By Ian Stephenson, Convenor, Planning Subcommittee, October 2021, from Bulletin 8 of 2021

From the archives … The Glebe Society has been fighting to protect Glebe and Forest Lodge for over 50 years.

Glebe is a special place. Its survival owes much to contingency. Social diversity created a remarkable architectural and cultural legacy. Ownership of the St Phillips and Bishopthorpe estates by the Church of England saved one from industry and the other from demolition by the University. Unlike Darlington, proximity to academe engendered intellectual vitality in Glebe, not destruction.

Unfashionableness was also a great preserver. Compare, for example, the impact of the Conveyancing (Strata Titles) Act 1961 in Glebe with nearby Ashfield where, in the 1960s, entire streets of houses were razed for three-storey walk up home unit blocks.

The 1970s were the start of the age of miracles. Over 700 houses in the St Phillips and Bishopsthorpe estates were conserved by government while private owners in other parts of Glebe restored even more! Freeways which would have decimated Glebe were abandoned, industrial land was transformed into waterfront parks, the NSW Heritage Act was passed and conservation zones promulgated.

As shown in the page of illustrations below, the year 2021 has reminded us that we cannot take the protection of Glebe’s social and urban character for granted. The City of Sydney’s well-considered Local Environment Plan and Development Control Plans are being undermined by State and Local governments. Two major threats have emerged.

Spot Rezoning

Initiated by the State government, this involves excising parcels of land from conservation zones in order to replace low-rise public housing with high-rise apartment blocks. It is bad in two ways – it destroys the scale and character of Glebe and it destroys communities by removing public housing tenants from well-designed low-rise apartments which have private and shared open space and a connection with the street.

The Society lodged an objection to the NSW Land and Housing Corporation’s application for spot rezoning of 2A-D Wentworth Park Rd and 17-31 Cowper St for eight-storey buildings and addressed the City of Sydney Heritage Committee and Central Sydney Planning Panel on the issue. Regrettably, the rezoning application was unanimously approved by City of Sydney Council in March, although the Lord Mayor and Councillors Scott and Phelps expressed disquiet about it. We later met with the Minister for Housing, Melinda Pavey, expressing our opposition to spot rezoning and requesting that it cease.

City of Sydney Council not applying the principles of the Development Control Plans

In Glebe’s conservation areas, buildings are classed as Contributing, Neutral and Detracting. The DCP says that ‘demolition of neutral buildings will only be considered where it can be demonstrated that the replacement building will not compromise the heritage significance of the heritage conservation area’.

At 43 Avona Ave an application was lodged to demolish a neutral building which adjoined a row of contributory buildings. The DCP controls required the new building to be of appropriate scale, bulk and design and to reflect the form of its contributory neighbours in the design of its roof, window proportions, scale and materials. Residents and the Society actively opposed the development. Although one member of the local planning panel agreed that the design did not comply with the development control plan and voted against it the majority voted for it.

On the planning front, the Society has been vigorous in fora, making submissions, communicating with members, working with compatriot groups like Hands off Glebe and speaking to Local and State representatives. We have recently completed a six-part video series which explains why Glebe is so important and the threats it is facing. I encourage you to watch the series and particularly Episode 6, The St Phillips Estate and the Trojan Horse.

Glebe is remarkable. It is a life enriching place and a source of delight for residents and visitors alike. We must continue to work together to nurture it. It is too precious to lose. As the late Jack Mundey said at our 50th anniversary, ‘We’ve got to fight for the heritage we own, for the heritage that we’ve built and the heritage we want people to inherit’.