The Guardian June 2, 1999


You wouldn't mind losing a finger, would you?

by Peter Mac

In a move strongly condemned by the National Trust, the NSW Government has 
entered into a secret agreement under which Sydney's Walsh Bay would lose 
one of its five historic finger wharves and half of its associated 
foreshores store buildings, as part of a redevelopment of the area.

The wharves, nestled under the wing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, have been 
a prominent foreshores landmark for more than 90 years. They symbolise the 
high point of the historic development of the Harbour in terms of its use 
for cargo handling purposes.

The wharves and sheds form part of the turn-of-the-century reconstruction 
of Millers point and adjacent areas.

The main road, which runs in a series of graceful curves around the small 
Bay, is fringed by grand sandstone retaining walls on one side, and on the 
other by the brick foreshores buildings, behind which lie the five wharves.

A number of iron bridges span the road running from the streets above the 
retaining walls to the foreshores buildings.

The wharves and foreshores buildings have been covered by a NSW Government 
Permanent Conservation Order since 1988 and are listed on the Federal 
Government's Register of the National Estate. The heritage report prepared 
for the prospective developer rated all the wharves as being of major 
significance.

One of the five wharfs, and its associated foreshores building, now known 
as "Pier One" was adapted for use as a restaurant and offices several years 
ago.

The present proposal would see one of the four other wharfs demolished and 
rebuilt as housing, and half of the remaining structures demolished and 
rebuilt for various purposes.

As well as the loss of the original building fabric, the proposal would 
result in major intrusions in the harbour foreshores and a savage 
intervention in the historic Walsh Bay streetscape.

The project as now proposed is the more radical of two schemes proposed by 
the developers, Walsh Bay Properties.

The scheme as originally offered in the company's tender would have 
involved far less damage to the original construction, and would have seen 
all the wharves preserved.

However, although the scheme was submitted as feasible, after winning the 
tender the company claimed that the deterioration of the structures was so 
severe that the wharves and foreshores could not be maintained.

A similar claim was made several years ago in respect to the Woolloomooloo 
Finger wharf, but following widespread protest action the condition of the 
structure was reassessed and it was found that the structure could, in 
fact, be retained.

The National Trust has claimed that the assessment of the condition of the 
structures is suspect, and that those scheduled for demolition have 
suffered no more deterioration than those to be retained.

The publicity accompanying the Walsh Bay project claimed that 80 per cent 
of the existing fabric would be preserved. This figure conveniently 
includes the already adapted Pier One, which is not at issue as part of the 
proposed current development, and ignores the demolition of half the 
unoccupied foreshores buildings, which would savagely marr the early 
streetscape.

The National Trust has pointed out that the building proposed to replace 
the foreshores buildings would be completely out of scale with the existing 
streetscape.

They noted that: "the proposed residential flat building ... will be twice 
the height of the existing shoreshed, or equivalent to the adjoining 
wharves."

The Walsh Bay site has magnificent views of the harbour and a most 
beautiful setting. It is a most favourable location for a commercial and 
residential development.

Behind the development proposals is big money. There are many with a vested 
interest in this jewel of a site, including the prospective occupants of 
Wharf 8/9, Murdoch Magazines and Multiplex Constructions.

In order to facilitate the project proceeding, the Carr Labor Government 
last Wednesday passed the Walsh Bay Development (Special Provisions) Bill. 
This effectively renders proposed court action by the National Trust 
against the development futile.

However, the proposal still has to be approved by the Upper House, several 
of whose members have indicated that they would oppose the legislation.

The Walsh Bay saga raises many issues, including the inadvisability of 
relegating full responsibility for matters of national heritage to State 
Governments, the duplicity and greed of property developers in dealing with 
national heritage, and the lack of accountability to the public inherent in 
secret "commercial in confidence" government tendering processes.

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