Planning the big picture for Sydney: Graham Quint says ‘we are seeking answers’

Graham Quint, Director, Conservation at the National Trust (NSW) delivered a keynote address last night at the first Save Sydney Coalition Forum, held at NSW Parliament House.

The forum centred on the theme Planning the big picture for Sydney: Voices of heritage, sustainability and the public good, convened by Dr Jane Hunter and attracted over 100 guests. Graham Quint’s keynote address on True progress, respecting our past – a conversation on conservation followed Dr Leigh Wilson of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Sydney University, who spoke on Weather and Ageing: Drivers of Social Planning?

Graham Quinta and Dr Wilson shared the stage with representatives of community groups including the Save Sydney Coalition, the Total Environment Centre and the Better Planning Network. Perspectives from the political arena on planning, urban growth and the conservation of heritage were provided from across the floor by David Shoebridge MP, Paul Green MP and Tania Mihailuk MP.

You can read the highlights from the forum last night from the National Trust (NSW) twitter feed @nationaltrustau #savesydforum


Transcript of Graham Quint, Director, Conservation at the National Trust (NSW)’s keynote address:

Thank you to the Save Sydney Coalition for inviting me to speak here tonight and I must initially acknowledge that we are meeting this evening on the land of the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation and I pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I am Graham Quint, the Director, Conservation with the National Trust of Australia (NSW). The National Trust is a not-for-profit community organisation established in 1945.

It’s often mistakenly thought that we are a government agency, which we are not, but we do deeply value working in partnership with Government and communicating with Government at all levels to ensure the protection of our natural, built and cultural heritage in New South Wales.

The National Trust was first set up in 1944 as a committee under The Forestry Advisory Council of New South Wales at the request of Annie Wyatt of the Ku-ring-gai Tree Lovers League. Annie Wyatt and other members of that group had discussed in the 1930’s that a National Trust should be established to protect the built and natural heritage of Australia. The National Trust of Australia (NSW) was the first of eight National Trusts in the states and territories of Australia

In 1949 the National Trust Register was established to identify “Those places which are components of the natural or the cultural environment of Australia, that have aesthetic, historical, architectural, archaeological, scientific or social SIGNIFICANCE or other special value for future generations, as well as for the present community.”

Early conservation campaigns led by the National Trust included successfully battling against government plans in the 1950’s to demolish this building (Macquarie Street’s 1827 Parliament House), the adjoining 1811 Sydney Hospital and the Hyde Park Barracks, built by Francis Greenway, from 1817-1819.

Over the 73 years of its operation, the Trust successfully campaigned for the creation of park reserves at the Warrumbungles (1946), Bulli Pass rainforest (1951), a twelve year campaign from 1960 to save Cadmans Cottage in The Rocks, a 33 year campaign from 1961 for a National Park at Deep Creek, Narrabeen, a National Park at Yamba, a successful campaign against sand-mining in Myall Lakes, opposition to a major steel works and nuclear power station at Jervis Bay (1970), and, from 1973, a seven year campaign to save Sydney’s State Theatre.

From the late 1950’s, there had been calls for the demolition of Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building. By 1967 calls for its preservation were being made by the National Trust declaring it should be saved because of its historical importance.

In 1979 the NSW Trust and the other State National Trusts lobbied the Commonwealth Government to prevent drilling or mining on the Great Barrier Reef, to declare a Marine Park under federal control and to include the area on the World Heritage List.

In 1980 the National Trust fought against the proposed demolition of Sydney’s Capitol Theatre.

In 1982, although normally confining its activities to the state of NSW, the Trust supported the Tasmanian “no dam” campaign. This issue was to transform Australia’s thinking on the protection of our World Heritage natural areas.

From 1979 the National Trust established its Bush Regeneration program to operate in local council reserves conserving and restoring Sydney’s Bushland.

In 1988 the National Trust commenced its campaign with local resident groups to save the 1854 Strickland House at Vaucluse. Just two weeks ago, Strickland House was transferred to the care and control of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

In recent years the National Trust has campaigned for the conservation of historic Windsor’s Thompson Square, the retention and heritage recognition of the Sirius Building in The Rocks, to keep the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo, against the WestConnex expressways impact on Sydney’s historic urban fabric, the proposed closing down of the Sydenham to Bankstown heavy rail system, its replacement with light rail and massive up-zoning of neighbouring Urban Conservation Areas listed on the National Trust Register.

The National Trust is currently examining the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed F6 Extension from Arncliffe to Kogarah, ominously termed “Stage 1”. We have only until the 14 December to review this document and put in our comments.

Daily, the National Trust receives requests from communities across New South Wales seeking to protect their local suburb, town or region from the adverse impacts of development. These people are not anti-progress – they are rightly alarmed by the overwhelming volume, scale and lack of sensitivity in the planning and process of major developments. They tell us this is affecting people’s lives in profound ways. It is having a negative impact on social cohesion, on people’s sense of place and pride in their community. They feel these decisions are made with a disregard and disrespect for the past.

It’s not too late, even now, to consider these matters, and we eagerly await the policy platforms that will give a sense of what the future holds for protection of our past and the cultural and natural places that make our great state and its story unique.

In the face of such major, ongoing impacts on Sydney’s historic urban fabric and the upcoming March State Election, the National Trust is posing questions to all election candidates –

How will the importance of our special places be considered by the next State Government, with consideration to the conservation of our collective histories and places of significance? How much of the past are we willing to decimate in place of yet more characterless apartment buildings, and overdevelopment, devoid of consideration for social infrastructure, and transport?

How are we defining ‘community consultation’ in an environment where heritage and environmental protection listings, and legislation, are completely ignored in favour of the quick wins of development? How transparent is our future government going to be when it comes to community consultation and public communication. Politicians keep saying that they’re listening but their actions indicate that they really haven’t heard. The recent Opera House ‘sails for sale’ community action is a prime example of this – where it was clear that there was something out of step, out of touch, and out of bounds with the community. The community was vocally opposing this and actively supporting the CEO of the Sydney Opera House. While the Government said they were listening they still went ahead with the advertising anyway.

We are asking how is development being approached with an eye to providing environmentally and socially sustainable solutions? Will development be truly progressive in that it will consider the unique beauty that defines the character and spirit of our state’s cities and towns?

We have these questions. Our members have these questions. The public has these questions. We are seeking answers and looking to work with policy makers and ministers to find solutions.