News Response to Sunday Age article regarding Como – 18 May

A Response to "The Sunday Age" article - 18 May 2014

The Chairman of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) , Dr Graeme L Blackman, offers his response to "The Sunday Age" article, 18 May, which raised issues concerning Como's future.



To all members of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) from the Chairman

Article in the Age May 18th 2014

Many of you will have read an article in the Age on Sunday 18 May entitled “Como House under threat of carve up.” I thought I should make a few comments to you on the situation of Como at present and to reassure you that the Board is working hard to secure the future of Como and its wonderful gardens.

The recent work of the Board, management, staff, members and friends of the Trust is beginning to show results. The new cafe operation has become very popular indeed with visitors now often having to wait to secure a table. The grounds are now open for free access to encourage visitors and the site has become very popular once again. We have held a number of successful events this year, and we recently held a major volunteering day at the site which attracted support from 120 local residents and members.

On the broader issue of the sustainability of the Trust, I am pleased to report that this year, the Trust is set to make an operational profit for the first time in many years, because of the changes we have introduced. Como is not under any threat if we can deliver a sustainable future for the site. This will in due course require resolution of the planning permit issues which amongst other things restrict the site’s operation to just four daytime and four evening functions for over 60 people per annum. Without change we will inevitably see long term deterioration of Como.

Any maintenance required needs to be funded, and we will continue to plan this in priority order and seek funds to continue to look after the property. You will already be aware that our annual appeal this year includes Como and proposed work to the west wall. I am delighted to confirm that Matthew Guy, Minister for Planning announced only on Thursday 15th that Como was to be awarded $100k towards restoration and underpinning of the west wall in the first round of the new Victoria’s Heritage Restoration Fund Grants. This is great news.

Now to the substance of the article.
The Trust has not subdivided Como. Historically the site had a pre-existing plan of subdivision comprising 12 separately delineated parcels of land held as part of a single title (lots 39-50). Some time ago the Trust applied for and obtained separate certificates of title for the 12 delineated lots, thereby creating 12 separate titles consistent with the dimensions of the existing lots comprised in the Como land. This exercise was undertaken in accordance with section 32 of the Transfer of Land Act 1958 (Vic) and did not constitute a subdivision.

We have used this action, which very clearly and visibly demonstrates the potential fragility of Como if it were not managed by the Trust, to strengthen our argument for support for conservation and maintenance with government and stakeholders. This approach is innovative and we have reason to believe it is working. We have used the hypothetical scenario of a failure in our ability to manage the site to illustrate what is at risk. In doing so we can demonstrate that our existence is a good thing, that partnership and support for the Trust and what we preserve is worthwhile and a cost effective use of resources, that assisting the Trust in ensuring such an amazing place as Como is preserved forever for everyone is a worthwhile cause. We make no apology for doing so as we strive to ensure that we are supported in ways that we have never been. There is no denying that maintaining the house without government funding is not easy, but it is a task we undertake willingly at many sites across the state.

It goes without saying that we need additional funding for this site. It is very unfortunate that no endowment fund has survived over 50 years to support Como. But we are now planning for its future. We have set up the National Trust of Victoria Foundation to assist us in this regard through the development of a strong endowment fund to assist in the protection and stewardship of our remarkable heritage well into the future, including Como. We are talking to government and other agencies about the site as you would expect us to. We instigated talks with Stonnington Council as we firmly believe that what we do at Como is and should be of importance to the representatives of our local community. We see all of our major sites as integral to their local communities and are increasingly looking for support, and indeed partnerships, that we have not sought in the past. We cannot predict where our discussions will lead, but please be assured that they are firmly focused on the best outcomes for the site as a Trust property and for the people of Victoria. Our goal is simply to ensure that no stone is left unturned in our efforts to make Como a vibrant and engaged place that is relevant to its users and community and continues to be preserved and accessible to everyone into the future. As a member I am sure you would join us in support of that aim.

Dr Graeme L Blackman OAM FTSE
Chairman of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).