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Responsibilities for historic sites deliver wide community benefit

A trans-Tasman meeting of New Zealand and Australian property specialists was held in New South Wales (NSW) in late-May.

Government Property Group’s (GPG) Manager Property Planning and Advisory, Bruce Kenning, attended the meeting hosted by our equivalent in Australia. These meetings involve representatives from the Commonwealth Government, all Australian States and GPG New Zealand.

It’s a chance to discuss a wide range of topics including net zero carbon buildings, NABERS, Greenstar, capability across the jurisdictions, workplace design, procurement, and financial reporting standards.

As part of the meeting, the New South Wales property heritage management team explained the stewardship they exercise over the famous The Rocks in Sydney, and other historic sites in NSW.

New Zealand government agencies have stewardship responsibilities for historic sites, and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage is currently reviewing the policy on the management of government owned historic heritage buildings. While many of the buildings under the GPG property mandate fall outside this policy, they do fall under the responsibility of property mandated agencies.

Some agencies will have historic property assets in their portfolios. This article takes a look at how NSW has managed historic property, to also include wider benefits for the community.

Historic site and building preservation can be seen as having many wider benefits and delivers optimal outcomes to the community including cultural, economic, social, environmental and education.

The Rocks heritage management plan* guides the look and feel for the management of the public domain and heritage assets in The Rocks. A conservation management plan provides guidance on adaptive reuse, what new works are allowed, as well as guidance on the reuse of heritage fabric.

As part of this preservation work, Place Management NSW, a division of Property NSW, expressed the idea that the lowest price does not always deliver the best social and economic outcome. They are seeking to get the best financial, social and environmental and heritage outcomes for the sites and places they manage.

The Rocks heritage precinct is an example where a mix of retail, restaurants, hotels, commercial space as well as residential accommodation, has a number of wide benefits for the community, including attracting over 14 million visitors each year, contributing $400 million annually to the NSW economy.

Here in New Zealand our Government Procurement Rules recently introduced a broader social outcomes component to our government procurement practices, to include wider social, economic and environmental outcomes, including that the lowest price does not always deliver the best social and economic outcome.

Repurposing The Rocks - A case study of reinvention for social benefit

These case studies are examples of where preservation of historic sites has reinvented an area to develop a community heart and a visitor attraction that brings wide cultural, economic, education and social benefit as well as environmental enhancements.

Campbells stores (1850 –1861)

Campbell’s stores is a three storey brick, slate and sandstone warehouse building that was built in stages between the 1850s and 1880s, shows the economic growth brought on by gold rushes. The major conservation and upgrade works undertaken since 2017 is a once in a generation project that sets this building and the precinct up for the next 30+ years as a world class restaurant and dining precinct for Sydneysiders and visitors alike.

Campbell's stores exterior
Campbell's stores: Showing retention of original exterior fittings such as hydraulic hoisting equipment and winches.

The hydraulic hoisting equipment and the winches in particular are evocative of the industrial nature of the site and the hydraulic hoists are prominent examples within the Sydney area. They demonstrate the scale and efficiency of the industrial processes undertaken at Campbell's stores during its use as dockside goods storage. The adaption works include greater public access through the building, a new glazed and concrete awning for outdoor dining protection with spectacular harbour views. A total of nine new restaurants and bars will be accommodated in the three storey building with an outdoor dining area that overlooks Sydney Cove with views towards the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Cambell's stores refurb
Campbell's stores: Original walls, ceiling trusses and flooring retained as part of the retention of original fabrics. Building in process of refurbishment and yet to be occupied.

Unwins stores (1840s)

Unwins stores on George Street was built in 1840s and is a three storey sandstone building of stripped design befitting its construction in the pre goldrush era. In Unwins stores sensitive fire and access upgrades have been undertaken to protect the heritage building. The upgrade has made use of alternative performance solutions that meet the spirit of achieving code compliance, but which do not damage or impact the heritage fabric and spaces.

L’Occitane en Provence fitout (2017)

The commercial retail fitout for L’Occitane in Unwin’s stores features the use of a painted metal frame that keeps the standard corporate fitout away from the sandstone walls and ceiling. The shingle signage complies with The Rocks tenancy signage and lighting policy.

Bushells building (1924-25)

The building is of aesthetic significance for both its design and contribution to the streetscape of Harrington and Gloucester Streets. It is an excellent representative example of the Inter-war stripped classical style, featuring construction technology in its hardwood post and beam internal frame. The building continues to demonstrate varied aspects of its factory role through the retention of the processing and distribution equipment and associated floor plans.

Bushell's building metal chute
Bushell's building: Refurbished with retention of heritage factory silos and metal chutes.
Bushell's building refurbed silo
Bushell's building: Part of an old silo retained and now part of working office space, along with original structural beams.

Havas commercial office fitout (2019)

The fitout over the six levels of the Bushells building has been carefully designed to introduce upgraded electrical, hydraulic fire and access and air conditioning services to the building that have been carefully designed to avoid and minimise heritage fabric. The large open floor plate of the former warehouse building has been easily adapted to an open plan office setup.

Harbour Rocks hotel (1880s)

The site is of historical significance as it was part of the original Sydney hospital in the first settlement on Sydney Cove. It is an imposing four storey brick warehouse with the façade divided into four bays by pilasters capped by finials. There are loading docks on the ground level at the front on Harrington Street and hoists to lift goods in the back lane by the basements.

Tayim bar and restaurant fitout (2019)

The bar and restaurant fitout has been designed to fit within the elongated bays that formed the ‘Evans stores’ which is now the Harbour Rocks Hotel. The fitout is loose fit and reversible and makes use of the Sydney sandstone walls as a feature in the fitout design for the restaurant. A new deck and awning provides access and an outdoor seating area that links to the Nurses Walk.

For more information contact Government Property Group.

* The Rocks Heritage Management Plan was prepared by Place Management NSW, a division of Property NSW.