‘ Assessment of Heritage Significance: Ultimo Tramways, Powerhouse Museum’
30 January 2020
In 2016 the National Trust of Australia (NSW) had submitted a nomination for listing the Ultimo Power House on the State Heritage Register. This was ignored until 2019, when architects Cracknell & Lonergan were contracted by Heritage NSW, Department of Premier and Cabinet, to provide ‘an independent assessment of the proposed State Listing of the structures at the Ultimo Powerhouse site encompassing the Powerhouse Museum components submitted by the National Trust’.
Their January 2020 report, Assessment of Heritage Significance Ultimo Tramways Power House Museum, (see links below), was the basis for a new State Heritage Register nomination. However, it considered only the original brick shell of the former Ultimo Power House, not the overall Powerhouse Museum. That is, it has numerous omissions and errors, with a curtilage plan that specifically excludes both the 1988 Wran building and the adjacent former tram depot, the Harwood building.
Nomination for Heritage Register Listing:
On 26 February 2020 the NSW Heritage Council advertised a notice of intention to consider listing on the State Heritage Register the ‘Ultimo Tramways Power House’. But the letter advising groups of the nomination did not disclose that Cracknell & Lonergan had concluded in their Assessment that the site did not warrant state heritage listing.
The ‘Ultimo Tramways Power House’ nomination is open for public comment until 24 March 2020.
To make a submission – by 24 March, read here: 25 Feb Submissions to Heritage Council
Read the nomination here. https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5055576
For Heritage NSW advice on how to comment on a State Heritage nomination, see this link https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/Heritage/listings/comments.htm
The criteria used to assess State Heritage nominations are here https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/heritagebranch/heritage/listings/criteria.pdf
Strong criticisms of 2020 Nomination for State Heritage Listing:
For those wanting to make submissions supporting the nomination for heritage listing, it should be pointed out that many who know the Powerhouse Museum well find the revised nomination deeply flawed, poorly researched, and an exercise in understating the significance of the site, even the partial elements under consideration.
[24 March: See examples of submissions made to request a review of the nomination.]
1 March, 2020
‘Shonky State Heritage Register nomination must be rejected.’
A member of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance exposes critical issues with the nomination as it exists, saying ‘The Heritage Council has advertised a nomination for State Heritage Listing for the Ultimo Tramways Power House for the State Heritage Register. This shonky nomination grotesquely misrepresents the significance of this site and must be rejected.
This is a nomination for a place which doesn’t exist. The nomination is deeply flawed, poorly researched and ignores the history of the site from Ultimo Power Station to Powerhouse Museum.
The developer-friendly curtilage on which the nomination is based cuts the Powerhouse Museum in half.
It is inexplicable that the Heritage Council has put this grossly distorted, factually incorrect nomination on exhibition to be considered.
This substandard nomination ignores the last 40 years of the site’s rebirth as the Powerhouse Museum. ‘
1 March, 2020
“ULTIMO TRAMWAYS POWER HOUSE” HERITAGE LISTING A HOAX?
Save the Powerhouse Facebook posted an extended critique of the proposed listing (see full entry, with explanatory plan here: Save the Powerhouse- Heritage Listing a Hoax
It said that: ‘The Heritage Council of NSW (an “independent statutory body” in the Department of Premier and Cabinet!) … resolved, at its meeting of 12 February 2020, to give notice of its intention to consider listing Ultimo Tramways Power House on the State Heritage Register in acknowledgement of its heritage significance to the people of New South Wales.” The letter (sent to a local group) goes on to explain that the former “Ultimo Tramways Power House” (Station) is potentially of State significance historically for being the first large state-owned electricity generating station in NSW“ – completely true.
But what does this fictitious title “Ultimo Tramways Power House” that the Heritage Council has dreamed up actually refer to? Museum specialists who have analysed available information … fear that it is designed to mask the intention, not overtly stated, TO LIST ONLY THE EXTERIOR SHELL (without interiors) of the original Power Station building, not the “Museum“ as we know and understand it. A further puzzle is the fact that this part of the Museum (ie former Power Station + contents) was already locally heritage-listed years ago by the City of Sydney. So this proposal would effectively “delist” the Museum.
If you are confused by all this, so are we! A sick joke by our warped NSW Government? Another blatant attempt to stack the odds in the Government’s favour? Or merely one more example of such blundering ignorance that it cannot even get the right name for the institution it aims to place on the heritage list?
One thing that the Heritage Council’s letter makes clear is that we now have the opportunity to protest strongly against this travesty of a proposal, and demand that the Powerhouse Museum in its entirety (ie including the Sulman-price-winning Wran building and the Harwood Building) must be placed on the State Heritage list.
“Any members of the community…or other interested parties are invited to make a written submission regarding the proposed listing and significance of Ultimo Tramways Power House. Submissions should be posted or emailed to the Heritage Council of NSW at the following address during the public submission period commencing on 26 February 2020 and closing on 24 MARCH 2020: Heritage Council of NSW, Locked Bag 5020, PARRAMATTA NSW 2124. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Report: ‘Assessment of Heritage Significance Ultimo Tramways Power House Museum’
In the Introduction on p.2, the Cracknell & Lonergan Assessment summarises its findings:
‘In our review of the proposed listing, this office has had regard to the scope of assessment supplied in a brief by Heritage NSW, Department of Premier and Cabinet, relevant desktop historical and archival materials from primary and secondary sources, a physical site investigation of key exterior and interior spaces as well as a review of the inclusion and exclusion guidelines in the assessment of heritage criterion for NSW and Victoria. Having reviewed the extensive literature around the existing local listing of the Ultimo Powerhouse Station (which expressly excludes the Powerhouse additions of 1988), as well as the 1980s additions to the site, it is the conclusion of this report that the subject site does not warrant a heritage listing at the NSW State level with regard to the 1988 Architectural Additions and the social significance of the site more broadly.’
The 2020 Cracknell & Lonergan Assessment is provided here in four files:
1: pages 1-23 Cracknell Lonergan -Assessment of Heritage Significance – Rev. B – 2020-01-30 – MAAS (PART 1 pgs1-23)
4 September, 2020
Recent Ministerial decisions on State Heritage Register Nominations’
Heritage NSW announced a list of decisions on ‘items’ around NSW, recently nominated for state heritage listing. Earlier, many people and organisations had submitted comments on the nomination for the entire Powerhouse Museum site, and its collection.
Read here the for the Heritage Council’s final version of the nomination.
The decision, made by Arts Minister Don Harwin, reads (see full document):
‘Ultimo Power House – 500 Harris Street, Ultimo; SHR No. 02045
1. Ultimo Power House is of state significance as an outstanding example of a large state-owned electricity generating station and a landmark group of buildings which relate closely to the visual and architectural industrial context of the area. It is of museological and architectural significance as a landmark early example of the adaptive reuse of a large-scale industrial heritage site, which was then a radical new approach to museum making for NSW. Its fabric, form and uses is held in demonstrable public esteem by engineers, architects, museum associates and the wider public.
2. Listing will provide for the identification and registration of this item of state heritage significance.
3. Listing will promote an understanding of the state’s heritage.
4. Listing will encourage the conservation of this item of the state’s heritage.’
However, it is clear that the ‘landmark group of buildings’ does not include the award-winning 1988 Wran building or the significant Harwood tram-depot building, or the museum’s collections; and whether ‘Powerhouse Ultimo’ can actually be understood as the ‘Powerhouse Museum’ or just a site for something else. Save the Powerhouse Facebook group comments: ‘The whole listing seems to have been constructed as vaguely as possible to allow Government to preserve or discard whatever parts of the Powerhouse Museum it chooses, and is totally inadequate. Powerhouse Museum Founding Director Lindsay Sharp comments “this so-called ‘heritage listing’ of Ultimo Powerhouse Museum (UPHM) is trying to pretend that the buildings have only partly been, do not continue to be and cannot be again completely reinvigorated and reinterpreted as a museum (visited by over 22 million people). The wording is deliberately vague…This is almost criminal in its lack of professionalism and partiality…The fact that its future reinvigoration is by far the most cost effective and exciting solution for the UPHM precinct is wilfully avoided. This description permits the Government to “white-box” the huge main spaces and destroy the Tram Depot/Harwood Building at will…As for the Wran Building and Galleria – who knows?’ Many people are pursuing these questions, and wonder what impact there will be on the current business plan development. Read more.