Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Merewether Surf House - It's History - if you want it?
This is arguably the most disgraceful example of heritage mismanagement and Machiavellian, behind the scenes anti-heritage manipulation by Newcastle City Council in recent history.
Since 1994 this building has been left to rot by Newcastle City Council, despite being listed in the Heritage schedule of its LEP (Local Environmental Plan).
The building has been described by Professor Steffen Lehmann, Chair of Architecture at Newcastle University as “an icon of surfing culture”. He also strongly supports its adaptive recycling with a state of the art addition.
Many local residents want the building removed because of its neglected appearance and because they don’t believe the building is basically structurally sound (which it is).
After years of neglect by Council, the NSW Heritage Office (HO) in 2003 took the (possibly unique) step of placing an interim heritage order (IHO) on a Council-owned building to assess its significance and protect it from its owner (Council). It was found to have less than State level but more than local level significance and the HO strongly recommended its conservation and that it be recycled for a new sympathetic use. They also offered assistance to consolidate the 3 parcels on which the building stood (Council, Crown and private-Merewether Estate) to assist Council to obtain a very long term lease (with a Heritage Council heritage agreement with any future lessee) to encourage developers to lease and refurbish the building.
The General Manager and Lord Mayor kept the offer to themselves until it was leaked to one of the Councillors about 9 months later. Subsequently Council & The Minister for Lands agreed to the proposal.
After the March 2007 State election the Minister and Council had a change of heart and agreed to offer a lease on the basis of either retain and recycle or demolish and rebuild. What developer would take up the heritage alternative if also offered a green field site?
While the matter isn’t finalised, EOIs to build a new privatised facility on prime public beachfront public land are being assessed after a biased Council process, (which almost ignored minimized heritage considerations) was put in place.
In all probability the “icon of surf culture” will be destroyed and a Taj Mahal, totally inappropriate private facility will be built on Merewether Beach Crown land, with the connivance of the majority of councillors, the new “Labor” member for Newcastle and management of Council and the NSW Lands Department.
It's never too late to love our history. We should ask ourselves why is there such an eagerness to demolish the Merewether Surf House built circa 1937, formerly a bathing pavilion in the art deco style.
Europe is full of ruins, people spend millions of dollars traveling half way around the world to see them.