Passion for North Parramatta heritage site rises as an alternative vision takes shape

1-NPRAG - symposium panelMonday’s Fleet Street Heritage Precinct Symposium provided fertile ground for creating an alternative vision for the future of the North Parramatta national heritage site. Throughout the morning, people with expertise in economics, heritage conservation, urban planning and cultural tourism and research offered a range of perspectives to a large and attentive audience. Professor of Urban Planning at Sydney University, Peter Phibbs, warned that UrbanGrowth NSW has no agency if the argument is to have no dwellings on the site. The NSW Government’s proposal for 4000 new dwellings is government policy and only the government can decide if there are to be no dwellings. If that option fails, UrbanGrowth can be lobbied to improve the quality of design, but beware! With the lack of transparency of information, the redevelopment of the Barangaroo headland on Sydney Harbour has already doubled the allowable floor space, since negotiations began.

Symposium facilitator Maire Sheehan noted that there is a business plan, but no access is available. Brian Powyer of the National Trust summarised an overview of heritage perspectives. International interest in heritage structures and landscapes leads to a tourism multiplier effect, from the money spent to the revenue generated. Of roughly six million visitors attracted to Australia each year, half visit NSW. Old Government House in Parramatta is an established core attraction, the Female Factory precinct and the Powerhouse Museum are potential additions. They are surrounded by other major heritage sites like the Female Orphan School, Elizabeth Farm and Parramatta Gaol. A larger outer circle of sites includes The Old King’s School and Brislington House. Quoting from key state government and Parramatta Council documents, Brian argued that tourism is a powerful economic development tool.

1-Abbotsford neglectCharlotte Allan of Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent gave an inspiring account of the seven year community campaign, which began 18 years ago and led to the preservation of the neglected and historic site, right, as a place of arts, culture and learning. Quite early in the campaign, “learning” replaced “tourism” as the third goal, although tourism has evolved naturally in response to the facilities and programs developed. In a unique response to sustained community campaigning, the Victorian state government ultimately granted ownership of the site to the Abbotsford Convent Foundation – a non-profit company with liability limited by guarantee. As part of the terms of agreement, there would be no ongoing state funding. If it didn’t become self-sustaining, the property would have to be returned to the state government. It was a tremendous challenge, but with deep community commitment and the support of philanthropic trusts, Abbotsford has now become Australia’s largest multi-arts precinct. It welcomes almost a million visitors annually and simultaneously provides a haven and dynamic centre of activity.

On a Q & A panel, director of heritage conservation at Sydney University, Dr Cameron Logan described a robust conservation plan as an essential first step. He also advised starting slowly, allowing interesting ways and ideas to emerge. Avoid theming and make the most of living changes as do Abbotsford’s programs, ensuring the cultural health of everyone, he said. Professor Deborah Stevenson urged lively and engaging means of involving the whole community and agreed with Inara Molinari’s concern that social well-being should be the foundation of good plannning, particularly with inclusion of indigenous people. Public health was the foundation of contemporary town planning in the 19th century, said Peter Phibbs. With $100 million already “on the table” Brian Powyer counselled putting together a plan and setting parameters.

Jon Hillman opened the afternoon session with three case studies of successful heritage tourism sites – Sovereign Hill in Victoria, Tasmanian convict sites and Colonial Williamsburg in the USA. He urged giving serious thought to a heritage lottery, like the opera house lottery that raised funds for building Sydney’s famous landmark. A second Q & A panel delivered brief illustrations of determined and successful ventures in progress elsewhere and the need for further research – Friends of Callan Park, Haberfield Association, Parramatta Female Factory Friends, the engagement of young people in imagining the future of the site, the need to recognise why space within the precinct was as important as the buildings and the vital need to retain mental health in future plans. Historian Roslyn Burge said the value and meaning of “asylums” was currently being re-evaluated.

All this set the scene for a vigorous program of brainstorming around tables of four to six people. The tide of energetic enthusiasm was rising as ideas were formulating. Suggestions like a heritage skills training centre,  a place of caring and rehabilitation and survival “against the odds”, links to Western Sydney University courses began to emerge. Dancer, choreographer and arts administrator Carl Scibberas, whose own grandmother had spent a short time in the notorious Parramatta Girl’s Home on the site, urged the incorporation of “new” into the care of Aboriginal, colonial and contemporary experience. The vibe at Abbotsford of energy, strength and inclusion is a great model.

NPRAG - symposium audienceThere were many common threads among the outcomes of discussion groups. One spoke of a series of interpretive precincts that could include industries of the future, arts and culture, women’s history, the natural environment. Others urged the importance of the river for the indigenous community, in bringing men and women’s history together, in linking with other cultural precincts. The opportunities for social enterprises, upskilling the community, establishing community gardens, business start-ups. A constant theme was “living cultural heritage”, telling the stories of everyone. An international Site of Conscience that would link to all the other components – indigenous, mental health, women’s rights, the removal of children, incarceration, multiculturalism.

Sheets of suggestions on butchers paper were bundled up for consideration by organisers, North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group committee members. President Suzette Meade expressed their satisfaction that so much had been achieved in the 10 months since NPRAG was formed. The Fleet Street Heritage Precinct, which was largely a secret, was now being reclaimed for community, she said. Engagement with the next generation of young people and schools was now firmly on the agenda as everyone recognised the once in a lifetime opportunity. The need is for better planning, to “press pause” to allow for more time to properly formulate a vision for Fleet Street Heritage precinct. The next stage will be getting together for a presentation of the Draft Vision. In the meantime, Suzette has posted : “Great offers from professionals to develop a business plan. Power to the people !!”


“Creating Cities” is essential reading for urban planning and Parramatta symposium

Renew Newc - Creating-citiesUrban planning, or a lack of it, affects all of us who live in or around cities. The sprawl of western Sydney is the consequence of many different planning theories, community demands and economic pressures, particularly since the end of World War ll. All too often there has been an expectation of a silver bullet that will solve all problems. Just in time for the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct Symposium, on October 12, comes an excellent new book that should be essential preliminary reading. The symposium is organised by the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, supported by the National Trust and Parramatta Female Factory Friends. NPRAG was formed following an outcry from the community against proposals by UrbanGrowth NSW to create a new high rise suburb of up to 4000  apartments in a heritage precinct in North Parramatta. The symposium is intended to develop an alternative vision and viable economic model for the nationally significant site and to provide the community consultation that was conducted in name only by UGNSW. Organisers believe the site has the ability to be a world class cultural, educational and active tourism precinct that will provide ongoing benefit for the communities and businesses of Parramatta and the region.

MarcusWESTBURY_RENEWNEWCASTLE_WEBCreating Cities is written by founder of Renew Newcastle, Marcus Westbury, right. His efforts to restore vitality to the dying centre of his former home town in collaboration with lots of other people have been attracting attention since they first came to public notice in 2008. Creating Cities is a publication of less than 200 pages which has distilled the experience of the last seven years into a small handbook – or what he calls ‘a strategy for the small’. Naturally, the circumstances in Newcastle and North Parramatta – as anywhere else – are different, but there is much to be learned from his open and flexible thinking and the structures developed. Renew Newcastle is “an exercise in creating fertile ground”, he says.

His philosophy can strike a chord with many who have been working in arts and cultural development across western Sydney for many years. “Ingenuity and desperation can be the best form of innovation,” Marcus writes. Renew Newcastle has never been an exercise in attracting the “creative class”, he says, nor an exercise in rebranding Newcastle as a “creative city”. Least of all has it been a billion dollar attempt at becoming the new Bilbao. “Renew is a case study about the value of looking inward. Newcastle has changed not by attracting new and cool people to it, but largely from bringing out the talents and the capabilities of the people who were already there. In that sense it is not unique.”

1-IMG_4065He describes his assumptions when he first considered activation of neglected and empty buildings of Newcastle’s CBD – the negative role of “greedy developers”, the importance of government and bureaucracies in making things work. Everything proved more nuanced than he expected. He had no money and found little engagement from the top, but to his surprise, a Renew Newcastle Facebook page was attracting a lot of followers. His story goes from there. Even UrbanGrowth NSW has proved to be an ally instead of the unyielding behemoth of the North Parramatta experience, above left, to date. Gradually, a management structure of a non-profit company limited by guarantee evolved under which small projects with little initial money could develop. As a cultural organisation, Renew Newcastle is a tax deductible gift recipient.

Under its umbrella, and with continuous experimentation, Renew Newcastle is a business incubator and a community scheme, an arts initiative and one for economic development, and it is a strategy for young and old. While it may be fostering the creation of cottage-style unique products, it is using the connectivity of 21st century technology to market and distribute them, to exchange ideas and develop collaborations .As a result of the city’s revival, Newcastle found itself listed in Lonely Planet’s annual guide to “the top 10 countries, regions and cities to visit in 2011” in the world.

1-IMG_4059There are many buildings or open spaces on the Cumberland Hospital site in North Parramatta (or the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct), which are under utilised or neglected, pictured. With a little imagination, a flexible management structure and modest funds, they could provide accommodation for a whole range of creative activities.

You are invited to take part in the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct Symposium, Monday, October 12, Parramatta Leagues Club auditorium, 13 – 15 O’Connell St, Parramatta. Bookings and information, click here. Discuss case studies of successful business models in other areas and participate in workshops to help formulate “better ideas, better community and better business”.

Guests Include:

Brian Powyer, National Trust – Keynote speaker presenting paper on Heritage Tourism, Professor Peter Phibbs, Social Economist (Sydney University) – Keynote speaker,           Dr Cameron Logan, Director of Heritage Conservation (Sydney University) – Panelist, Charlotte Allen, Co Deputy Chair Abbotsford Convent, Victoria –  Case Study Presentation

Abbotsford ConventAbbotsford Convent, right, is another fine example of a community managed creative precinct. It was established in 1863 on land overlooking the Yarra River about four kilometres from the centre of Melbourne, Victoria. It continued operating as a charitable home for women and children until it was sold in 1975. When threatened by massive residential development, a seven year community campaign to save the convent was finally successful in 2004. The goal was to transform the site into an arts, educational, cultural and tourist precinct for the community. Eleven years later, more than 60% of the buildings have been restored and hundreds of tenants fill studio and office spaces. The venues are filled with performances, workshops, rehearsals, conferences and meetings and an extensive program of events is staged throughout the year.

There is no shortage of ideas and models for the future of the North Parramatta heritage precinct. Use “North Parramatta” to search the blog for more background to this story and see you at the symposium on October 12. Click Creating Cities to purchase the book. Renew Newcastle was the inspiration for Pop-up Parramatta. Check the website to copy Renew Newcastle’s model.


National Trust supports NPRAG in announcing community consultation overlooked in Parramatta heritage planning

1-NPRAG - Fleet St Symposium




NORTH PARRAMATTA RESIDENTS ACTION GROUP (NPRAG) supported by National Trust Australia (NSW) makes the following announcement:

You are invited to attend the FLEET STREET HERITAGE PRECINCT SYMPOSIUM proudly bought to you by the North Parramatta Residents Action Group
This Symposium intends to create an alternative vision and a viable economic model for this oasis of land in the booming heart of Parramatta – the capital of Western Sydney. This diverse 39 hectares of public land which is currently in use by the Cumberland Hospital, also cradles precious convict buildings and historic and contemporary social narratives incorporating Aboriginal and colonial settlement within an extensive and contiguous precinct. This site has the ability to be a world class cultural, educational and active tourist precinct that will provide ongoing benefit for the local community and businesses of Parramatta and beyond.

Come and take part in this symposium drawing experts in Heritage Tourism, Arts & Culture in a community and discuss case studies of successful business models in other areas and take part in workshops so we can formulate BETTER IDEAS, BETTER COMMUNITY and BETTER BUSINESS.

Parramatta Leagues Club
13-15 O’Connell Street
Parramatta, NSW 2150

Monday, 12 October 2015 from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM (AEDT)

Register by clicking here.

Heritage and high rise to animate North Parramatta

1-Parramatta North proposal 2NSW Premier Mike Baird has declared the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct to be state significant to fast-track the planning process. Proposals for Parramatta as an  international tourism destination with high density urban living enriched by the adaptive re-use of historic buildings are now taking serious shape. Click here for detail.

The image, above, has emerged from the latest round of community and industry consultations conducted by Urban Growth NSW. It suggests a proposed arrangement of new buildings, in white, in relation to heritage buildings in North Parramatta – the colonial Parramatta Female Factory, Parramatta Girls Home, the old Parramatta Gaol and Cumberland Hospital. The site is part of 146 hectares owned by the NSW Government which includes the Old King’s School, Parramatta Park and Old Government House, currently  undergoing review in the development of a Framework Master Plan for North Parramatta.

Community pressure to retain the sites has constantly confronted issues of enormous cost. The NSW Government recently endorsed urban renewal proposals for the site, which offer a way to pay for conservation and provide housing for 15,000 people. Six thousand new apartments in blocks up to 30 storeys high are planned for the North Parramatta site and the creation of 2000 new jobs.

While there are reservations about the impact of development heights on heritage buildings, there is optimism that the sites will now be animated by people and stories. Convenor of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project, Bonney Djuric is encouraged by the planning process. For updates and input click here.

Get involved in North Parramatta heritage precinct planning

You can add your name to the contact list for community consultation about the North Parramatta heritage precinct. The precinct comprises 135 hectares of government land including the Parramatta Female Factory, the Old King’s School and Parramatta Park. The project aims to create a vibrant mixed use precinct in North Parramatta, including housing and employment opportunities. A key objective is to upgrade and restore heritage buildings and create a sustainable long term source of funding for their management.

State member for Parramatta, Dr Geoff Lee, supported by his counterpart Nathan Rees, member for Toongabbie, sees the project as a 10 year process and a once in a lifetime opportunity. “Everyone must be prepared to compromise”, he says. “We can unlock economic potential, create a sustainable heritage precinct, tell Australia’s hidden stories and provide a best exemplar of cultural tourism.”

Planning consultants for the North Parramatta heritage precinct promise another update soon. “The project team is now well underway with developing the draft Framework Masterplan. This is being informed by the extensive feedback we received at the drop in session, stakeholder charrette and industry forum, as well as further detailed studies being undertaken by the team. 

“We will soon be holding a second community drop in session to present key aspects of the draft Framework Masterplan. This will provide an opportunity for you to find out more detailed information and have your say.

“We will send you an invitation and other information about the next community drop in session in the coming weeks. You can also see the website for other project information”