CHRIS Richards has been a strong advocate for Maitland’s historic buildings since he moved to the region in the 1980s.
Both as a building owner and as an advocate for old structures unable to speak for themselves, Mr Richards has worked tirelessly in the service of history.
Luckily for Mr Richards and for others who share his fondness for the classical beauty of much 19th century architecture, there is no shortage of old buildings in and around Maitland. To that end, Maitland City Council recognises five heritage areas in its development control plan: Bolwarra, Central Maitland, East Maitland, Lorn and Morpeth. In each of them it looks at “what to keep, what to encourage and what to avoid”.
The Maitland plan recognises the importance of the city’s heritage landscape, describing “the intactness of its streetscapes” as a key measure of its “aesthetic significance”. Even so, the Australian approach to heritage has not been to attempt to preserve old city centres as if in aspic, as is often the way in Europe. Instead, our older areas have tended to be slowly modernised over time, with adaptive re-use of larger buildings, in particular, being encouraged where possible as an alternative to demolition.
In his latest appeal to preserve the fabric of old inner Maitland, Mr Richards and the fellow members of his recently formed lobby group, Maitland Heritage Guardians, have drawn public attention to the fate of a modest cottage at the western edge of the heritage area, near the New England Highway.
Plans have been lodged to demolish the building before replacing it with townhouses. Mr Richards fears the proposal will be approved despite the provisions he believes should protect the five heritage areas.
There are no easy answers in these situations. Attractive as they are, 19th century houses are not always suited to modern lifestyles. And given the costs involved in heritage restoration, it’s a process usually kick-started by suburban gentrification, as has happened across the river at Lorn.
There, the sheer grandeur of many of the buildings has helped make the argument for preservation. At a time when property prices make even the smallest of houses expensive, Mr Richards has to convince decision-makers and building owners alike that the modest, as well as the grand, is worth preserving.
ISSUE: 38, 974.