What is the value of a “state heritage listing” in NSW?

We’re about to find out as Clover Moore’s City of Sydney considers a development application to whack on $1.2 million worth of renovations to Nobel laureate Patrick White’s famed Centennial Park residence.

The current owners, who bought the residence in 2005 for a reported $3 million, knowing that a heritage listing had been slapped on it by the NSW Government, now want Sydney City Council to approve the “extension of ground and first floors, new skillion dormers on roof, excavation to allow an enlarged basement area, new pool, internal alterations and landscaping.”

In return, the owners promise to keep a vine cutting planted by Patrick White, and his partner, Manoly Lascaris.

As a sop to the unsuccessful National Trust campaign to have the White/Lascaris home bought by the Commonwealth and NSW governments for conversion into a writers’ centre, then Assistant Planning Minister, Di Beamer, announced in 2004 that “Listing of the house will mean it is fully protected under the Heritage Act… Patrick White’s legacy will not only now be preserved in his world famous works and his publicly owned collections but also in the house he lived in for 26 years”.

The National Trust understood the listing to mean that any new owners would be prevented from developing or altering the dwelling.

The consultants brought in to justify the renovation proposal feel the dead cold hand of heritage on the house. They bucket the Conservation Management Strategy put in place after the heritage listing, and suggest that it be amended to include the following statements:

Changes carried out by White and Lascaris did not represent aesthetic distinction or rarity…

20 Martin Road has lost its ability to be an intact record of the writing environment, lifestyle, interests and tastes of [White] …

The integrity of the house has been compromised as it has lost its authenticity and sense of White’s taste…

In their application, the new owners say that they just want to make some improvements to secure a better family home. I doubt that a little old “state heritage listing” will get in the way of their aspirations.