precedent allowing heritage listed buildings to be traded off for community benefits to Council. The proposal is not only for two buildings but also includes the taking over of the part of the Council-owned Hunter Street to allow access to underground parking via a shared vehicle/pedestrian space.

The basis for the rezoning sought by the developer and their subsequent plan for the site appears to be to build the largest possible buildings on the site to maximise the development footprint, rather than protect Parramatta’s rich heritage.

Reasons to oppose this development

The (soon to be approved) Parramatta Local Environment Plan (which sets out the development rules for Parramatta) states the maximum building height on the site is 18-24 metres. However, the Planning Proposal currently on exhibition for this site proposes an increase in building height to 211 metres. Add to that a 15% Design Excellence Bonus – resulting in a building height of 243 metres. Even taking the Council determined upper height limit of 24-metre in the DLEP, the developer is proposing a ten times increase in height.

The National Trust (NSW) Parramatta Regional Branch is opposing this rezoning for the following reasons:

  1. The Proposal is inconsistent with LEP 2011, DCP 2011, the DLEP and the DDCP.
  2. It does not comply with the Height of Buildings control set at 18 – 24 metres on the site (CBD Planning Proposal – Appendix 2B: Revised Proposed LEP Maps). The developer is proposing a lift of building height up to 243 metres.
  3. Is not consistent with the DDCP’s objective to “generate towers of slender proportions” (DDCP page 18).
  4. Is not consistent with mitigating the “potential adverse effects that buildings may have on a public domain” (DDCP page 18). This bulky tower located to the west of a public space stretches between Macquarie and Hunter Streets and will result in significant overshadowing to an area identified in the DLEP as “Sun Access Protection Surfaces” (CBD Planning Proposal – Appendix 2B: Revised Proposed LEP Maps). This area includes Centenary Square, Parramatta Square, and Parramatta Town Hall.
  5. The development proposes a change to DLEP Schedule 5 – Environmental Heritage list by seeking to delist and demolish the local heritage listed St John’s Parish Hall. This c.1910 hall was a definite part of the Anglican parish’s planning and has an important status in the history of ministry on this site.
  6. The proposal will result in buildings that dominate the pedestrian orientated Centenary Square and dominate the setting of Australia’s first church site.
  7. The proposal will impose an overbearing backdrop to the important State listed heritage item St John’s Cathedral.
  8. The proposal will reduce the useability of Centenary Square by increased overshadowing and the loss of a community meeting place due to its overbearing appearance.

In summary, St John’s Church is the oldest church site in Australia in continuous use, yet this proposed development will destroy the setting that the church has been in throughout the last two centuries.

Hand-coloured postcard of St. John’s Church, Parramatta, north western aspect featuring the twin spires, circa 1906. Image courtesy of St John’s Anglican Cathedral.

What can you do to help?

If this rezoning is not opposed, the developer will then seek to maximise their building area by delisting and demolishing the local heritage listed St John’s Parish Hall to build the 45-storey tower on its footprint.

We need your help opposing this planning proposal – make a submission and amplify our advocacy. Submissions are due by the 13th May 2022. Using the “Reasons to oppose this development” points in this blog, we encourage you to write a submission. Remember to put these points into your own words so that your submission is counted as an individual submission.

To make a submission, you can use Parramatta Council’s online submission form here. Or you can email Council directly with your submission, using the subject line “Public Exhibition of St John’s Cathedral site (RZ/5/2018)” to:  council@cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au

 

The National Trust of Australia (NSW) mission is to advocate for the conservation of built, cultural and natural heritage. For more than 75 years, we have been at the centre of the state’s most important heritage campaigns. Explore more of our advocacy work.

Jane Alexander

Author

Jane Alexander - M.ICOMOS

Jane Alexander, heritage advocate, archaeologist and built heritage specialist, is the Advocacy Manager at the National Trust (NSW).

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  1. I think it would be an absolute tragedy for this wonderful old church to no longer take pride of place in this landscape; and unfortunately once permission is given for two blocks of this nature to be built in the vicinity, one can’t help but feel it could be the beginning of many more similar blocks to be build.

  2. The construction of tower buildings on either side of St John’s Cathedral, the oldest church site in Australia, is an incredible threat to our Australian heritage. It is also a horrible eyesore to all visitors to Paramatta particularloy tourists especially those from overseas who come to Parramatta to look at the magnificent buildings which are some of the oldest in Australia.
    The proposal will impose a vile backdrop to the listed heritage St John’s Cathedral. The developer is proposing a ten times increase in building height up to 243 metres. These two
    characteristics together with the vandalisation of other old buildings like Willow Grove and the Farm mean that Parramatta will lose its identity of a historic and cultural icon of Australia

  3. Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    The construction of tower buildings on either side of St John’s Cathedral, the oldest church site in Australia, is an incredible threat to our Australian heritage. It is also a horrible eyesore to all visitors to Paramatta particularloy tourists especially those from overseas who come to Parramatta to look at the magnificent buildings which are some of the oldest in Australia.
    The proposal will impose a vile backdrop to the listed heritage St John’s Cathedral. The developer is proposing a ten times increase in building height up to 243 metres. These two
    characteristics together with the vandalisation of other old buildings like Willow Grove and the Farm mean that Parramatta will lose its identity of a historic and cultural icon of Australia

  4. How could this even be considered, it would most definitely destroy the historical & heritage value of Parramatta. Also how will all this development affect the foundations of this heritage Church?

  5. These are the same bunch of nongs that knocked down a historic old hotel, threatened the famous Roxy, wanted to destroy a fabulous old home for a powerhouse museum, the current council do not seem to have any respect or care for the great, historic city that is placed in their hands to care for, once it is gone it can never be replaced. So sad, How long before they destroy Parramatta Gaol or the lovely historic cemetery in the heart of Parramatta so that greedy developers can get their hands on this prime land, time to wake up citizens of Parramatta, vote in to council only people that have respect for the great history that only your part of Australia possesses.

  6. No this can’t happen. This area is so important to Parramatta’s history not to mention that of so many descendants of early settlers.

  7. My great grandfather x 4 was married in that church by Samuel Marsden.
    He married the child of second fleet convicts and he was the son of a British lieutenant that arrived on The Pitt in the second fleet.
    It’s not just my history it’s the history of four generations.

  8. This cannot happen, they have already destroyed so much of our history. There are so many Descendants that destroying this history would effect, in my Family alone we have had so many of our Family have been married and Christened in St John’s, so if anything to do with this beautiful church or the area matters!! They have already destroyed Willow Grove where I was born!! Once they start digging anywhere near these old buildings they would be on shaky ground!! Please don’t destroy anymore of Parramatta that we loved
    !!!

  9. The construction of the two towers should not be allowed to proceed as it will destroy the historical significance of the Cathedral, and the surrounding areas of Parramatta, that are so important, not only to Parramatta, but to the descendants of the first settlers to the area.. Members of the council who do not respect or understand the history of Parramatta should not be on the Council at all.

  10. My mother’s family, the Howlett, have been associated with st John’s for four generations; baptised, married and buried. Matthew Howlett, died 1851 buried in the old st John cemetery. My grandfather Percy Howlett’s name on memorial gates.
    I’m very sad. To hear of this proposal. Is nothing sacred?

  11. Nobody cares the Parramatta that I grew up in has certainly changed where’s the pool I once went to , rip it out and change it , my family lived in Isabella St North Parramatta on the same block for over 200 years , my Grandfather had a farm down to the water canal he used to grow oranges but it’s all changed now it’s all memories now

  12. I think it’s totally wrong to do that as it is heritage listed and will disrupt the foundations be doing that and they would be an I sore

  13. Why oh why do people want to demolish and wipe out our OWN history. My goodness Australia’s history only started in 1770, and the first fleet arriving in 1788.

    WE ARE JUST BABIES, in regards to other countries around the world, that go back millenniums . We have enough trouble acknowledging the first people of Australia the Indigenous Australians. Now we are wanting to remove our parents, the 1st and 2nd fleet. Including my ancestors who are buried at ST. JOHN’S CEMETERY, PARRAMATTA. and many of my ancestors born in Parramatta.

  14. Just discussed how we as a country don’t vote our history.
    Parramatta has(had) so much history both in buildings and people the first settlers . I personally had original settlers in PARRAMATTA and I attended High school there. So many memories. Please fight to safe Parramatta….kath Morris.

  15. Tower blocks each side of the beautiful towers of this historical church is unthinkable, how on earth could anyone with half a brain even consider such a proposal !

  16. I walked through the business district once a couple of years ago and saw high rise buildings etc under construction. I indicated there was instability in the area and that they should consider the chance of an earthquake. Taking layers of rock out of the earth to dig further down for stability doesn’t work. Two days later I heard on the news that there was an earthquake in the middle of Parramatta. I have family thay have live there for decades and attend the church regularly think council needs to give serious consideration to the impact on the culture of the area. It is an historical site.

  17. I walked through the business district once a couple of years ago and saw high rise buildings etc under construction. I indicated there was instability in the area and that they should consider the chance of an earthquake. Taking layers of rock out of the earth to dig further down for stability doesn’t work. Two days later I heard on the news that there was an earthquake in the middle of Parramatta. I have family thay have lived there for decades and attend the church regularly, I think council needs to give serious consideration to the impact on the culture of the area. It is an historical site.

  18. Parramatta growth needs to preserve the history as well – my ancestors from convict days were married and buried in Parramatta- respect the environment is vital, history the respect to indigenous people that lived here for people for thousands of years and current residents that what makes is community- tall buildings for money is greed is NOT community is very important or you will loose long term local citizens

  19. I object to the St Johns Cathedral site rezoning because , the proposal to build such tall buildings in Centenary Square would forever change the ambience of the area.

    At present, the area is a sunny, green space with St Johns Cathedral as a central part of the precinct. With tall buildings overshadowing the square and the church they would look diminished in size and presence. Sunlight would not shine onto the lawns and gardens and it would not be a meeting place where people in the community could enjoy the outdoors in the middle of Parramatta. The shadowing on the church would be appalling and the area would become a cold, draughty corridor.

    St Johns Cathedral harks back to our early colonial times, being one of the earliest churches and the longest continuous serving church in Sydney. Can you imagine such cathedrals as Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire or Ely Cathedral in England being overshadowed by an office tower or apartment block? Even St Marys Cathedral in Sydney or St Andrews Cathedral at Town Hall are not overshadowed by enormous buildings. Parramatta’s development should not be any different to these!

    We need to respect the historical value of our early buildings. Already Willowgrove has gone and is now subject to a search for a site. I don’t think that lovely old home/hospital will ever see the light of day again.

    Preserving historical buildings in their context is so important. Building these skyscrapers overshadowing St Johns Cathedral would destroy the ambience and historical value of the precinct and should NOT be allowed.

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