‘Oh, no!’ I recoiled when I heard that the NSW Government was planning to sell two iconic heritage buildings in Bridge St, Sydney. My second thought, just a moment later, was ‘Yeah, well, governments don’t have a good track record as custodians of heritage items! Perhaps, the private sector may do better.’
(A pause here, so that some readers can have oxygen administered to assist them to recover from this perceived heresy.)
Doubtless there will have to be compromises made in relation to the Lands and Education Department buildings, as developers seek to maximise their investment. But these beautiful sandstone buildings, which add so much to the grandeur of Bridge St, must be preserved.
Nearer home, regular readers of the Bulletin will be aware of our ongoing concerns regarding the parlous condition of some of the Government-owned properties in the Glebe Estate. The sadly neglected Glebe Island Bridge has received some media attention recently, partly in response to an intermittent, but persistent, campaign by NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) for the bridge to be demolished.
Obviously someone has been concerned enough by the RMS aggression to refer the matter to the NSW Heritage Council. Earlier this year the Glebe Society made a submission to the Heritage Council supporting the proposal to place the bridge on the State Heritage Register.
In our submission to the Heritage Council we noted that the Glebe Island Bridge (1903) replaced Blackbutts Bridge (1862); the latter also had a swing span, albeit smaller. Thus Rozelle and Blackwattle Bays were adequately served for over 130 years by maritime access via swing span bridges. The 1903 Bridge was a vital part of the infrastructure of the Bays Precinct providing more efficient access to the north-west of the city in order to satisfy commerce (both maritime and land-based), and a growing population.
The Society is concerned at the prospect that this heritage bridge is being ‘demolished by neglect’ … The implicit waste of scarce resources and embodied energy in such a threatened demolition shows a disregard for the environment and flies in the face of moves by Council and the … State Government to improve cycleways and pedestrian access across the city.
It is a testament to the buoyant growth of population and increasing engineering finesse that two similar bridges (Pyrmont 1902, Glebe Island 1903) were built in adjoining bays. ‘The swing bridges [designed by engineer Percy Allan] at Pyrmont and Glebe Island are among the structures standing as monument to his skill’. (Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1979). Through a trick of timing and geography, the former has been declared a National Engineering Landmark. while the latter, despite its LEP listing, has suffered years of neglect.
The Society is concerned at the prospect that this heritage bridge is being ‘demolished by neglect’ and that its custodian (the Government) is now citing safety as the issue which precludes any use of the Bridge. The implicit waste of scarce resources and embodied energy in such a threatened demolition shows a disregard for the environment and flies in the face of moves by Council and the self-same State Government to improve cycleways and pedestrian access across the city.
The 1903 Bridge and its abutments form a visual, rather than a geographical, boundary to the north-east of Glebe. This aspect also offers residents and the many visitors using the Glebe Foreshore Walk the opportunity to enjoy the rare sight of three distinct phases of important Sydney bridge-building with the overarching cable-stayed Anzac Bridge (1995), the Glebe Island Bridge (1903) with its tiny controller’s box perched on the swinging mid-section and the distant iconic arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (1932). This is a significant tourist site and viewpoint.
The Glebe Society deplores the fact that the Government, as custodian, has failed to formulate and implement a Heritage Conservation Plan for the bridge, despite the LEP recommending ‘continued sympathetic management’.
The Glebe Society believes that the Glebe Island Bridge:
- Is not a ‘disposable’ asset
- Is potentially a vital pedestrian and cycle conduit to assist in reducing Sydney’s traffic congestion
- Is part of the Bays Precinct and decisions regarding its future should not pre-empt the release of the Bays Masterplan
The Society understands that the Heritage Council has recommended that the Bridge be placed on the State Heritage Register, which offers the highest level of protection.
Now here is the rub: the Heritage Council recommendation is just that. It is in the hands of the NSW Heritage Minister as to whether the recommendation is taken up and formalised. Given that Roads and Maritime Services have a rather different view of the bridge’s future, it will be interesting to see who emerges victorious from the bunfight …